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News and Features
March 8-14, 2006

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Mixed Martial Arts

He'll Make You See Green: Frank Shamrock (right) squares off against Cesar Gracie Feb. 10.

Shamrock Shake

By Todd Inoue

HOW DOES ONE explain the appeal of mixed martial arts (MMA)? In the early televised days of MMA, staged by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), it was slightly organized chaos, where amped up experts in karate, judo, muay thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and street fighting (Tank Abbott!) squared off. Likened on TV news programs to human pit bull fights, men of varying degrees of expertise and body shapes battled each other bloody in the octagon-shaped ring. There were no weight classes, encouraging freak shows and a "two men enter, one man leaves" slogan. Matches were either quick knockouts or extended lengths of ground fighting, jockeying for submission positions.

But the old days have opened to big business and a more mainstream application. Today, the UFC has weight classes, referees, five-minute rounds and an extremely lucrative and loyal Pay-Per-View base. The rule structure is now a page long, including: no biting, hair pulling, eye gouging, kidney, spine or groin shots. Grabbing the trachea or pulling the clavicle? Both no-no's.

The men compete for pride as much as a paycheck. While out-of-shape boxers like Mike Tyson or Larry Holmes receive millions, even when they lose, the top MMA purses reach between $75,000 and $175,000, and fighters do it without 16-ounce gloves.

And so it will go at the HP Pavilion in the first legally sanctioned mixed martial arts match since California State Athletic Commission legalized the sport in December 2005. Operating independent of the UFC, anticipation for Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie's StrikeForce match has been building for months. The fight pits the former UFC middleweight champion Shamrock against the undefeated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Gracie. It also hearkens back to one of the first UFC Super Fights, between Frank's adoptive brother Ken Shamrock and jiu-jitsu legend and Gracie bloodliner, Royce. The undercard features the MMA debut of San Jose's San Shou (kickboxing with generous grappling and body throws) expert Cung Le.

So what's the attraction? The same reason why people slow down when passing a car crash: it's violent, primal and voyeuristic to see two men beating each other to a pulp. And with its multiple disciplines, MMA is as much a mental battle than physical.

StrikeForce competition will be held Friday, March 10 at 7pm at HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. Tickets are $30-$200, call 408.287.7070.

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