March 11, 2008
By Maureen Ker
Move over Rocky. Here comes MMA.
Mixed martial arts — banned in New York and decried as “human cockfights” by Sen. John McCain — is going mainstream.
MMA officials just launched a campaign to eliminate an 11-year ban on competitions in New York.
On Friday, the sport will explode onto the big screen with the release of “Never Back Down,” starring Sean Faris and Djimon Hounsou.
At the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy in midtown, enrollment in its Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes has jumped threefold in two years. MMA includes many of the techniques found in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The academy has produced some major MMA fighters — including members of the famed Gracie clan.
MMA resembles a bar brawl, complete with kicks, punches and blows to the head. The matches end with a takedown where the loser is choked into a stranglehold or forced into submission by a limb lock.
That said, MMA fighters shrug off the danger.
“MMA looks violent but the fighters are pros,” said MMA fighter Igor Gracie.
“Anyway, there are good doctors,” he added.
He should know. Gracie has suffered a broken nose, and his head’s been stitched up a few times. Still, he said the sport is not all about brute force, and that it is 30 percent physical, 30 percent technique and 40 percent mental.
The Gracie name is synonymous with MMA, but the sport’s roots go back to an ancient Greek sport pankration, which combined boxing moves with wrestling techniques. There were few rules in a fight: no biting or eye gouging. Fights often ended with the loser’s death.
Its modern equivalent never goes that far. The Ultimate Fighting Competition, the largest and most prestigious MMA competition, outlaws groin attacks, fish hooking, head butting, eye gouging and spitting.
Even with restrictions, a typical fight makes wrestling matches look like some fantasy role-playing sequence.