A friend of mine had a black eye the other day. After asking him how he got it, he told me it was from ‘that three letter thing’.
I’m not sure what three letter thing you’re thinking about, but he meant MMA – or mixed martial arts.
It’s a term that you hear more and more these days, but what exactly do we mean by it?
Mancunian Matters caught up with Kameron Atakuru, a professional mixed martial arts fighter and also head coach at the Urmston-based Paramount MMA training centre, to discuss what constitutes ‘MMA’.
The club’s only been open since January but is already making a name for itself in the Manchester martial arts scene; partly because Kameron brings a wealth of experience with him, having fought all over the world. He also trains at the formidable Team Kaobon gym in Liverpool.
“MMA, or mixed martial arts, is just a name at the end of the day,” he says. “What’s more interesting is what it represents.”
Kameron is referring to the rise of cage fighting over the last two decades. In 1993, the Ultimate Fighting Championship burst onto the scene professing to be a real ‘no holds barred’ competition, as opposed to boxing, or the ‘entertainment-based’ professional wrestling world.
While, in reality, it was far from ‘no holds barred’ – in fact there was no biting, no eye-gouging and very soon after (thank God) no groin shots – it was an exciting example of what happened when different martial arts collided. The ju jitsu expert Royce Gracie would be involved in the same tournament as the sumo Teila Tuli.
The outcome, aside from Royce Gracie coming out the winner, was an example of how different martial art disciplines dealt with each other. Could a karate expert with great strikes handle a much bigger wrestler?
The UFC, and similar organisations, don’t give an answer to this question as such. Sometimes the striker will knock out the wrestler, other times they will end up being submitted.
But it has led to the development of a whole wave of training centres opening that specifically train ‘mixed martial artists’ – fighters who try to ensure they are good all-rounders, combining striking, grappling and submission fighting.
“It represents a dramatic shift away from how martial arts were practiced in the UK up until the 90s,” says Kameron. “Where you had people training in one style, such as Kung Fu, for years and years.
“They could be black belts, and within the confines of their club they could be very good. Yet their art was never tested at all. Their Kung Fu was only good against someone else using Kung Fu against them, or someone who didn’t have any fighting skills at all.
“But what about when they are taken to the ground? Suddenly all their Kung Fu goes out the window.”
Can’t they just stay in Kung Fu competition then, rather than ever worrying about fighting a grappler?
“Well there is a real danger here,” Kameron says. “You see you have all these people going around and thinking they’re excellent fighters and that they can look after themselves if there’s any trouble. But can they? They’ve never really been tested.
"This can lead to people having a false sense of safety - and not running away when they should do!
“The exciting thing about MMA (or at least any professional fighting promotion that allows for the use of any martial arts discipline) is that it puts all your training to the test and asks ‘Does this really work?’ And sometimes you find it doesn’t.
“What you’ve had over the last decade or two, is a whole wave of fighters testing their disciplines against each other and finding ‘Oh, that particular throw doesn’t work’ and instead learning to use something else.”
And the effect?
“Well we have a much better idea of what does and doesn’t work! We know that fancy Kung Fu stances won’t always hold up against a strong wrestler and we know that just being a good boxer is no good if you end up on your back.”
That’s why Kameron makes sure his Paramount MMA centre offers an all-round training facility, with classes focused on kickboxing, catch wrestling, and groundwork.
He also has training sessions that unify all three together, be it in a ‘creative open mat’ session, or an MMA sparring session.
“You have to ensure you are as strong on the ground as you are standing. You can’t take it for granted that the fight is going to stay on its feet,” says Kameron.
“You have to play for every possibility, and there is a strong possibility that you may end up against someone with better wrestling skills than you who knocks you to the floor and suddenly on top of you. The worst thing to do is never have trained in the position and freeze up.
“By the same token, boxing, both kickboxing and thai boxing, are the bread and butter of my fighting style. You have to be able to stand up with someone and not be worried about throwing hits or getting hit.”
That said, don’t be too worried. If you’re new to it, they promise to go easy...
“Of course, there’s no attitudes here,” says Kameron. “We train with a great group of people who are very supportive, and we aim the coaching at the level you are at – while also making sure we push you just enough. We don’t want you going home without a proper workout, after all.”
You can train with Kameron at Paramount MMA studio in Urmston, Monday to Thursday 7.30-9.30pm and on Fridays 6.30-8.0pm.
For more information visit Paramount's website here.