The Friday Night Takeaway: What you really should be taking away from the Safe MMA launch meeting
I'll remember November 1st for the rest of my life, for two reasons. Firstly, returning to Cambridge at 11:30pm to join a group of my friends on the last leg of what must have been the most offensive (late) Halloween party ever. I turned up to our regular haunt to be accosted by a bald Jade Goody, Evil Kenevil, Steve Irwin (complete with stingray barb protruding from his chest) and finally Ryan Dunn (complete with Porsche steering wheel wrapped around his head), who greeted me by yelling "I'm Ryan Dunn, welcome to Jackass!" and punching me in the arm. "We seriously offended people in the last bar" seemed to be the consensus.
However, that is not the most important reason why Thursday November 1st 2012 will be etched in my memory for years to come. This day marked the 'launch party' for the first ever collective fighter safety initiative in UK MMA, the sport I hold most dear. On this day, promoters put their rivalries aside to join with experts and industry figures to drag UK MMA one step closer to legitimacy.
It was a chilly November evening in Harley Street, London. As I traversed possibly the most famous medical district in the world looking for number 76, I couldn't help but think that the likes of myself only get to visit these addresses in a window-cleaning (or criminal) capacity. Joking aside, the fact that the Safe MMA launch took place in Harley Street, with the backing of the Centre for Health and Human Performance, added a certain gravitas to proceedings. As I was about to find out, this was much more than just keeping up appearances.
If you're looking for a blow by blow account of everything that was said, this isn't the place to find it. I believe there will be a video of the meeting released to give you a first-hand look at what went down, and besides, 90% of what was said by the panel last night can be found in the already released literature, including John Gooden's extensive Q&A. This is the Friday Night Takeaway, and the important takeaways are what you'll get.
In addition to the location and the backing of some of the UK's top medical professionals, perhaps the strongest lasting image I took away from Thursday night's meeting was that of Graham Boylan, Dave O'Donnell and Jude Samuel standing as a united front for the Safe MMA cause. It's no secret that there has been slightly more than a friendly rivalry between the three and the organisations (Cage Warriors, UCMMA and BAMMA) they represent over the years. Seeing them all shake hands and sit at the same table was cool and sent out a message... "If we can put aside our differences to do this, then it's worth doing". It'd be like Robocop, Terminator and Optimus Prime joining forces to tell you not to use your phone when driving. You'd have a hands-free set installed before you could say "When our powers combine, we are Captain Planet!"
There were, inevitably, a lot of questions asked by those in attendance. Concerns were raised, points were made and food for thought was offered by the room, which represented a good cross section of the UK MMA industry. Managers like Wad Alameddine, promoters like Chris Zorba, fighters including Jamaine Facey and journalista such as myself and Aundre Jacobs all showed up, each with varying takes, concerns and ideas surrounding the project and its implications.
Perhaps understandably, the most common gripe was the root of all evil itself, money. Does Safe MMA represent good value? Would payment plans be possible? How were fighters on smaller shows supposed to find the cash?
With Christmas coming up and the current economic climate, £230 is a big ask. While I'm not a professional fighter myself, I'm reasonably well informed of the financial hardships they endure to compete in the sport they love. Heck, if someone took £230 out of my bank account right now, I'd be none too pleased. My diet is more baked beans than haute cuisine at the moment (I do get my beans from Waitrose though, I'm not an animal). It seemed that in the eyes of promoters, managers and fighters, £230 was considered a lot of money, and I suppose it is.
Except it's not, not really. A point that Marc Goddard, who along with Dr Jack Jack Kreindler 'chaired' the meeting, made over and over was that the UK MMA community needs to leave behind the notion that everything should be free. As Dave O'Donnell pointed out, it wasn't too long ago in the grand scheme of things that fighters had to pay to compete on a dirty mat.
Marc and Rosi made the point that if you wanted to be a pro boxer, or fight MMA in the US, you have to pay for your own (considerably more expensive) medicals. If you want to be a fisherman, you have to pay for a licence.
Most importantly, £230 is not a high price tag to place on your personal safety. If you want to be a professional athlete, it's a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of money you won't earn in MMA if you contract Hepatitis or HIV in your first year as a competitor. If you're brain is injured by the time you're 35 due to repeated concussions that went unchecked from getting knocked out every weekend, how much money will you be able to earn to support your family? All of a sudden that £230 a year, the equivalent of £20 a month, looks a lot more appealing.
The most promising thing about the Safe MMA initiative is that those involved aren't arrogant enough to believe that they have a finished product. They are open, and happy about the fact, that Safe MMA is a work in progress. As Marc said, the team have been working feverishly in their own bubble for the past year and a half - they welcomed the opportunity to hear fresh ideas from the outside, and were happy to take them onboard. Safe MMA isn't about them, it's not about fighters, promoters, managers, coaches, doctors or journalists. It's about all of us, as a community, making a stand and saying "The way things are is not right, and we're going to do something about it before we're forced to, and not after."
Implementing Safe MMA will not be easy. There will be doubters, haters and bumps in the road. The most important thing right now is that as a community, we don't become divided over the issue. Let's not sit on the fence, or take sides; lets knock the fence down and build the foundations of a UK MMA industry that's safer and better able to support its athletes. Let's grow up, and start acting like the 'sport' we profess to be.
Safe MMA isn't the answer to all of UK MMA's problems, but it is the biggest step in the most righteous direction the industry has taken so for. I support it fully, and so should you.
Published by Boogeyman - Fri, 2 Nov 2012 18:17