When I was 19 one of my best pals was a pretty serious amateur boxer. He ate carefully, trained with a discipline that involved a level of self-sacrifice none of our peers would have entertained and was in near perfect physical conditon. His fitness was awesome. All of this I could see with my own eyes on a daily basis.
What took a bit more understanding was the amount of sheer craft involved in mastering the noble art.
My friend was a thinker and we watched endless videos of the fighters he admired, for their speed, skill and tactics – most notably Sugar Ray Leonard. So I knew that while it ultimately came down to who could bludgeon whom most effectively over 12 rounds, the sport in its purest form involved guile, finesse, speed of thought and a a real degree of artistry.
This was brought home to me one afternoon in my friend’s back garden when he invited myself and another pal to spend as long as we could pummelling him. Two on one and he promised he wouldn’t throw a punch in return. While we wore bag gloves (not much in the way of padding), he would wear sparring gloves (which were the most padded gloves it was possible to get). In other words, even if he forgot himself for a second threw a punch at one of us, it would be as painless as possible, while any punches we landed would be felt acutely.
The aim of this exercise, as we soon found out, was to demonstrate to us two non-boxers, just how much skill was involved. In the few frenzied minutes we threw everything we had at him neither of us managed to connect with a meaningful punch. Those which actually landed (and I was utterly amazed by the number which he successfully slipped) were caught harmlessly on gloves or elbows.
It’s safe to say I was dumbfounded. In a few minutes a sport I already respected attained an entirely new status. The casual ease with which he avoided, or parried blows from two of us was like a scene from the Matrix. We must have seemed like we were moving in slow motion to his fine-tuned boxer’s brain. Bear in mind that while my boxer pal was a big talent in the local amateur scene, the gulf between him and the top class professionals was akin to the gap between the footballers at Linlithgow Rose and those in a World Cup winning team.
Needless to say, I’ve never look at any boxing match the same way since. I always try to see beyond two blokes thumping each other to see the dedication, discipline, conditioning and undeniable level of skill involved.
Imagine learning all those skills for boxing and it’s easy to see why it requires endless hours of training, repeated day-after-day and year-after-year. Then imagine also having to learn all the equivalent skills in wrestling (the olympic version, not the theatrical joke that is WWF). And judo or ju-jitsu. And maybe a spot of Thai kick boxing as well.
Consider the combined training regime for all of those combat sports – and the feat of memory and the dedication required to master each highly-technical move, throw, grip , slip or avoidance technique. Wonder at how difficult it would be to learn how to read opponents across all those separate disciplines. Finally picture the culmination of that process – and stepping into an arena to face an opponent every bit as highly trained, motivated and hungry.
Welcome to the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Step into the controversial subject that is cage fighting – and to a fiercely contested debate on whether this is a genuine sport, or a form of bloodlust and barbarism with no place in a decent civilisation.
When Holyrood Partnership agreed to provide media support to Cage War Productions for its Max Xtreme Fighting event at Braehead Arena, it was with a degree of trepidation. I expected us to be firefighting constanlty while knee-jerk reactionaries would all too easily command the moral high ground. Previous experience told me reasoned argument in favour of cage fighting would be virtually ignored – steamrollered by a heady mixture of righteous indignation and misplaces anti-violence sentiments.
However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Firstly the coverage by STV (which has been slightly amended in the YouTube video a the top of this post) is pretty well balanced. Even more impressive is this article (click here) by Alasdair Reid in the latest Sunday Herald magazine. Inscisive, insightful and effortlessly written it is also gives a genuinely thoughtful – and thought provoking – view of the world of cage fighting for Britain’s aspiring competitors.
Each piece of coverage introduces a separate MMA fighter – and both are eloquent and persuasive advocates for their sport. At best MMA is misunderstood. At worst it is reviled. Add to that its status as little more than underground and minority sport in the UK, factor in the dedication and training required and the lack of financial rewards. All of these factors make it quite remarkable that Glasgow should boast two such impressive spokesmen as Anthony Thompson (the philosophy student featured in the video)and Paul McVeigh, who is quoted in the Sunday Herald article.
Pick of the quotes for me is Mcveigh’s snortingly comical dismissal of the local politician, who branded cage fighting a danger because of the strobe lighting and loud music. His riposte was this classic put down:
“Disney On Ice has strobe lighting, music and fighting and nobody talks about banning that.”
Now that is a quite brilliant piece of fighting talk.