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Mixed martial arts gains popularity in our region | MMA in Pa.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship had its best financial year in 2021. So, why did it catch on so quickly?

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Stadiums and arenas are filling up once again, as the country continues to ease its way out of nearly two years’ worth of restrictions and cancellations from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many of our activities and outlets for entertainment were put on hold during the pandemic, but in the world of mixed martial arts, there was an opportunity for growth, while other sports were inactive.

For centuries, martial arts have been widely recognized as a method of self-defense, discipline, and mental strength.

Some of the disciplines you might be familiar with are karate, judo or even boxing. However, over the years, hundreds of styles have blended together – paving the way for what we know today as mixed martial arts (MMA).

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), arguably the top performing MMA promotion in the world, was one of the only major sports promotions that regularly put on events during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, the organization posted its best financial year in 2021, with just under $1 billion in revenue and a 40% increase in its fanbase, according to UFC President Dana White.

So, why did it catch on so quickly?

Aside from quickly adapting and being disciplined about COVID-19 protocols, owner of Zero BJJ in York, Mike Oberdick, believes MMA has grown because it taps into the emotions of the viewer, by presenting competition in its most raw form.

"It used to be guys were fighters, now guys are athletes," Oberdick explained. "Years ago, you had to convince people, ‘What's jiu-jitsu?’ Not to be jaded, but I'm not trying to convince you anymore.”

“Be it MMA or jiu-jitsu as a whole, [it] is the tribe aspect of it. You could go through your entire day without coming in physical contact with someone, which in my line of work is weird," Oberdick said. "You are asked in a very short period of time to let somebody in your space, but you develop a thing, that you see things differently.”

There are two main facets to MMA: striking and grappling.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu – which translates in Japanese to "gentle art" – is one of the oldest martial arts, and was developed so that samurai could fight effectively while disarmed, among other reasons.

There's no kicking or punching, but the discipline instead uses chokes, joint locks, and takedowns.

Along with wrestling, jiu-jitsu is recognized as the foundation for grappling in MMA, and has appealed to all walks of life.

“Everybody's treated the same. Race, creed, job, wealth - I could care less," Oberdick said. "As soon as you come here, you get the same amount of respect from me, and I demand that from everyone else.”

Oberdick says the sport has made its way into younger generations, with impressive results.

“Even in our kids’ classes, we have little girls here who, at that age, are a little smarter than the boys and the girls stick it to the boys…and I'm like ‘Yes!’, you know? Because they're not as strong, but they don't have to be,” Oberdick exclaimed. 

The martial arts school owner got his black belt in 2013 and started Zero BJJ in York the next year.

Since then, Oberdick's worked to develop a relationship with the community, making martial arts more accessible to everyone.

"We have a young lady come in that deals with combative 18, 19-year-olds. She's probably a buck-30. She's very tiny, but at this point, she's fine,” Oberdick explained.

While the sport is watched by millions, he stresses that real fighting isn't pleasant, and Oberdick strives to make his students comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

He prefers the term life-defense over self-defense, as the lessons learned translate to more than physical protection.

 “You have to make them realize what they're capable of because they are capable of it, but doing it slowly and seeing them reach their goals, and they want to come back,” Oberdick finished.

In the next segment of MMA in PA, we'll hear from two professional fighters from the area. One is currently in the UFC and the other is a local pro and gym owner. They will provide insight about how wrestling lays the foundation for many fighters, and why the transition to other martial arts has gained traction in the region.

Download the FOX43 app here.

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