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7 Myths and Misconceptions of MMA Culture

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MMA culture is portrayed as "unintellectual" but the sport requires brains and brawn.

MMA culture is portrayed as "unintellectual" but the sport requires brains and brawn.

Misconceptions of MMA Still Exist

Ever since the live season finale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's reality TV show called “The Ultimate Fighter,” the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has been thrust into the mainstream. Since 2005, MMA has slowly started being seen in a positive light. UFC, which was strictly a pay-per-view event, started putting on more free-view events such as season finales of TUF, UFC on Versus, UFC on Fox, UFC on FX, UFC Fight Nights, and UFC on Fuel TV. Most of the major UFC events, especially with championship titles on the line, still remain PPV events.

This gave rise to new promotions such as Elite XC, Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), Bellator, Bodog Fights, Invicta FC (the first major all-female promotion in the US), Tachi Palace Fights, etc. Promotions even continue to pop up across the world such as the Chinese promotion called Art of War and the Russian promotion called M-1 Global. Up until 2014, you could watch Strikeforce matches on the Showtime network. As for UFC, the promotion has been able to bring events to the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Brazil, and China. Before the reforms since the acquisition by Zuffa, UFC almost got completely banned from the United States.

As it went mainstream, MMA was able to reap the benefits. You see more MMA schools popping up across the globe. With fighters getting more coverage, the gyms they represent keep getting new members who aspire to make it into the professional leagues.

Unfortunately, despite the rising popularity in MMA, there are many misconceptions about the sport. This is usually from those that don't understand MMA, those that don't understand martial arts, martial artists that have no idea about MMA, and so forth. In a sense, MMA culture has served as a counter-culture to the “elitist feel” that traditional martial arts tend to bring. One could say that MMA could also be perceived as a movement that “goes against the grain.” As a drawback, it causes the uninformed and the misinformed to develop misconceptions about the sport.

Misconception 1: MMA Schools Are Full of Bullies

A common misconception is that people who take MMA are bullies or they are taught to go bully other people. However, that is far from the truth. Of course, you hear fighters trash-talk each other on TV and the radio in preparation for a fight. In regards to women's MMA, Olympic Judoka Ronda Rousey has been known to trash-talk people. Two recent targets of Rousey's trash-talking were MMA fighter “Cyborg” Santos and celebrity socialite Kim Kardashian. Rousey took a potshot at Kardashian due to becoming famous for the leaked sex tape between her and rapper Ray J.

UFC fighter Chael Sonnen has been known to trash talk fighters. Sonnen had stopped trash-talking Anderson “The Spider” Silva (the UFC middleweight champion) after losing to him for the second time. Recently, Sonnen's trash talking has been targeted towards Jon “Bones” Jones (the UFC light heavyweight champion). While they are trash-talking and insulting each other, none of them have advocated bullying other people

In fact, figures in MMA have taken initiatives to combat bullying and speak out against bullying. Since we live in the digital age where we have easy access to the Internet, the practice of cyberbullying has grown and spread like a virus. This has resulted in many student-related suicides such as Irish immigrant student Phoebe Prince.

MMA fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller actually hosted a TV show on MTV called “Bully Beatdown.” In the show, bullies get a taste of their own medicine; but, it's settled in the steel octagon. However, the rules are different than your regular MMA matches. In Bully Beatdown, the fight is separated into two segments. The first segment is “rolling” where the two participants grapple with each other. One is the bully and the other is the selected fighter that confronts the bully. The segment ends when time runs out or if the fighter scores five submissions. The second match consists of kickboxing. Bullies were confronted by fighters such as Mayhem himself, Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson, Andrei “Pitbull” Arlovsky, and Jake Shields. Mayhem admitted that he was bullied when he was much younger.

Former fighters such as Bas Rutten said that bully victims need to seek help such in the form of an adult to stop bullying. Like Mayhem, Rutten said that he was bullied when he was younger. Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (a UFC welterweight champion) said that he was bullied as a child.

To make a long story short, bullying is not tolerated in any aspect of MMA. If you are going to take up MMA just to go bully people, you'll get your @$$ kicked by your MMA peers and your trainers and/or you'll get kicked out. That's one black eye that MMA let alone the MMA schools neither want nor need. Many coaches, fighters, trainers, and students openly speak out against bullying. To them, bullies are simply scumbags and pieces of garbage. In short, MMA is no place for bullies. If an MMA school gets the feeling you'll go around picking fights and bullying people, they probably won't let you join.

Just because one trains in MMA does not mean she/he will bully other people. Schools that do advocate bullying end up getting shut down.

People in an MMA gym are usually the nicest and most down to earth people you'll ever meet in your life.

Misconception 2: MMA Fighters Are Unintellectual

This is an ongoing debate that I have with my mom and other people that like to pursue “intellectual” interests. On the outside, due to the violence factor, MMA looks like a sport for the barbaric and uncivilized; being unintellectual, that couldn't be so far from the truth. This is a sport that relies on both brain and brawn. You cannot be completely all-brain or all-brawn. If you're depending on all-brain, then a more explosive and aggressive opponent can get you. If you're depending on all-brawn, you can easily fall for an opponent's traps. To be successful in MMA, you need to find that “happy median” between brain and brawn.

