Physical sport like a human chess game

The UFC is coming to town and for some the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is regarded as barbaric and brutish.

Two guys duking it out in a caged ring, bloodied and swollen as they grapple each other can bring to mind images of gladiators enclosed in ancient Rome’s Coliseum or two guys beating the crap out of each other at a bar.

But, that is what the untrained eye sees, according to MMA enthusiast and practitioner, Brad Cardinal.

“When most people watch a fight, what they see is two people brawling,” says Cardinal. “But it’s also a game. It’s like physical kinetic chess.”

Cardinal is an MMA champion who teaches Muay Thai (a fighting style from Thailand) and kickboxing out of Calgary’s Champions Creed Martial Arts.

“You have to be good at the game,” he says. “There’s a lot of technique to it.”

The game takes place in the Octagon, the eight-sided structure with chain-link walls where the combatants go at it.

So, what’s going on in that thing they call the Octagon?

“Bouts are usually three five-minute rounds with a one minute break in between,” says Cardinal.

“It’s pretty grueling if you go the distance.” The whole point is to get your man down ASAP.

There are three places where the fight can happen within the Octagon:

The first is in “the standup” where fighters are trading punches or kicks on their feet. “The clinch” is where opponents have a grip on each other and are trying to take each other down or strike with elbows, knees or fists. And the third, is on the ground “where the angry hugging continues,” says Cardinal.

And how do you win?

If both guys are still standing or angry-hugging at the end of the final round, then it’s by decision. UFC regulations state that three judges must evaluate the fight from different locations around the Octagon. The judges award points to the fighters based on “aggressiveness, octagon control, and just effectiveness and efficiency of what you’re trying to do,” says Cardinal.

Aggressive is judged by whether a fighter works to move the fight forward and initiates contact with his or her opponent.

The fighter who primarily dictates the location and pace of the fight is awarded points for octagon control.

The number of legal strikes given to one’s opponent also earns points.

And finally, the number of takedowns and reversals are also point winners.Brad “The Bonesaw” Cardinal holds MMA championship titles in “Rumble in the Cage,” “Wreck MMA,” and “Legacy Fighting Championships.”

Photo by: Melissa Molloy/Calgary Journal

If the fight ends before the final round it’s because someone’s lost consciousness because of a strike – knocked out. It can also end by submission, which is when someone’s put in a joint lock and they have to tap out because their limbs will break explains Cardinal.

And finally, by technical knockout (TKO) when the referee rules that the fight is over because a fighter fails to defend himself usually due to an effective attack by his opponent.

As for critics who reduce the sport of MMA to mere violence…

“We boil it right down, ” says Cardinal of his sport.

“Have you ever seen a football player run? They run into each other headfirst! That’s violence,” he says. Hockey too, with its hard plastic puck flying at insane speeds and guys crashing into boards is violence to Cardinal.

They don’t have pucks to shoot at each other or balls to fight over, says the lean muscular MMA fighter.

“I have to deal with one guy and I know what he’s going to do. He can do what I can do.”

Whoever outsmarts their opponent in the Octagon in this physical chess game is the winner.