Jamaican fighting spirit and UFC success
ULTIMATE FIGHTING Championship (UFC) debuted a version of combat sport known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) to the world in 1993. During its infancy, this version of MMA was labelled by critics as being a “blood sport” and was famously described as “human cockfighting” by the former Senator for the State of Arizona, the late John McCain.
A 2001 sale of the UFC seated Dana White as the company’s new president. White’s first initiative rolled out a set of rules and regulations that codified and standardised MMA, allowing the sport to gain acceptance from a global audience.
More than 20 years later and the UFC has now firmly positioned itself in the American big four and is also one of the fastest-growing sports globally.
Jamaica is traditionally known for sunshine, beaches, reggae music, and producing the fastest people on the planet. However, the success of Jamaican-born UFC champions Aljamain Sterling and Leon Edwards has positioned the island high, per capita, among other fighting nations within the UFC.
Why does Jamaica produce talented fighters, notwithstanding heritage or birthplace?
Jamaicans would answer this question by saying “Wi likkle but wi tallawah” – we are small but we are strong.
Jamaica has several other mixed martial artists who compete in the UFC at world-class levels besides current champions, Sterling and Edwards. Popular and accomplished Jamaican representation include fighters such as Paul Daley, Randy Brown, and Uriah Hall, to name a few.
VOID IN JA
What is noticeable among accomplished Jamaicans at the highest level of the UFC is that none of them are trained and developed in Jamaica. A void exists in Jamaica that does not afford homegrown Jamaican fighters the same opportunities for training and development as their counterparts in the diaspora.
This situation is not very different from many other non-mainstream sports in the country.
In an interview I conducted with president of the MMA Sports Federation in Jamaica, Daniel Chacko-Wilmot, last year, he indicated that for the development of our homegrown fighters, the strategic management approach of the federation will focus on a clear vision with long-term objectives for the future.
He stated that the five development pillars that his administration would focus on include athlete recruitment, coaching and officials’ development, regular schedule competition, infrastructure development and fundraising.
Chacko-Wilmot felt further compelled to remind us that the primary responsibility of the MMA Jamaica Sports Federation is to ensure the health and safety of Jamaican mixed martial artists while creating an environment that allows for growth and development. He believes that this strategic approach will create a sustained pathway for homegrown Jamaican fighters to access the rapidly growing UFC.
Though it may be frowned upon in Jamaica, it is not uncommon for boys to settle disputes with their fists in the neighbourhood and on the playing fields. Likewise, you may encounter older men who resolve their disagreements over a game of dominoes in a similar manner.
Chacko-Wilmot acknowledges these ‘transgressions’ philosophically.
He explained that we are a fighting people; fighting for freedom, rights and justice is a part of our history. A tradition that has been passed down and dates to our national heroes and heroine, who fought for the privileges we enjoy as Jamaicans today.
Fighting can be viewed negatively but it has become a positive extension of Jamaican culture, that is, we are willing to fight for what we believe in.
The president of MMA, Jamaica, recognises that the average Jamaican youth has the innate eagerness to fight, along with the requisite athleticism and mental fortitude to persevere in challenging situations.
His first experience with fighting was not in a UFC octagon but during his youth on a cricket pitch.
He credits not backing down but instead standing up and fighting back in this situation with manifesting a level of confidence within himself that he relies on to this day.
While the outsider looking in may see violence, the opposite is true of fighting sports, which typically instil discipline and control, making it a healthy outlet for managing aggression.
Jamaicans have been fighting for generations, long before the combining of different fight disciplines and our success in the UFC, said Chacko-Wilmot.
The evolution of MMA and the UFC has created champions out of Jamaicans in the diaspora. It is MMA Jamaica’s mission to create the same opportunities for Jamaican fighters based in Jamaica. Due to the natural talent of our athletes and the execution of MMA Jamaica’s strategic objectives, Jamaican mixed martial artists will continue to punch above its weight in the UFC.
Sakima Mullings is a boxer and a graduate student in the MSc. Sports Business Management programme in the Faculty of Sport UWI.Sport Pulse and Sport Matters are fortnightly columns highlighting advances that impact Sport. We look forward to your continued readership.