Mark Purdy – San Jose Mercury News
There is an interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News that claims Friday Night event could be the biggest gate in North American history…
Friday night’s all right for fighting
By Mark Purdy Mercury News
Don’t look now. But our beautiful city of San Jose is about to become the United States capital of ugly whapping.
Also, motivated pounding.
And wicked twisting.
And you can throw in any other noises two guys make when they go into a cage, then use just about any means necessary to make each other quit.
Know what we call that around these parts?
The Next Big Thing.
Funny how a sport can blow up into a full-fledged phenomenon right under your nose, with almost no one noticing. That’s definitely been the case with Mixed Martial Arts, known as “MMA” to its close friends. The sport goes by a lot of other names, including “cage fighting” or “toughman competition.”
It incorporates the skills of boxing, wrestling, judo and karate. Some people call MMA a legalized bar brawl, which is so unfair. Bar brawls aren’t nearly as vicious. But the paying customers don’t much seem to care about either the nomenclature or the details. They just line up to buy seats. A lot of them.
Friday night at HP Pavilion, local promoter Scott Coker will stage California’s first officially sanctioned MMA show. The state legalized the sport in December. The public response has been overwhelming.
“We are past the 12,500 mark in tickets sales right now,” Coker said Saturday, “and we’re expecting maybe 15,000. If we do that, we will break the American record for paid attendance at a Mixed Martial Arts event, which was 14,200 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas a couple of years ago.”
How did this happen, you ask? How is it that educated Silicon Valley, in the supposedly sophisticated Bay Area, is flipping for such a primal spectacle?
Frank Shamrock can tell you. He might be San Jose’s least-known world-famous guy. Shamrock won MMA titles around the planet in the 1990s, becoming an icon in Japan and Brazil, among other places. Then he retired here to raise a family and run his own martial-arts business, which includes consulting with many law-enforcement entities. But at age 33, he’s coming out of retirement for this show’s main event. He sees the future.
“Friday is the beginning, the celebration, the grand opening,” Shamrock said. “It’s going to open everybody’s eyes to what I call the truth — the art of fighting. It doesn’t have to be dirty. It doesn’t have to be bloody. It’s just got to be entertaining and a great time and a good story.”
Within minutes of meeting him, you can tell that Shamrock is a smart man. He just opened his 4,300-square-foot Shamrock Martial Arts Academy in South San Jose, off Blossom Hill Road. He basically cut his own deal for Friday’s event, which will pay him $100,000. And he is ready to debate the ethics and merits of MMA with anyone. He says the sport’s appeal is that in every match, there is a definite winner. There are no controversial decisions, as in boxing. And as for all of that kicking and punching?
“The perception of violence in our society has gone way down or way up, depending on what side you’re looking at,” Shamrock said. “Ten years ago, fighting in cage was one of the most extreme things you would look at. Now, fighting in a cage, honestly, it’s not that big of a deal. . . . When you can turn on a regular news channel and watch people getting shot and killed — real people, in real life, in a real war — the perception of violence in a society is, `Fighting in a cage, that’s not so bad.’ ”
Not so bad as some movie violence, maybe. But who’s kidding whom? Part of MMA’s appeal is that it’s definitely not good clean fun. The fights are brief and often painful. The match ends when one man surrenders by tapping his opponent or the mat three times. In the beginning, there truly were almost no rules. But gradually, an MMA rule book evolved. That’s why you won’t see any biting or eye-gouging at HP Pavilion. Coker fulfills the same requirements as sanctioned boxing promoters — with insurance, medical personnel and licensed referees.
All of this is excellent, Shamrock notes.
“I’m a martial artist,” he said. “So to me, it’s an art form. It’s the art of fighting. And I’m not going out there to hurt anybody. I’m there to win as quickly and efficiently as possible, without getting hurt. . . . But in MMA, anything can happen. A kick, punch, elbow, a choke, a throw, a hold. Anything can happen. And there’s a story. Two guys have a conflict, they’re fighting, and there’s almost always an end to that story.”
The story Friday is a classic one. Shamrock, who basically retired from MMA in 1999 after winning five world championships, is coming back to accept a challenge from Cesar Gracie, another former champion. The match is being promoted as the revival of cage fighting’s “oldest family rivalry,” because the Shamrock and Gracie clans have a history. Twelve years ago, Gracie’s cousin beat Shamrock’s brother in a heated match. The two families have feuded ever since. Think Ali-Frazier, or Hearns-Leonard. That’s what will happen Friday.
“There are people coming in from all over the world for this,” Coker said. “I’m getting calls from Australia, Japan and Canada. We’re going to fill up a lot of hotel rooms. I’m a little surprised. I thought we would get to 10,000. But to already be at 12,000 this early in the game . . . it’s a little overwhelming.”
And it could be just the kick start. With a whap.