In the first decades after the UFC debuted in the United States, martial arts training went through a unprecedented boom as gyms started popping up all over the world to train fighters for the new sport and to cash in on the new wave of students drawn to training in MMA to get in shape. Instead of the tightly controlled secrecy of the old system in the new one, the effectiveness of the technical innovations made by fighters and their trainers were proven in the unforgiving crucible of the ring. The mechanics of fighting leapt ahead exponentially as different styles experimented with the best ways to counteract the strengths and weakness of others. First, it was BJJ then wrestling, then strikers developing takedown defense, then Muay Thai developing as a reaction to grapplers, Greco roman dealing with Muay Thai- etc. on and on. A new uber martial art developed by taking what worked best from each discipline and ruthlessly discarding everything else, in an open sourced messy renaissance. In my work I would travel to many of the prominent gyms in the sport where these advances were being made and it was in these places that I saw the real heart of mixed martial arts.
“What the Mongolians would do is rush in with their cavalry…” Greg Jackson was weaving his spell from outside the ring, his eyes wide with excitement, “…then, when the knights would charge out to confront them, the Mongolians would turn around and appear to retreat. Then suddenly they would turn in their saddles, fire their bows over their shoulders, and decimate the knights with their arrows…” The two fighters in the ring, Keith Jardine and Tait Fletcher, hung on Jackson’s every word.
“The point is, even though it looked like they were retreating,” Jackson paused to be sure they got the point, “they were actually drawing you in.”
Pat Miletich was scowling again, sitting on a blue balance ball in the center of his gym’s wrestling room. His elbow rested on his knee and he supported his chin on his fist. Behind him, sitting on the floor against the wall, were two former UFC Champions the giant Tim Sylvia and lightweight legend Jens Pulver. Pulver who was always a ball of nervous energy, fidgeted next to him. Pat’s gym had been a pioneering powerhouse in MMA from the early days of the sport and there were a number of other prominent fighters in the room. Brad Imes, who is a big a man as Tim, was sprawled on the floor. Another good heavyweight fighter, Ben Rothwell, who was on a run in the International Fight League, had captured another balance ball. UFC veteran Spencer Fisher was present and some others.
In addition to the fighters, white haired businessmen, farmers, community leaders, and a man, now retired, who has just sold his business for a fortune, were also in the crowd. They all sat lined up against the walls of the gym. Many of the older men’s blue dress shirts were stained with sweat from the sweltering heat.
They all met here every Wednesday at 11:00 for Bible study. In the early days, only four people showed up. Now, at times they’d get as many as a hundred. The day I attended there were about twenty.