Mixed martial arts is ready to strike in Asia

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Mixed martial arts is ready to strike in Asia

SINGAPORE - It has been branded “human cockfighting” by U.S. senator John McCain and bloodlust unbound by its critics, but mixed martial arts has evolved from no holds barred brawls to become one of the world’s fastest growing sports.

Popularized by the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States, MMA is a fusion of fight styles that melds the stunning strikes of boxing and muay thai, the sleek submissions of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the devastating power of wrestling.

It has fought hard to gain credibility, regulatory backing and global appeal by introducing a comprehensive list of rules, stringent doping procedures and embarking on a educational campaign to win hearts and minds.

Now sanctioned in more than 40 U.S. states, the sport is experiencing explosive growth in viewership and participation.

Chatri Sityodtong, managing director at the new Evolve Academy in Singapore, said that MMA did not deserve its reputation for violence, he said.

“This is the greatest misconception about the sport of MMA,” said Chatri. “If it was such a violent, dangerous sport the safety record should be worse than boxing ... worse than skydiving, worse than all these other adrenaline sports. Yet it’s safer.”

While boxing has a far longer history, it has a much poorer safety record, with studies in the Journal of Combative Sport putting the number of ring-related deaths at more than 10 per year worldwide.

The death of Sam Vasquez in 2007, however, is the only fatality from a sanctioned MMA bout in North America, though there have been three other deaths in Mexico, South Korea and Ukraine.

Chatri said MMA was primed to take off in Asia after having become the third most watched sport in the United States, although other sources suggested the figure referred to viewers within the male 18-34 demographic.

“We blew through our three-year financial goals in three months, so there’s strong interest in Singapore,” Chatri added. “We are at the beginning of the MMA revolution in Asia.”

That “revolution” will take a step forward next year with the launch of “Martial Combat,” a series of MMA events to be broadcast across Asia by ESPN Star Sports.

ESS said the first event, scheduled for May 14-15, would feature top fighters from Asia and around the world, and would be broadcast in 24 countries all around the region.

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