So, testing, testing (coughs). Wow, sure is brighter and scarier up front here than I'd thought, but her goes. In short, I'm celebrating my third year or so lurking in the background of BloodyElbow, so I thought I'd actually bother posting something. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself a little, and missing the point a great deal. Anyway, here goes. (Warning: I get sentimental)
Abridged version: Tiger Uppercut leads to Anderson Silva, news at 11.
From the point I came into this world almost 25 years ago, I have had a profound fascination with fighting games; from the lazy summer afternoons spent playing Street Fighter II for hours on end, to the days spent in anticipation of the latest iteration of a mega-franchise such as Tekken or even Dead or Alive (pre-volleyball), it has been a wild journey. However, at a certain point, this ongoing journey intersected with another pathway and developed into an entirely new interest, one that is very much the topic we have at hand.
Back in those halcyon days, the UFC and MMA in general was hardly a blip on the radar in the quiet end of Australia I've lived in for the majority of my life. The 90s and early 2000s were instead filled with iteration after iteration of creative and action-packed fighting games, all of which provoked a very compelling question: "Which martial art was the strongest?".
So many styles posed provoking questions, spanning the effectiveness of the brutal and fast-paced Muay Thai of someone like Sagat, to the Karate derivatives of fighters like Ryu, Ken and Kazuya Mishima, to the Judo of Paul Phoenix, the Jeet Kune Do of Jann-Lee or even obscure arts (apparently) such as Gen Fu's Xinyi Liuhe Quan. At the time, it seemed as if only a massive crossover game would yield answers, as unrealistic as the criteria was to begin with.
With friends, I lost oh so many afternoons trying to answer these questions with games ranging from Super Street Fighter II to Tekken 3, but the answer was always indefinite. Even our speculations and arguments based around the legends of the screen, ranging from the late Bruce Lee, industry legend Jackie Chan, and even flashier (and obviously more cinematically-enhanced) martial artists like Jet Li produced no definite answer. I look back at that time now with a mixture of nostalgia and amusement, for it was a time in which things seemed so simple. (Dear reader, I do realise that this is hardly a realistic means to attempt to extract such a conclusion, but such were the days of youth.)
Fast forward to late 2007 (late to the party, I know), my second year of University, and a friend of mine (who has always been somewhat into pro-wrestling) is ranting about a fellow by the name of Brock Lesnar crossing over to the UFC. Before accusations of BROCKLESNAR-ism are thrown in my general direction, attracting a mixture of scorn and joviality akin to throwing Hyena pheromones on a bloodied tourist, a little explanation is needed.
Like many, I've had my time to enjoy wrasslin', but said time ended in the early 2000s. Sure, there'd still be the occasional antics on a friend's copy of the latest wrestling game release, but a man like Brock Lesnar was largely an unknown to me. So, out of curiosity, I looked up on Youtube (still a relatively new marvel at the time) his first MMA fight. I will be honest, I wasn't really entertained. Now, luckily, I have the depth of experience to see that it wasn't exactly a great MMA fight by most standards.
Slightly puzzled by this new form of combat sport (my experience was mainly limited to single-discipline fights or the highly-stylised Hollywood fare), I decided to dig deeper. Where did I start? After a bit of research, I found that a few names from back in the day with wrasslin' had apparently dabbled in MMA; namely, Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn. And from that, I saw my first proper UFC fight, the UFC 40 main event of Tito Ortiz versus Ken Shamrock.
At first, the brutality of a much younger man beat the living hell out of a seasoned veteran such as Shamrock was a bit of a shock to the system. I wasn't appalled by any means, just a little stunned of this hybrid system of grappling and striking, where an effective ground game could mean absolute domination. Prior to this, 'mixed martial arts' was sort of a new-ish aspect to my fighting game experience, with characters like Craig Marduk of Tekken fame representing what appeared to be new high-impact styles that incorporated multiple disciplines into a single style (Vale Tudo in his case). Sure, there'd been advertisements for UFC and K-1 games in things like my imported copies of Gamepro back in the day, but said advertisements evoked little interest.
Still, this new and (evidently very bloody) sport to provoke a deal of interest. The wrestling-obsessed friend mentioned again that one Mr. Lesnar was fighting in the UFC, and in early 2008, I saw that very fight. Brock's Hulk-like smashing had an appeal of sorts, but what truly held me was the fluidity of Frank Mir's kneebar, and the added depth this presented; fighters skilled in not only striking and grappling, but also submission arts.
