When UFC president Dana White announced a Toronto mixed martial arts event was on horizon he gave the sport more of what it desperately needs – legitimacy.
Affirming the status and interest in MMA is the growing enrolment in gyms that provide lessons in the popular form of competitive fighting.
At East York Martial Arts [EYMA], the MMA program is offered to students four days a week and has already become one of the most popular draws at the fighting school. Much of the added involvement can be attributed to the growing popularity of the UFC.
“I think we got a better public perception over the last few years,” said Richard Mancoo, an MMA expert at EYMA. “There’s definitely been an increase in interest. People of all ages want to not necessarily get on the bandwagon, but figure out how to keep up with the norm these days.
“Before it started going mainstream, it just looked like a brutal human cock fight I guess. It looked pretty bad. But now we look like athletes like anybody else.
“Football looked pretty brutal at first too and now it’s probably the biggest sport in the U.S. right now.”
Despite the dangers that exist with MMA there has still been a steady climb in enrolment for the St. Clair Avenue gym. What attracts many of the new fighters is the wide variety of body types and fighting styles of the different competitors, further proof that anyone can compete.
“I’ve seen people come in from all different walks of life and that’s the beautiful part of it,” said Mancoo.
“ You can find the super technician, the one who doesn’t look like a physical specimen but he’s actually very talented and then you can find the super athlete who’s not nearly as technical as the thinker but he makes up for it in physical prowess.”
Despite the growing popularity of the sport there is still considerable concern about safety, something Mancoo believes is overstated.
“The biggest misconception is the whole notion of it being a fight to the death. No, never. It looks pretty brutal, but it’s actually very controlled,” said Mancoo.
“People don’t actually suffer from severe concussions like they would in other sports. An example is boxing, where all you do is stand around and punch each other in the head. You never get a chance to take them down, utilize the grappling or the submission wrestling aspect of the fight.
“Football and hockey are also just as dangerous as MMA.”
Although the UFC’s announcement that an event in Toronto was in the works for early 2011 has helped with interest in MMA, it is still lagging behind other provinces because it wasn’t until just a few months ago that the province of Ontario gave its approval to the sport.
“We’re starting very late, but better late than never,” said Mancoo. “We’re being exposed to it only because of the media. For now we’re going to have to do a little bit of catching up.”