In fact, many MMA fighters, especially those in the UFC, are quite intelligent. It's just that they choose to go into fighting because they enjoy it. MMA fighting requires planning and strategy for the most part. Many UFC fighters, especially wrestlers, have college degrees. Keep in mind that with respects to wrestling, college wrestlers got scholarships for college. If the wrestlers weren't good in high school, they wouldn't get scholarships for college.

Examples of Intellectual MMA Fighters

  • Benson “Bendo” Henderson (the UFC lightweight champion), has a double major in criminology and sociology.
  • Frankie “The Answer” Edgar wrestled at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as an assistant coach for Rutgers' wrestling team.
  • Josh “Kos” Koscheck holds a degree in criminal justice.
  • Yoshihiro “Sexyama” Akiyama holds a degree in commerce.
  • Brian “Captain America” Stann graduated from the United States Naval Academy and achieved the rank of Captain in the United States Marine Corps.
  • Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski worked in law enforcement before going into MMA.
  • Rich “Ace” Franklin holds a bachelor's in mathematics and a master's in education.
  • Randy “The Natural” Couture achieved the rank of Sergeant serving in the US Army's 101st Airborne.

Those “unintellectual meatheads” won't make it at all in MMA. I can recall back in January 2012, when this guy named Frederick joined. He didn't last three weeks. After the third week, he got kicked out due to cursing out the trainers, etc. For the most part, Frederick's not going to be missed at all. At the MMA school I train at, we do talk about Frederick from time to time.

The guy looked physically strong and intimidating. From looking at him, Frederick looked like he weighed between 215 to 230 pounds of muscle. However, he proved to be terrible. The guy talked about how he was a “wrestler;” but, his wrestling was terrible. He was mainly BS-ing. When grappling, he got defeated by shorter and skinnier guys that used Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. One of them submitted Frederick with a helicopter armbar only a few seconds into grappling. In a boxing spar, Frederick got taken out with a liver shot by someone who weighed much less than he did.

When people offered to help him out or give advice, Frederick simply ignored it. He came up with some sort of excuse. If you go into MMA, you need both brain and brawn. In the case of Frederick, he was all brawn. Whenever he lost spars, Frederick kept complaining that he needed to go up against someone his weight. People who are “dumb jocks” aren't going to make it in the sport.

MMA fighter Gina Carano

MMA fighter Gina Carano

Misconception 3: It's Kill or Be Killed

That's a misconception right there. In MMA, you don't go trying to literally murder your opponent. MMA is actually the safest sport out there. There are fewer injuries in MMA than there are in boxing, football, basketball, soccer, etc. Professional dancers and gymnasts in the span of their careers will more than likely suffer more injuries than professional MMA fighters in the span of their careers.

If referees think that something bad's going to happen, they will stop the fight immediately. After fights, fighters are given medical evaluations and medical suspensions. Medical suspensions mean that a fighter cannot compete for a certain amount of months depending on how much damage s/he suffered in the fight.

“Kill or be killed” is simply in the movies and video games.

Misconception 4: MMA Is the Same as Street Fighting

In the early days of UFC, when the sport was known as “no holds barred” (NHB), it was still underground. Outsiders easily equated MMA to being street fighting. My youngest uncle, back when he still had his bully and gung-ho mentality, wanted to join the MMA school I trained at. I had reservations about it. He seemed offended at my reservations and proceeded to once again bring up stories about how he got into fights in high school.

The thing is this, a lot of people got into fights in high school. That happens in almost every high school; but, it doesn't mean they get into street fights. Those are two different things. Just because they got into school fights doesn't mean they can just fight an MMA fighter let alone win.

Street fighting is rather subjective. It's very easy to get street fighting and self-defense mixed up; but, it's very different from each other. The former can be avoided by calmly talking and minding manners while the latter cannot be avoided in most cases.

In street fighting, there are no rules. People tend to just throw punches and so forth. People tend to use very unrefined fighting tactics. There are many things you have to watch out for in a street fight: eye gouges, bites, scratches, concealed weapons, multiple assailants, and everything else. Things will go south if anybody ends up pulling out a firearm. A street fight could end fairly quickly.

In MMA, there are rules. Despite the violence level, you and your opponent are in a controlled environment. There are things you have to wear and things you are not allowed to wear. You're checked for weapons. Attacks such as bites, groin shots, etc, are fouls in the sport. The attacks are more refined. It's you and your opponent competing in several rounds. MMA fighters are trained fighters.

Unfortunately, that misconception does draw “street fighters” to MMA schools like flies to a rotting piece of meat. Back in 2011, I started MMA training again. There was this one person, named Chris, who seemed to be in his early twenties. Like Frederick, as mentioned above, Chris talked a lot of BS. He could talk the talk but not walk the walk.

