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“I am “broken”, but I am happy. when MMA explodes in France

These versatile martial arts champions, who hit each other very hard and very fast, are having phenomenal success. Blood, tears, provocation… an explosive cocktail.

Sitting in a sweat against the mesh wall of this octagonal cage, Samira scans her body and feels the scars from her weekly workouts. A swollen cheekbone, a creaking ligament in his right wrist, a swelling that would soon double on an already bruised and scratched shin. “It’s nothing serious, it’s fine,” breathes the 32-year-old young woman, who hadn’t worn gloves for two weeks. MMA (from English: mixed martial arts, mixed martial arts), this is not forgiving. I had a hard time today, now I am exhausted and “broken”, but I am happy. I love this pain…”

It’s been a little over seven months since this wealth management advisor opened the door to MMA Factory (Paris, 12th arrondissement), the French temple of mixed martial arts. A decision made in the wake of some madness on September 2, 2023. That evening, at the Accor Arena in Bercy, Samira happens to be on an “unbelievable first Tinder date” on the second night of UFC fights in France. (Ultimate Fighting Championship), the leading American league of the discipline. Expected by 200,000 people on the waiting list, 15,000 tickets (€83 to €1,591) were sold in just a few minutes.

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In the sweaty and excited atmosphere of the show, which is particularly dominated by French stars Cyril Gane and Manon Fioro, Samira is taken by “the spectacle, but above all by this pure intensity and this controlled ferocity that these athletes exude”. So he joins the 4 million French fans, according to the UFC, who are enthralled by the country’s now 12th favorite sport. Then the 60,000 practitioners were identified at the beginning of 2024 (+ 338% in one year!) by the French Boxing Federation, which controlled this legal discipline for only four years. But what is this boom called? And why does this mix of English and Thai boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, karate and judo get the crowd so excited?

“Already, because this multiplicity of disciplines allows us to erase the number of fans from each of them,” explains Ian Ramirez, PhD in the sociology of sport at the University of Montpellier and author of the book: In the MMA box (Editions Atlande, 2021). But above all because, unlike a sport that becomes a spectacle after a recreational activity, MMA was first conceived and designed as a show.”

Cage show

Exactly in 1993 on November 12 in Denver, Colorado, when promoter Art Davey made his television dream come true, offering to see a sumo wrestler pit a karateka or an English boxing champion in a kickboxing match against the other. during fights that allow all strikes in the cage invented by John Milius, Director conan the barbarian who would have even imagined that it was electrified and surrounded by alligators… “MMA is born from the ambiguity of knowing which discipline is superior to the other in a spectacular way, a bit like when we put a whale and a hippopotamus. face to face; and this serious desire for synthesis, this “third” way that we find in the Asian culture of combat sports,” analyzes the philosopher and screenwriter Olivier Puriol. But to put on a show, you still have to be able to rely on characters who are as charismatic as they are physically capable of putting themselves in danger.

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“There was a lot of fast money to be made in these circus games, which attracted working-class fighters,” recalled Doug Merlino, a New York novelist who wrote the book. Beast. blood, struggle and dreams at the heart of mixed martial arts (Ed. Bloomsbury, 2015). And in a country that almost no longer works with its hands and its body, these warriors captivated Americans. Olivier Puriol continues. “We can add the M of ‘meritocracy’ to MMA, which promotes a form of proletariat because it is physically difficult and tiring to reach the top.” The social trajectories of these modern gladiators speak volumes.” In 2001, MMA consolidated its rules to better understand itself, softened them by banning kicks and knees on a downed opponent, and thus began its “quest for athleticism, doing everything to make itself acceptable to television, and therefore to the general public, – explains Ian Ramirez.

But without losing its sulphurous and wild soul. Especially since the 2010s, now broadcast free-to-air on American sports channels with growing content needs and now streaming on YouTube’s top picks, MMA has found the last missing link to escape its niche; beyond that. the king trash talk (verbal provocation) Like Muhammad Ali, subscribed to extra-sports campaigns like Mike Tyson and winner of homer fights like the Irishman Conor McGregor is becoming a hero of television and the Internet. And the extra-popular MMA image that makes him a role model. He stands at the beginning of this sales pre-fight process, based on verbal provocations, even physical altercations, as expected and as inspiring as the confrontation itself, Ian Ramirez continues. This attitude is in line with the culture of buzz and bumping that dominates the social networks that young people love.

A perfect illustration of the highly anticipated and unlikely fight between Baysangur Chamsudinov aka Baki and Cedric Dumbe aka The Best last March. Five days before the showdown, he broadcasts a video of Bercy bringing… an ambulance to be used to evacuate his opponent. On the big day, in the third round, incredible nonsense. Dumbe reported the discomfort (leg splinter!) to the referee, who thought he was injured, stopped the fight and awarded Bucky the winner. Dumbe, his clan and fans cry foul, demand revenge, and here we go again…

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Cathartic effect

Complicit in this rogue theater, magnetized by these athletic actors with superhero monikers inspired by comics or manga, and vamped by “these abstract and idealized beings that we think are capable of anything, just like in a video game,” Olivier Purriol portrayed, the public as well. will imagine. purge his worst tendencies through them. “Our taste for blood, our obsession with death, our need for violent domination,” lists Doug Merlino. In other sports, defeating the opponent remains symbolic. Not in MMA. Blood flows in the cage and bones crack ‘real’ and dominance is real, tangible, visual.’

Ian Ramirez, who counts “fewer deaths in MMA than in cycling,” demurs. “The morbid imagination that can reach the point of public catharsis exists less as MMA has legitimized itself by arming itself with a true sporting identity. “safe” more hopeful and in this sense also more attractive.’ But since (human) nature abhors a vacuum, it has already found a substitute: street fighting. Videos of his undercover street brawls between hooligans, neo-Nazis, ex-prisoners and ex-soldiers are now generating millions of views online…

Source: Le Figaro

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