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A Guide to MMA for the MSM


We're starting to see more mainstream media coverage of the sport of mixed martial arts, which is good. But a lot of that coverage comes from people who don't know much about the sport, which is bad. So I'd like to offer a few suggestions:

Don't call it "ultimate fighting." The name of the sport is mixed martial arts, or MMA. The most popular organization within MMA is Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC. The phrase "ultimate fighting," with those two words lower case, should never appear in your articles. Ultimate Fighting, a phrase that is a registered trademark of the UFC, can appear in your articles, but it should be followed by Championship -- and in general, you can just say UFC.

Know the best fighters, the most famous fighters, and the difference. Any short list of the most famous fighters in MMA would have to include Tito Ortiz, Kimbo Slice and Brock Lesnar. Those guys are all very popular with the fans, and more power to them for that.

But they're not the best MMA fighters in the world. Ortiz is past his prime and nowhere near as good as the top light heavyweights. Slice and Lesnar are still learning the sport and nowhere near as good as the top heavyweights. They're tough, aggressive brawlers, but they're not great fighters.

So who are the best fighters? For starters, there are the five UFC champions: lightweight B.J. Penn, welterweight Georges St. Pierre, middleweight Anderson Silva, light heavyweight Quinton Rampage Jackson and heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Then there are the two WEC champions who are fighting on Sunday night, featherweight Urijah Faber and bantamweight Miguel Torres. And the two heavyweights everyone is hoping to see square off, Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko.

Once you've learned about those nine fighters, you've got a solid foundation from which to build, and you can move on to learn about guys like Dream's Shinya Aoki, JZ Calvan and Norifumi "Kid" Yamamoto, Affliction's Matt Lindland and Josh Barnett, and UFC's Dan Henderson, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Jon Fitch.

The one MMA fighter who bridges the gap between those popular but unskilled brawlers and the best fighters is Chuck Liddell, who is a little bit past his prime but still a very good fighter, and who is the most popular athlete in the sport. If you're covering MMA and you don't know Liddell, you're in trouble.

Know the facts about the sport's safety. MMA can look brutal, with its sudden knockouts and bloody wounds. But experts are nearly unanimous in saying MMA is safer than boxing. The great danger of boxing is that a fighter who gets punched in the head continuously over the course of a 12-round fight will suffer permanent brain damage or death. In MMA, the fights are shorter and the knockouts are quicker, and that's why, unlike boxing or even the NFL, UFC can say it has never had an athlete maimed or killed.

At the same time, this is a relatively new sport, and as a result, we simply don't know what the long-term health effects of it are. It's possible that we'll some day see a bunch of retired MMA fighters with many of the same health problems that retired NFL players have, and an exploration of that possibility could make for a very good piece of journalism, provided that it's done right.

Learn the submissions. You wouldn't write about football without knowing the difference between a handoff and a Hail Mary, so you shouldn't write about MMA without knowing the difference between a rear-naked choke and a kimura. There's a great series of videos on YouTube called Submissions 101. Watch them. And in case you don't know, here's what a kimura looks like:

Read the best MMA writers. If you work in the mainstream media, you're probably accustomed to getting most of your information from reading newspapers. But with MMA, most of the best writers are online. So to bone up on the sport you'll want to read the work of writers including, but not limited to, Zach Arnold of FightOpinion.com, Dave Doyle of Yahoo, Josh Gross of SI.com, Rami Genauer of FightMetric.com, Jim Murphy of The Savage Science and Kid Nate of BloodyElbow.com. (If you're the type who absolutely must read ink on paper instead of words on a screen, you could try one of the many books about the sport.)

Know a ring from a cage from an Octagon. Just as there are differences between baseball played at Coors Field and baseball played at Petco Park, and just as there are differences between playing tennis on clay and playing on concrete, there are differences between fighting in a ring and fighting in a cage. When you refer to a cage as a ring, you're making a fundamental error that shows no respect for the finer points of the sport.

Also, the Octagon is a type of cage used only in UFC. You might see an eight-sided cage elsewhere, but don't call it an Octagon if it's not in UFC, and use a capital 'O' -- Octagon is a registered trademark.

Keep an open mind. When you set out to write a hatchet job, it shows. Approach MMA like a student who wants to learn from a good teacher, not like a student who just wants to finish an assignment from a bad teacher. This is an exciting time for the sport, and if you're going to cover it, why not try to enjoy it?