Rage in the cage
Mixed Martial Arts comes to NH
Most people believe that Mixed Martial Arts (think of Ultimate Fighting Championship) was created because fans became bored with more tame sports, like boxing and kickboxing.
More tame? That’s a frightening thought, but truth is Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is intense.
“I hate to say it but fans want to see blood,” said Gary Bonenfant.
Bonenfant, who is a longtime boxer/kickboxer, got into MMA a little more than a year ago.
“I was just doing about a fight or two a year [with boxing and kickboxing],” Bonenfant said. “But now I can find fights all the time, all year long.”
Despite its growing popularity, sanctioned MMA fights have been excluded from the New Hampshire landscape, until now.
For the first time ever, New Hampshire plays host to a professional MMA competition this weekend. Not only is this the first MMA match in New Hampshire, but promoter Bruce Marshall is adding a special feature to the match: cage fighting.
MMA vs. good ol’ normal hand-to-hand combat
“It’s like a chess game,” Marshall said. “You never know if a guy’s gonna try and take you down and make you submit or if he’s gonna try to hit you hard and knock you out.”
MMA incorporates all styles of fighting: boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and various martial arts like jiu-jitsu and judo.
According to Roger Woo, who instructs at Tokyo Joe’s Studio of Self Defense in Derry, jiu-jitsu is the most important martial art to learn. Jiu-jitsu is ground fighting. Instead of trying to knock someone out, a jiu-jitsu fighter is fighting with submission holds and techniques.
This ground fighting was one of the harder skills Bonenfant had to master in his evolution from boxer to complete fighter. It takes patience and restraint, he said.
There are schools out there that teach mixed martial arts to students, so that someone who wants to get in the ring someday doesn’t have to wait years (and spend tons of money) to master several fighting techniques.
Of course, just because you learn mixed martial arts doesn’t mean you have to get in the ring.
“Personally, I have no interest [in] getting in the ring,” said Woo, who has a black belt in Kenpo karate and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He also works under Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Renzo Gracie.
“Even if you’re never going to get in a ring, you’ll always know what to do in the face of reality,” Woo said.
Marshall has promoted MMA events in Massachusetts for three years. He used to promote boxing and kickboxing events until those sports started losing fans. But he sees great promise with MMA, except one hitch: misconceptions of the sport.
When MMA first came out there were no rules, and things were allowed to get, well, very ugly. But over the course of a few years it has gained respect, and thus it’s been sanctioned. That means there are rules involved. But when Marshall promotes a fight, he adds even more rules. He doesn’t allow elbows “because they tend to cut you” and knees can only be used to attack the body, not the head.
“Public ignorance hurts the sport,” Marshall said.
People can bleed and people get hurt at MMA events, of course. But it isn’t a no-holds-barred deal.
Alyssa Pockell, who manages Bonenfant and is a part of various MMA events, noted that in the United States there have not been any deaths or serious injuries as a result of any sanctioned MMA event.
New Hampshire to be the new MMA home?
Various MMA promoters have recently run into difficulties when trying to set up matches in Massachusetts, because of people’s fear that there is too much violence at these fights. Pockell and Bonenfant said someone in the Boston Mayor’s office opposed MMA and as a result, the Massachusetts Boxing Commission, which used to sanction MMA, no longer does. However, it doesn’t ban it either.
“Basically, they said if you can find a venue willing to hold it, then go for it,” Pockell said. Places like Club Lido (in Revere, Mass.) still hold events regularly.
Marshall and Pockell both said New Hampshire’s Boxing Commission has been very receptive to bringing MMA to the Granite State.
This weekend’s event is the first of a handful planned for Manchester this year. Other promoters, besides Marshall, are also looking into bringing MMA events to New Hampshire.
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