By Marc Goddard
As I discussed in my previous article about developing the sport in England, recognition is a monumental step towards giving MMA a voice across the country. But it would not be the end of the challenges we face and would not solve the issue of finding common ground across the sport.
People think that regulation is like a magic word and that it will come in and take care of everything but that’s not exactly what it would be like.
When you’re as old and realistic as I am, I can bring it back to the way in which a country, namely England, is set up, which is an issue most people don’t appreciate. Getting a sport ‘recognised’ is only one step of the journey, because sport bodies do not have control over, or the possibility to outlaw or claim jurisdiction on unlicensed events. Some reading this article will remember themselves, just think of how many times you connect to various social media platforms or forums and see a local event pop up: MMA, cage fighting, kickboxing, bare-knuckle, white collar call it what you like there’s a massive thirst and hunger for it and that’s what England needs to address as a country.
The sport of MMA, including promoters and promotions, does not have legal standing in this country and that is just the way it is. MMA by and in large can be an unregulated, unwarranted, unchecked sport in every single facet, and while some think there are good points to this, I see mostly bad points.
It’s a complex challenge; what should the Government do? Do they turn around and say ‘right, nobody is doing anything until everything is under wraps and gets controlled’? The purist in me would like to see that happen but I also understand the desire of people to have the freedom to do their own thing. It is such a long, twisted and difficult road and people really don’t understand. If you look at boxing in this country, and the British Boxing Board of Control, that is a private, limited entity: it’s a private company who has control of the jurisdiction of regulated professional boxing in the country. Everything else is happening outside of that and it is exactly the same for MMA.
The variables in the way the sport is participated in across the globe leads to further issues preventing commonality across mixed martial arts.
You’ve got the UFC at the top, Bellator, One etc. and then everyone else and the further down you go, the thinner that vein gets- that’s just the way it is. A lot of people involved in this sport during the founding era are still involved, good and bad, and people have got to accept that it is going to take a long time for this sport to establish itself and find its own level ground. Pick up any social media the night after a One FC contest and you’re looking at what happened with Demetrious Johnson and the knee: there’s a different rule set. How are we supposed to gain any form of common ground as a sport if you can’t even recognise MMA from one continent to the next? Those are the things that quite frankly hinder and dog our sport. We don’t have the luxury and the historic foundation of sports that have been around for 100, 200 years longer than MMA. We’ve got to try and capitalise on the fact and educate people that we’re still very much building this sport from the ground up. I explain to people at seminars that MMA is still a very long way away from gaining any form of uniformity and I use boxing as the perfect example.
If you watch a boxing match in Canada and then watch a boxing match in China, I don’t need to speak the language because I know what boxers are supposed to do. If I watch a boxing match in Brazil and I watch one in Sweden, exactly the same, I know what a professional boxing match looks like and what to expect. I know what an amateur boxing match looks like. Why? Because the competitors have vests on, they’re wearing head guards, bigger gloves to the keener eyes.
MMA is still a million miles away from that but thanks to IMMAF, they have jumped giant leaps and bounds by coming up with a unified, recognised, single rule set for amateur MMA. At the top pro end there is an East vs West scenario. Western MMA with UFC and Bellator in the Eastern side, it was originally Pride, and before that historically Shooto & Pancrase nowadays it’s One FC, the sport is still fragmented and doesn’t look the same or operate the same under the same rule set. Not having that commonality and not having that common ground for me, potentially harms our sport. But I think as time moves on and the sport evolves, things will get better: fighters, officials, nutrition, education, everything starts to evolve.
I am not sure how long it’s going to take – maybe another 40 or 50 years, and things will start to even out. You will get common ground and then people may look back and go ‘My God, what was he talking about?’ but they won’t know the pain or the fight we’ve had to try and get this sport established and to get it looking the same.
From a funding perspective, we in England don’t have the same luxury as some other European countries. There is no difference between the seniors, juniors and youths all pushing and trying to survive in a ‘unrecognised’ sport. Everything these youngsters are doing to literally fight for their place to represent their country, they do off their own back with support from their parents, coaches and, if they’re lucky, sponsors.
I have so much respect, gratitude and admiration for these kids. There is nothing I would like more than to get this sport to a level where we can get some form of recognition and if that means funding comes our way, I would love nothing more than a team of 15/20 youngsters representing England in the IMMAF tournaments with shiny new kit, nice new bags, everything covered and paid for in the same way it is in other Olympic sport disciplines or other recognised amateur disciplines.
We have got to keep pushing forward, keep trying to find the positives out of the situations. As the gyms open back up, the ones that are able to under the restrictions, we want to be able to get a selection process for a national team for the adults, the seniors, juniors and youth as the first IMMAF tournament of the year will be the Youth MMA World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. We keep pushing on, building, laying the foundations for years to come and helping to push, promote and portray this sport in the correct manner.