Interested in more, I purchased a Knockout highlights package, which despite some prime showings from legends such as Chuck Liddell and the hysterics of Phil Baroni, still felt uneven. Jump ahead to UFC 84, and I have my next experience with MMA; the appeal of the event being Ortiz to a degree, who I'd seen manhandle Shamrock, and the presence of big names such as B.J. Penn and Wanderlei Silva.
Those three fights still stick with me, even today. From the strange, evasive style of Lyoto Machida, and the fevered moment in which Ortiz locked in a failed submission, to the brutal demolition of the awkward Jardine by the 'Axe Murderer', to finally the higlight of the main event, of Penn crumpling Sherk with a swift yet oh so devastating knee. All the fighters provided compelling questions, as the mixture of highly-refined hybrid martial arts and rough but effective bastardisations of various styles changed the equations from the ground up. These weren't just masters of a single style, facing another master, they were fighting with their own styles, each with their own stylistic hallmarks and strengths.
As the year went on, I sporadically viewed the occasional card (UFC 86's main even standing out, despite the popular arguments on the net), while purchasing 'Best of' compilations on DVD, The Couture-Liddell trilogy, and even discs of PRIDE events that have long since past. One theme in common throughout all of it: the stylistic clashes were intriguing, even if they were at a localised individual level; fighters weren't merely governed by their style, they were governed by their skills and the clashes of those skills fights presented. For every fighter that excelled in their chosen field, such as Wanderlei Silva's manic striking, there was a potential foil in the right conditions, such as Dan Henderson's devastating spinning backfist in the case of the latter.
Time passed on, and I'm afraid to say, I saw so many of the fabled fighters of yore, from Couture to Liddell, from Silva to Crocop (the Gonzaga kick is still hard to watch, even for me), fall against younger and hungrier opposition. Then came UFC 92, and I was utterly, utterly hooked. Please note, I hadn't watched the Ultimate Fighter at all at this point, but the card had so many compelling match ups. Unrepentant nut-shotter Cheick Kongo eliminated a branch of Al Turk's family, Rampage finished his trilogy with Wanderlei in an emphatic fashion, Mir did what no man had done before to Big Nog (his sickness was very much unknown at this point), and the young upstart, Rashad Evans, sent fan-favourite Forrest Griffin into a flailing mess; the card had so much going for it, and this is only the bigger name fighters.
So many style variations, all independent of doctrines and only limited to the execution of its wielder appeared before me; things had indeed gotten very interesting. And so, my journey with MMA has continued without pause. Sure, I may miss an event here and there, and may end up viewing a PPV far later than intended, but the intrigue remains. I've seen the fall and resurgence of legends, the rise of new, bright prospects, and the game fully evolve into a mixture of styles, as opposed to a single strength. Likewise, I've seen whole disciplines take great leaps forward, such as Nogueira giving way to Maia, Palhares and Rousey in BJJ. And to top it all off, the unique personalities of fighting games had their real world equivalents.
I have a few regrets, such as not seeing PRIDE in its heyday, and seeing some legends finished in less than impressive fashion (at least Shogun has redeemed himself now), and even missing some of the biggest fights of yesteryear, but I'm still here, and I'm still watching.
From that lonely month I spent on prac in a country town, internet shorting out as the play-by-play of Couture vs. Nogueira slowly unfolded, to the sheer absurdity of Don Frye vs. Takayama on Youtube (the fight really needs bold text when mentioned), it sticks with you. I've had the privilege of seeing the wild, the ultra-competitive, the outrages and the one-sided beatdowns that leave one party far more bruised and broken than the other. I've had the pleasure of seeing the uniqueness that is Wicky Nishiura (and of course, Akihiro Gono), the high-energy guard-passing (more like guard-flipping) of Dong Hyun Kim, and the single most dramatic post-knockout reaction in the form of a reborn Mark Hunt. And I've been treated to many good fights, despite the occasional dud that, against all odds still poses stylistic questions aplenty (the human enigma that is Jon 'The prospect bog' Fitch being one). These fights are just some of the better examples of the fine showings of martial arts out there.
MMA is sticking with me, just like fighting games have remained dear to me, even if many of my old favourites are several iterations along. And even if my if some of my favourite fighters of times past are no longer really with us. I may forever be a 'hardcore casual', but I can't say it has been a boring ride either way. (Side note: I used to lurk on Sherdog, but I stumbled upon BE after I tired of people insinuating each others' habits involving farm animals when a disagreement occurred. Then of course, I met you fine people.)