Ultimate Fighting Championship brawlers taught us some moves, in preparation for Saturday's high-profile bout at the ACC.
The first thing that happened on Wednesday when two of us arrived at King West Fitness in Liberty Village was that someone apologized to me for the shorts I would have to put on. Both of us—me and fellow Torontoist contributor David Demchuk—had shown up in street clothes, and we were being offered official Ultimate Fighting Championship gym wear. The event was a media workout intended partly to drum up publicity for UFC 152, Saturday’s bout at the Air Canada Centre.
“They’re… tight.” I was amazed at how much of an apology could be expressed in those two words. Because I lack that thing in my brain that tells most people when they should be nervous or embarrassed, I cheerfully stuffed myself into the breathable stretch fabric that fit me like a sausage casing. Demchuk looked rather smug; his outfit was much more flattering.
The UFC had invited us out for reasons beyond the sheer hilarity of seeing a bunch of sports writers try to execute basic jiu-jitsu moves. As Tom Wright, the director of commissions at UFC Canada (and former commissioner of the CFL), explained, mixed martial arts (or MMA) is still an extremely young sport in many ways: the very first UFC bout was held in 1993. Since then, the UFC has become a media empire, but one plagued by growing pains.
While there’s no doubt that MMA has gained notoriety in recent years, the sport is still working to attain the mainstream status enjoyed by football or hockey. Despite the sold-out arenas and legions of dedicated fans, MMA remains on the fringes and is still seen by some as extreme. Misconceptions about the sport’s dangers and violence are rampant. It has been referred to, incorrectly, as a “bloodsport.” Fans are frequently miscast as knuckle-dragging troglodytes.
With events like the media workout, the UFC is hoping to correct some of that by educating members of the sports media about the physical vocabulary of the sport. The league also wants to build relationships with reporters. Plus, watching us try to put each other in choke holds has got to be hilarious.
We were immediately split into two groups. And so, sadly, I didn’t get to see Demchuk flipped onto his back and placed in an arm bar. I found myself in the group that would be going through a ground-game workout first, going over some more common moves used by fighters who find themselves knocked to the floor.
Two excellent Canadian fighters—lightweight Mark Bocek and welterweight Sean Pierson (who will be fighting on Saturday’s preliminary card against Lance Benoist)—led members of the media through the correct way to perform an arm bar (where a fighter uses leverage and technique to place their opponent’s arm at a dangerous angle, forcing them to submit), a kimura (where a fighter twists their opponent’s arm behind their back), and a rear naked choke (executed when one fighter is able to position themselves behind the other). A small challenge arose almost immediately: I was the only woman who was participating in the physical portion of the event. The fighters and other media members handled this situation admirably. They didn’t treat me like a cream puff or discourage me from trying as hard as I could. Also, they all acted as though my boobs were made of lava and should be avoided at all costs.
The fighters were extremely patient and courteous, carefully coaching media through the moves, offering tips on techniques, corrections for position and posture, and words of encouragement. Mark Bocek at one point gently reminded me I might want to take off my glasses, thereby cementing my identity as the biggest nerd in the universe.
Next, there was a striking workshop. Rising Canadian welterweight Rory MacDonald explained the correct way to perform a roundhouse kick (which uses the fighter’s full shin for impact), a push kick (designed to push an opponent backwards), and a short elbow. MacDonald was originally scheduled to fight this weekend at UFC 152, but he cut himself while training. His match with BJ Penn has been rescheduled for December 8.
I discovered that I have a pretty good elbow (which I developed to encourage gropers to keep their distance at metal shows), but a pretty weak push kick.
Afterward, we all went to the Brazen Head pub for a mixer. Tom Wright and I shared an exploding fist bump when I told him I’d been watching UFC with my dad since its inception in the early ’90s.
The UFC has set its sights on making MMA a mainstream sport. Now, with free primetime events on Fox television driving an ever-growing fan base, this lofty goal is closer than ever to becoming a reality. The organization realizes it will have to reach beyond its usual demographic. Considering the warm welcome weirdos like Demchuk and I received, it’s clear that they are taking significant steps to do just that.
Photos by Natalie Zina Walschots/Torontoist.