Every time I’m watching mixed martial arts at a bar or restaurant I hear the same thing, jeers of dissatisfaction when the fight enters a clinch or when fighters engage in a ground fight. The everyday public doesn’t appreciate the nuances, strategy and subtlety of grappling. The pace is slower, the positions are foreign and too often fans are unclear which combatant is even winning. I’ve been grappling since the 90’s, to me a slick guard pass or duck under is poetry in motion. However, I recognize that I am in the minority. Combat sports fans love the Chuck Liddells and Vitor Belforts of the world. Their aggressive striking makes for short, but memorable fights which end with the ultimate definitive conclusion – the knock out.
If stand up fighting is what the public craves then why isn’t boxing the sport of choice for combat sports fans? Grappler Ben Askren once earned a Bellator victory only to be met by a chorus of boos to which he responded “go watch boxing”. The truth of the matter though is aside from Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao boxing fails to capture the imagination of the public at large. I’ve found the same MMA fans who boo the ground fights couldn’t care less about the slick counter punching of Juan Manuel Marquez. There are several reasons this situation exists. First, boxing is too predictable. Two men are going to punch one another. There are no spinning or flying techniques, no unorthodox kicks, knees, back fists or superman techniques. The success of MMA striking is that anything could happen. The recent surplus of wheel kicks and spinning back kicks in MMA competition is what keeps the sport thriving even among the intoxicated, often homophobic anti-grappling crowd. Boxing is also too long and knockouts too rare. 12 rounds of strategic “sweet science” is a real challenge to our culture of instant gratification. High level pros normally spend the first two rounds in a feeling out process, by which point the masses have already changed the channel. The defense in boxing is so highly refined that one shot KO’s are rare. MMA utilizing small gloves and unpadded weapons like knees, elbows and kicks means more knockouts and fewer decisions. Why isn’t muay thai the solution then? Muay thai keeps the pace slow by emphasizing the clinch. Also the Thai style of feeling the fighter out for the first few rounds will bore the public.
Enter Glory – the combat sport for the masses with 3 x 3 minute rounds of intense martial arts action, no clinching or groundwork just kicks, punches and knees. Glory was smart to take out the elbow strikes as well, meaning fights are far less likely to be stopped via cut. Glory fights are easy to understand, one guy lands more strikes than the other guy. The scoring encourages action; the feeling out process is a minute at most. There also is a twist to Glory not present in modern day boxing or MMA – the tournament setting. Fighters must fight multiple times in one night. This allows the fans to develop a deeper connection to the fighters with each passing bout and makes the outcome more intriguing since fighters have more adversity to overcome in the path to victory. The tournament setting also incentives quick finishes. When you know you must fight 2-3 times consecutively earning a 1st round KO is a massive advantage over your opponent. Kickboxing has the right mix of standard punching and high flying Bruce Lee-esque martial arts techniques. Glory is like the now defunct K-1, but with major network exposure. In Tyrone Song, the organization has someone with true star potential. He has the look, name and fighting style to bring mainstream recognition to Glory. Some have postulated that Glory is a threat to the UFC and may steal its viewership. However, I believe the two can peacefully coexist. The UFC will always have one advantage, their fighters will win under a limited rules set. Viewers want to know who the “best” fighter is and the UFC provides the most realistic platform for determining that. While I think the UFC will always exist its days as the martial arts monopoly could be numbered. If Glory can build an audience and learn from the pitfalls of organizations which came before it I believe it will surpass any combat sport as the preferred event for the casual fan. While many MMA fans (myself among them) despise the anti-grappling crowd, you can’t deny their strength in numbers.
About the Author:
Brian McLaughlin is owner of Poughkeepsie Kickboxing and Martial arts gym Precision MMA in LaGrange, NY
He is a BJJ Black Belt under Tampa Gracie coach Rob Kahn and professional mixed martial artist