MMA, long seen as dangerous, is gaining acceptance, writes Timothy Chui
Hong Kong's homegrown kung fu hero Bruce Lee fought in the revolutionary 'style of no style'. His philosophy was that the best athlete was the one who could incorporate different techniques from different martial arts and adapt to any situation to win a fight.
Today this philosophy is embodied in a sport called MMA, or mixed martial arts. MMA incorporates martial arts that originated in numerous countries and regions, including sanda (China), Brazilian jujitsu (Brazil/Japan), judo and karate (Japan), Muay Thai (Thailand), boxing (Greece), sambo (Russia), taekwondo (Korea) and wrestling (Greece).
And now, for the first time, Hong Kong will host an MMA tournament. On January 11 at Hitec in Kowloon Bay, 18 top fighters from Mongolia to Australia will face-off in the Legend Fighting Championship (LFC). MMA fighter Kenny Yeung King-ho, who is representing Hong Kong at the championship, says the sport has only begun picking up steam over the past few years. It began with unlicensed fights and has now stepped out of the shadows and into the camera lights.
Although matches are won by knocking out opponents or forcing them to submit, a US study has shown the sport is no more violent or dangerous than any other contact combat sport, and because MMA fighters have the option to surrender and end the fight, there is less chance of permanent injury.
A John Hopkins study of 635 sanctioned MMA fights over five years first published in January last year in the online edition of the British Journal of Science Medicine found overall injury rates were similar to other combat sports. Because MMA is so flexible and gives fighters more ways to defend themselves than conventional combat sports do, there are fewer hits to the head, which means fewer head injuries.
In 1993, the US-based Ultimate Fighting Championship held its first tournament in Colorado. It had the slogan 'There Are No Rules', making it a lightning rod for combat sport critics.
But rules were soon introduced, along with standardisation of weight divisions, gloves and time limits on rounds. Opponents, including former US presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, dropped their objections.
'The sport has grown up,' he said. 'Rules have been adopted to give its athletes better protection and to ensure fairer competition.'
Alain Ngalani, co-founder of Hong Kong's Impakt Academy of Mixed Martial Arts and two-time World Muay Thai Kickboxing Champion, says improving safety rules along with more broadcasts had helped change local attitudes.
'It's still a little bit brutal for some people, especially in Hong Kong, which has a strong focus on education and can be socially conservative, but its popularity on television has helped it along,' he said.
LFC headliners Adrian Pang and Zhao Zilong will be serving as the sport's ambassadors at a three-hour MMA workshop with Young Post Junior Reporters at JAB Mixed Martial Arts Studio on December 5.
While MMA still takes fire from critics, it came from the relative obscurity of UFC 1 to UFC 100 in 2006, when pay-per-view revenues broke the industry all-time record by generating more than HK$1.73 billion in one year.
This event will be covered by Young Post Junior Reporters. If you would like to know more about our Reporters' Club, click here
If you want to learn more about MMA, National Geographic channel will be screening its Fight Master series beginning December 4 at 7pm