Buakaw Por Pramuk

Friday, June 1, 2012

MMA knocked out by Muay Thai and Olympics

Last month, the Sports Authority of Thailand made what seemed to be an out of the blue decision to ban mixed martial arts, or MMA, in Thailand.

Far from protecting our national sport, the ban on MMA is choking the potential for Muay Thai’s international growth.  

All professional MMA matches and tournaments were deemed unlawful under the 1999 Boxing Act.
SAT deputy governor Sakol Wannapong said the sport is "brutal and is not boxing" and that it could damage the image of Muay Thai.
Reading through the various rules and regulations under the act, there are indeed a few parts that would disqualify certain aspects of MMA from being performed in this country.
However, MMA is a versatile sport. The United States' Ultimate Fighting Championship, the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts and Singapore's One FC are all MMA event organisers, yet unsurprisingly they don't all follow the exact same rules.
So to say that MMA should be flat out banned for breaking Thailand's boxing rules seems a little unfair. Dare - one of Thailand's MMA organisers - could quite easily have adapted its rules to fit the laws.
Furthermore this ban does not take into account that MMA is just that - mixed martial arts. It is comprised of boxing, jujitsu, taekwondo, judo and many other disciplines, including of course, Muay Thai. None of these sports on their own are banned in Thailand. Why is that?
Well the more cynical supporters of MMA are leaning towards Thailand's attempt to make muay Thai an Olympic sport by 2016. Coincidentally (or not), the ban on MMA was put into effect just one week before Muay Thai's application to the International Olympic Committee and World Games.
In order to improve muay Thai's chances at becoming part of the Olympics, the sport first has to be deemed popular enough for it to be included. Could it be that the SAT is worried that with the growing popularity of MMA, Muay Thai will be overshadowed?
What's more, MMA is a huge money-making venture. Ticket sales for "UFC on FX: Alves vs Kampmann" in Sydney on March 3 equalled US$2.2 million (67.7 million baht) and that was a relatively minor event. Ticket sales for a typical muay Thai promotion at Lumpini Stadium average only around 614,000 baht.
Of course fighters can also earn a lot more. Jon Jones, the current UFC light-heavyweight champion, earned around $400,000 for his most recent match. Compare this to the 20,000-120,000 baht that top Muay Thai fighters make and it's easy to see the allure of switching disciplines to MMA.
Some might say that such comparisons in wages are unfair, like comparing the wages of English Premier League football players and Thai Premier League players. But the difference is Thai fighters can easily make the jump to international MMA. Legendary Muay Thai competitor Buakaw Por Pramuk has competed in MMA and twice won championships. Why shouldn't Thailand's fighters consider the move? Although looking at the mess Buakaw is in now, it might force them to have second thoughts.
But if there are any links between the banning of MMA in Thailand and our Olympic bid, the real question is whether making Muay Thai an Olympic sport would have more long term benefits than allowing MMA to continue.
There are many problems with muay Thai as an Olympic discipline. First, there is the argument that the sport would become diluted, in much the same way that taekwondo has been constrained by new rules imposed by the OIC. There are fewer and fewer traditional taekwondo gyms as trainers now lean more towards the Olympic standards. It is quite possible that the same thing could happen to muay Thai.
Another problem is the name. Muay Thai is also known as Thai boxing. The Olympics doesn't have any events named after a specific country. Would they make an exception for Thailand? Probably not. This would mean changing the name, and once you change the name and the rules, is it even muay Thai anymore?
What would the benefits be anyway? A few gold medals until the rest of the world gets better at the sport and starts beating us? Muay Thai could become the English football of the martial arts world.
Muay Thai should just be left as it is. It is already one of the most well known martial arts in the world and Thailand is already credited with producing the best exponents of the discipline. Having it in the Olympics won't make it any more popular, at least not at home anyway.
I believe the SAT was wrong to ban MMA and focus on the Olympics. Organisers like Dare have the potential to bring in a lot of money by modernising martial arts and working with other countries in coordinating events. The SAT could even encourage the reintroduction of muay boran, or ancient boxing, the precursor to Muay Thai. It's emphasis on grappling and throws would be perfect for the MMA ring.
Thailand has the opportunity to allow its fight industry to grow and not get left behind as innovations are made in both fighting styles and entertainment. Look at China - they allowed their martial arts to focus on performance rather than function and have since been left behind in the terms of credibility.
Many may disagree that MMA should be allowed to continue in Thailand. They will say it's too violent or brutal, despite both traditional boxing and Muay Thai being just as dangerous.
But that is not the argument I am trying to make. If it's too brutal, change the rules, don't just dismiss MMA, because the fastest-growing sport in the world has the potential to do more for muay Thai than the Olympics ever could.


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