Opinion: MMA’s Journey from Bare Knuckles to Streamlined Sport
By Jesse Heitz
Not too long ago, MMA was denounced by men such as Senator John McCain as “human cockfighting”. Today, the public sentiment is considerably different. The chants of barbarism that echo from the sport’s critics have been largely drowned out by the constantly evolving reality that MMA is as legitimate of a sport as boxing or football.
We have seen the sport grow from hodgepodge of martial artists competing in an entirely foreign setting to determine whose martial arts discipline was superior. Now, we are being inundated with ever-proliferating instances in which the public itself, including everyone from professional baseball players to politicians, are taking up the great sport of MMA.
What’s most surprising is that the public not only is embracing the sport as a form of entertainment, making MMA the fastest growing sport on the planet, but rather, people from all walks of life are lacing up their gloves and hitting the gym. To fans, MMA has more than proven itself to be of substantial value with regards to physical fitness, yet now the public at-large is zeroing in on the benefits of an MMA-styled workout.
An interesting 2011 article in the New York Times highlighted the growing popularity of MMA as a workout for professional athletes. The article noted that baseball players such as: Brad Penny, Russell Martin, and Adam Dunn. Football players such as: Jared Allen, Clay Matthews, and Ryan Grant, are also dabbling in the sport.
More recently, we’ve witnessed an even more dramatic crossover into MMA in the form of Bryan Pedersen, a former member of the Wyoming Legislature, as reported by The Rapid City Journal. At the age of 38, Pedersen is remarkably old for a debuting fighter, despite his rather impressive training resume. It’s important to note that his impetus for fighting was simply that he was asked. Pedersen was the author of the state bill that provided for the construction of the athletic commission that oversees MMA in the state of Wyoming. For him it was a no-brainer to “put his money where his mouth is” and physically support a sport that he loves.
However, he doesn’t have any plans to develop a professional career at this point. Pedersen was quoted as saying, “This is not something I normally do, but I really believe in the sport.”
Once upon a time, MMA was painted by many as the reincarnation of gladiator battles, something only to be enjoyed by beer-swigging knuckle-draggers. Yet, a mere two decades later we’ve seen the popularity of MMA explode. Not just in television ratings, pay-per-view buys, and merchandise sales, but in the physical adoption of the sport by people from all walks of life. Politicians, comedians, actors, professional athletes, everyone is getting in on the act. I say such widespread recognition and acceptance is long overdue.