How soon things change. It looks like yesterday we were talking about how fast the fan base for NASCAR was growing. Some people even foolishly talked about it possible taking over the NFL in popularity someday. NASCAR's growth and fan base has since been a hit, most likely due to the recent economy problems over the last couple of years. That said, Mixed Martial Arts, MMA is the new reigning "worlds fastest growing sport" as we enter 2010, and looks to be for the foreseeable future.
Do not get me wrong, the NFL is still the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to total fan base and world popularity, but MMA has shown substantial growth over the last decade, and even faster over the last 5 years. No growth like this ever lasts forever, but it's hard to say how long it could last for MMA, given the momentum the sport has, and more specifically, the UFC or Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The UFC is currently MMA's biggest promotion, and therefore has the world's best stable of fighter's. The UFC has also become the new darling of Las Vegas much to the chagrin of the powers that be in the boxing world. But instead of being bitter, the sport of boxing needs to take a look at why that is. For one, you can not get any big fights for free anymore when it comes to boxing. The UFC on the other hand, air's free broadcast's labeled "UFC Fight Night" on Spike ever couple of months at least, and usually more than that. And these are usually big main events that the hardcore fans want to see, not fighters that nobody knows.
And more recent, news of StrikeForce's signing of the worlds best fighter Fedor Emelianenko shake the MMA world, and now Fedor will hope to become a household name by way of free network broadcasting of the sport's most popular fighter in a contract with CBS.
The key to enjoying the excitation of the sport though, is to understand all the different aspects of the sport, and to recognize the transitions that you see through a typical fight. The least understood of these being the "ground game". To the casual observer, this might seem boring compared to striking (the term used in MMA referring to the stand up phase of a fight). And sometimes it is with average talent. But when you have two world class grappler's going at it, its the most exciting part of a fight in my opinion.
What a new fan should watch for on the ground is the use of "the guard", and the escape from this position for the other fighter, also known as "passing the guard." The guard position consists of the fighter on bottom to control his / her opponent by wrapping his / her legs around the waist of the fighter on top while controlling the head, keeping him / her off balance, making it easier to sweep or submit the other . Normally the fighter on top or "in the guard" will try to get his / her legs around the leg's of the opponent, or to "ground and pound" the other fighter with strikes from the top position. There are usually no submissions from inside the guard.
It's impossible to cover all the nuances of the sport in this article, but once the more common ideas of the grappling part of MMA is understood by new and non fans, the more enjoyment will come out of watching great fights and understanding how technical these fighters are, not to mention the level of conditioning that it takes to compete in this sport. Most think it rivals that of their counterparts in the NFL, or any other sport for that matter. So the next time you are around a new fan, take a minute to explain the fastest growing sport in the world. See you at the fights!