Mixed martial arts (MMA) has exploded in Central Alberta, but it’s nothing particularly new.
What has changed is the community attitude towards local fighters and to those associated with the sport.
Local fighter Michael Davis said he’s watched the scene evolve into a more educated crowd, and sees the support and sportsmanship among local fighters at an all time high.
“People usually think MMA fighters are a bunch of brutes who like violence, but it’s more about competition – there’s a high level of sportsmanship in it,” Davis said.
“You’re kind of forced to respect people who will step into a cage and put everything on the line. They get in front of their friends and family to fight and, in most cases, they aren’t afraid to lose.”
Mixed martial arts is, in essence, a violent sport. There are rules to keep fighters as safe as possible, but of course injuries happen. Davis said he wished more people would recognize that it is a sport, rather than senseless fighting for the sake of violence.
He added that since his arrival in Red Deer, he has noticed there has been a shift in the community mentality towards the sport and that the community of fighters and supporters is quite close.
“Before, it seemed like people just wanted violence and that’s the only reason they went to Havoc fights. They didn’t really support locals as much as they do now,” he said.
“It’s no different than when the Rebels are playing and a hockey team like Medicine Hat comes in – people cheer for the home team, and root against the opponents. It’s starting to feel like that for Havoc.”
Davis said that the local gyms are extremely supportive of each other, and that for the fighters, it’s never about bringing other people down to get better.
“In our gym, everyone gets along. We still cross-train with other gyms, too. Arashi-Do and Kensai Martial Arts have a great bond and we all train with each other and help each other out. We give each other advice, and try to make each other better. We don’t really fight each other,” he explained.
“We see no purpose stunting our own growth in the sport for a pay cheque.”
Citizens can catch local fighters at the Havoc events, usually located at the Westerner. Davis said that the crowd has changed a lot since his first experience with the venue.
“I think when we go to shows now there is a more educated crowd. They’re used to seeing UFC on TV all the time. When fighters go to the ground, crowds aren’t booing. People aren’t just looking for knockouts anymore. It just seems more educated and people really come out to support locals now more than before,” he said.
Mixed martial arts incorporates striking and grappling techniques, but also requires a great deal of mental discipline and preparation. Davis said it is an effective sport for helping kids build their confidence because they have to be vulnerable and have faith in their training partners.
“When you come in, you have to check your ego at the door or you’re going to get hurt. Everyone’s there to help the others get better,” he said.
“It’s a long term investment in other people as well as yourself.
“A lot of people like to find excuses for their wrongdoings, but in this sport, once you leave the cage and the crowd’s gone, you’ve got to realize that you messed up and it’s no one else’s fault. All the pressure’s on you. It gives you a reality check, and it’s a very mentally draining process.”
As famous fighters like Conor ‘Notorious’ McGregor take the world stage, Davis said it’s important to remember that MMA is not all trash talk and hotheads. He said usually – especially in Red Deer’s scene – the sport garners respect amongst athletes and fosters personal growth.
“The positively and energy in the gym is unreal,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s for your personal life or gym life, you feel like you can handle anything. You’ll have bad days where you get beaten up and broken down in the gym, and still have to get up for your next round. You’ve got to be able to brush it off and leave it behind you or you won’t see growth. That transfers to your everyday life.”
The next round of local Havoc fights will occur in May, giving citizens a chance to check out the energy and spirit behind the sport.