A Rebuttal to the Ball Region

Wednesday’s Penny Arcade is about MMA, and while I do think it’s funny, I felt like the authors are missing out on a lot of what goes on in an MMA fight. I decided to shoot them an email, which I’ll also post here.

Hello Jerry,

As an amateur MMA fighter and long-time Penny Arcade fan, Wednesday’s comic is a delicious intersection of two of my most-loved domains – a venn diagram whose circles I never thought would intersect. I also enjoyed the old podcast where you originally talked about your forays into MMA. I’m sure you’ll get a lot of ridiculous email from ridiculous people on this topic. I’d just like to make a quick point and get out of your way.

In short, I think the strip is really funny – especially “kick-kicking, a kick-based form of combat” – but I sincerely believe you are missing out on some really good stuff, and I assure you the appeal is not in the “look-away” moments. The appeal of MMA is exactly what you desire – a contest between diverse “systems.” The results may not be as balletic as you expected, but when two guys get into a real fight it’s rarely very “pretty” to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t incredible displays of virtuosity!

In the early days, it was an open question which “system” would carry the day in an anything-goes fight. We just didn’t know. There were lots of people who claimed theirs would be the “ultimate” fighting art, especially those who lived on money from students. As it turned out, the jiu-jitsu guys were able to close the gap and force their game on all comers for most of the 90s. That’s changed, and even guys who specialize in striking are now usually world-class grapplers. It goes both ways, too – you’ll see guys who are primarily grapplers scoring knockouts with punches and kicks.

Ironically, grappling is the most complex part of fighting. While striking is relatively simple and is all about timing, grappling is a “deep” contest that moves more slowly and has a lot more room for strategy and improvisation. In practice, though, it’ll always look like “sweaty ball-punching” if it’s not your thing.

The new UFC video game actually does a good job of capturing the complexity of MMA. I was really impressed with it!

If you find grappling to be fundamentally a bummer, you might enjoy watching muay thai fights, which are basically MMA without the ground game. Fighters are allowed to grab each other while standing, and even throw each other, but there’s no ground fighting. It’s often very pretty to watch. If you’re sincerely interested in MMA, I’d also suggest the 2008 documentary “Renzo: Legacy” (Trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zENt9OpmhY)

(also, a story I wrote for a local magazine about my first MMA fight: http://www.thebollard.com/bollard/?p=6262)

Anyway, thanks for your time!

-John Bronson
Portland, ME


Plastic surgery for cut-prone pro MMA fighters

A recent NYTimes article talks about a new plastic surgery that Marcus Davis (a Mainer like myself) and Nick Diaz have gotten plastic surgery to make their skin less likely to bleed when they’re struck on key locations on their faces. Basically, these guys apparently have sharp ridges that tend to rupture the skin when the face is struck. The doctor grinds these down smooth and sews the guys up again.

The story predicts that the surgey may become common in the sport: “Plastic surgery may become the norm for cut-prone fighters who are trying to prolong their careers.” The story says that boxers have been getting similar plastic surgery, whichwas news to me. The doctor who invented the surgury points out that MMA fighters often don’t getthe quality of stitching they should after they get cut: “The fighters sometimes receive suturing that is not suitable for athletes in a combat sport.”

On one hand, I like this, because cuts are one of the least conclusive and most disappointing ways to see a fight end. Some fighters use cutting as part of their strategy. This is weak, because it depends on the fact that there’s a referee and a fight doctor to step in and hand you the win. If the doctor didn’t stop the fight, it’s entirely possible the bleeding fighter could press on and win. Looking to cut is a way of gaming the rules, and I wouldn’t think of this kind of victory as a victory at all. Likewise, if fighters want to

So I don’t really have any reaction to this surgery specifically. We put vasoline on the fighters’ faces for the same purpose (that is, to prevent a glancing blow to open up a fight-ending cut). But it’ll be interesting to see what other kinds of surgery people try to get away with. We may someday have to draw a line between acceptable, preventative surgery and “performance-enhancing” procedures. I can’t think of such a procedure off the top of my head. Reinforced shins? Sharper elbows? Who knows?