What was once an outcast sport, banned in most countries, and portrayed as two bloodthirsty behemoths kicking the crap out of each other, has quickly evolved into a world-class sport in which athletes showcase their skills, talent, and athletics — inside a cage. Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is quickly shedding its dirty stereotypes and is now being referred to as the fastest growing sport in the world. While in Taiwan the sport has yet to achieve the popularity that it has in the west, there are still plenty of MMA athletes all over the island that have spent months training to compete this Sunday afternoon in Taipei.
Royal Chiou, who was once nothing more than an avid fan, hosts his seventh MMA event this Sunday at Luxy, which will be transformed from night club to fight club with the construction of the Octagon. Chiou founded Pacific Rim Organized Fighting, or PRO Fighting, Taiwan’s only MMA organization, and with it he hopes to raise awareness of the sport in Taiwan.
Chiou says there is an art behind the blood spills, as the sport fuses several disciplines like boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, tae kwon do, wrestling, muay thai, karate, and other styles. “MMA is a mix of traditional martial arts styles and the most effective techniques from each, which has created a whole new modern martial art in its own right,” said Chiou in an interview with the Taipei Times.
Despite once being dubbed “human dog-fighting” by outsiders, there is no denying that this controversial sport has since gone mainstream in the west. Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, has found a home on cable-television and the name is plastered onto advertising around the globe, resulting in a billion dollar industry. Chiou believes it’s only a matter of time before the sport will catch on in Taiwan, in the same way other western sports such as surfing and skating have. “Taiwan, as always, is a bit behind the rest of the world,” said Chiou. “And it’s still is a bit hesitant and conservative when it comes to MMA.”
“MMA is very controversial because of the way it looks,” Chiou continued. “It’s fighting, it’s in a cage, and fighters bleed. In actuality, it’s very safe and it’s been found to be safer than traditional western boxing even. More fighters in boxing suffer long-term brain damage than in MMA.”
Hagan “The Renegade” Cooper, one of the fighters that Chiou has admited for Sunday’s match, agrees that the sport is dangerous but says that fighting is when he feels the most alive. “In MMA it is certain that you will be hurt, but anyone who wants to compete in this sport needs to accept that,” he said. “I fight to represent the pride of my gym, my coach, and all the guys that train with me. I fight because it’s fun and also I like to prove to myself that I’m not too old yet.”
Cooper, a New Zealand native who has resided in Taichung for the last nine years, spends close to 15 hours per week training at the Taichung Muaythai gym. After studying martial arts for many years, he saw MMA as a chance to put his skills to the test. But finding the motivation to fight and risk injury wasn’t easy at first.
“I think the biggest motivation for me when I first started was just overcoming my fear,” said Cooper. “I was scared to fight, I was scared to lose, and overcoming those fears was a huge battle for me. Working through injuries has also been difficult. But I think the single toughest thing has been finding good people to train with. Most people simply find the training too hard, and they’d rather sit on the sofa.”