Chris kept bragging about how he's never “lost a street fight” in his life. While he looked in shape, he wasn't in shape. When it came to grappling, he didn't even last one minute. When we were working the punch bags, he constantly left himself open to attack by throwing overhead haymakers. After two or three classes, he didn't come back again.

That's one of the biggest and most harmful misconceptions about MMA culture. These are two very different things. People that enter an MMA school with the “street fighter” mentality usually don't last long.

Misconception 5: There's No Discipline in MMA

That's a very harmful misconception right there. You need a good amount of discipline in order to be proficient in MMA. If you lack discipline, you're not going to make it. It's not the job of the MMA schools to teach discipline. You have to bring the discipline and show the discipline. This is a sport which really tests your mind. MMA is a form of physical chess; but, you and your opponent have different chess pieces.

You have to show up for practice; if not, you won't get any better. Your trainers aren't going to let you enter any matches until you show the discipline to show up for class.

In class, you cannot be slacking off. If you slack off, nobody's going to pay attention to you. Everybody else is training and looking at the bigger picture. They neither need nor want anybody with a lack of discipline ruining it for them.

If you wish to make a livelihood out of professional fighting, you need to be disciplined. If you lack discipline, you'll lose fights. You'll look unappealing to the bigger promotions. They won't even bother trying to get you signed with them. Fighting in the UFC is definitely out of the question.

For physical discipline, you have to eat right and train right. For eating, you can't go constantly eating stuff like pizza, burgers, fried chicken, etc. You have to learn how to cut weight. The unified rules of MMA have weight classes. If you miss weight, you could lose your match or get penalized.

You have to give up habits such as smoking because it will wreck your cardio. Cardio's very important for MMA.

In MMA, you need the discipline. Again, I can refer back to Frederick. The guy lacked discipline and assumed he could just brute force his way through things. He learned the hard way.

Misconception 6: There's No “Moral Code” In MMA

“Yes” and “no.” Unlike traditional martial arts schools that teach styles like Karate, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, or Kung-Fu, MMA schools usually don't have a written “ethos” or a code of ethics. The codes of honor or tenets is in play to ensure that nobody that learns at those establishments goes out and tries to bully other people.

In regards to MMA, there's something of an unwritten or unspoken “ethos.” A “moral code” or a “code of honor” is something mentally ingrained. Even though there's no written code of honor, it doesn't mean that people who train MMA go around trying to beat people up. If they do, they'd get kicked out of the MMA school.

Braulio Estima vs. Alexandre Ceconi

Braulio Estima vs. Alexandre Ceconi

Misconception 7: Jiu-Jitsu Is Synonymous With BJJ & BJJ Is Synonymous With MMA

This is perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions that many people face when they're practicing Japanese Jiu-Jitsu and/or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Due to the rising popularity of MMA, especially with the victory of Royce Gracie in the first UFC, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu has become popular. However, many people that are not well-informed about martial arts let alone Jiu-Jitsu automatically assume that it's the same as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

There are two real-life examples I can use.

Example One:

Several years ago, I talked with a female friend who has a brother who specializes in Hapkido. I was telling her how similar it was to Jiu-Jitsu; but, I was talking about Japanese Jiu-Jitsu (though there are many styles of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu). She assumed Hapkido was purely ground fighting as the only Jiu-Jitsu style she knew about was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Example Two:

One of my friends, which we talk about martial arts on a constant basis, is a certified instructor in Kashima Shin-ryu Jiu-Jitsu, which is one of the many styles of Japanese Jiu-Jitsu. We were talking about Jiu-Jitsu in general and MMA. He told me a story about a conversation he had with a couple of people. They were talking about martial arts and he mentioned that he did Jiu-Jitsu; the guys naturally assumed he trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

When instructing classes, he had many young students wanting to learn MMA style stuff due to being greatly influenced by UFC. They mainly cared about learning ground fighting techniques, which BJJ specializes in.

In that respect, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners kind of have it the worse in regards to this misconception.

It's important to understand that a person who practices Jiu-Jitsu does not automatically mean that s/he practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Also, it's important to understand that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn't the only style of Jiu-Jitsu in the world. The reason it's called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is because of its roots in Judo.

Normally, one may ask: How come it's called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and not Brazilian Judo?

However, back in the day, Judo was called Kano Jiu-Jitsu after its founder Jigoro Kano. One of his students, Mitsuya Maeda, moved to Brazil and befriended the Gracie family. Through the Gracie family, BJJ was born. For that reason, BJJ is usually synonymous with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.

The second part of this misconception is that BJJ is synonymous with MMA. Ever since Gracie's victory over Shootfighter & Wrestler Ken Shamrock, BJJ gradually became popular and became the most sought out style in regards to grappling, which is the important part of MMA due to a lot of fights getting taken to the ground.

Because of the style's popularity in the world of MMA, it's natural to assume that if someone trains in BJJ also does MMA. However, that's a completely wrong assumption. Not all BJJ practitioners do MMA as well. It's very important to understand that.


These are some of the most common misconceptions about the sport of MMA. In order to dispel these misconceptions, they have to be confronted. This is something that would require a live forum.

© 2012 Can Tran