MMA: The “Jazz” of Combat Sports
Written by: Barry Lindenman
Classical music has been with us since around the 11th century. Similarly, the emergence of boxing as a legitimate sport can be traced back to its acceptance by the ancient Greeks as far back as 688 BC.
On the other hand, jazz, as a legitimate music style, is a relatively new phenomenon. Its cultural origins can only be traced as far back to New Orleans in the early 1910’s. In the entire pantheon of sports, like jazz is to music, mixed martial arts (MMA) is the relatively new kid on the block.
Its acceptance as a legitimate sport (not to mention a global phenomenon) can only be traced back to the early 1900’s to the Vale Tudo matches in Brazil and the Merikan contests in Japan. It has only been since 1993, when the Gracie family brought the concept of “ultimate fighting championships” to the United States, that the sport really started to spark this revolution now known as MMA.
Boxing, like classical music, with its more disciplined approach, leaves less room for spontaneity and improvisation. MMA, on the other hand, with its combined origins from the worlds of boxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu, Muay Thai, kickboxing and Judo, allows for more free form type of creativity.
Just as jazz borrows its unique style from several different musical genres, including ragtime, swing, Dixieland, blues, and folk music, so does MMA represent a fusion of the best of the various combat sports. And because of their diversity, there is often some debate about exactly how to best define jazz and MMA.
I think it is safe to say that both jazz and MMA represent a hybrid of different disciplines that combine to form a new unique style that appeals to the fans of many diverse elements.
Whereas boxing is more structured, as is classical music, MMA (like its counterpart in the world of jazz) is more improvisational, unpredictable and open to possible interpretations. Let’s face it, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony sounds pretty much the same no matter who’s playing it. Jazz musicians, on the other hand, are much more individualistic and subjective in their interpretation of music, just as an MMA fighter often has to adjust his or her strategy based on the obstacles that they face during a competition.
Both boxing and classical music are more limiting in their boundaries, whereas MMA and jazz are generally seen as the more creative versions of their older counterparts; in fact, they are often seen (sometimes out of necessity) as being more adept to spontaneous changes and adjustments.
Finally (and this is only my opinion) currently, as they stand today, it unfortunately appears that both boxing and classical music have seen their best days fall behind them. Let’s just say that their respective popularities have been overshadowed by other forms of music and sports.
The acceptance of MMA by the traditional boxing Mecca of Las Vegas and the plethora of big money MMA fights on pay-per-view (previously only seen for boxing matches), only attest to the emergence of this sport’s growing popularity. Sadly though, there is a segment of MMA and jazz fans out there who just “don’t get it.” They fail to understand and appreciate the creative nuances and subtleties that make both mixed martial arts and the sound of jazz truly unique.
Given time, however, their concepts about MMA just may change.