Muscling in on MMA

2011-04-09 00:00

LESS than a year ago, it made the headlines in South Africa for the wrong reason. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Ozzy de Paiva suffered head trauma during a fight against Remo Ralph at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg and had to be hospitalised. His opponent was also badly injured.

The sport has been fervently protested internationally in the last few years and likened to human cockfighting, however, MMA still continues to be the fastest growing sport in South Africa.

What is it about man-on-man physical aggression that is so popular? Is it the adrenaline rush that makes both audience and fighter feel alive? “It’s better than fighting on the streets,” said professional MMA fighter Johan van Staden (26) during a training session at the Lion’s Den MMA gym in Pinetown.

The gym had the rugged, hardcore look down to an art, with walls that seemed to ooze testosterone. “You just wouldn’t understand,” he replied when asked why men feel that need to fight.

MMA, popularly known as cage fighting or ultimate fighting, is a full contact combat sport that combines the skills of Jiu Jitsu, wrestling, boxing, San Shou and other forms of combat sports.

Co-owner of Lion’s Den South Africa and MMA trainer, Mark Bristow (41), has been competing for 28 years. He has received a gold medal in the United States of America as a San Shou Full Contact Champion and is the Natal heavyweight champion in amateur boxing.

“MMA or any martial arts takes the greatest amount of discipline and dedication to be successful,” says Bristow. “There is a huge amount of work that has to be done to be fit and effective. Mental preparation is essential and a clean mind and body is a must to be an MMA fighter. Although MMA is a very tough contact sport, you will generally find that most fighters are very humble and respectful to other people, just don’t pick a fight with them.”

Even in the octagon steel cage, the respect fighters have for their opponent is evident; they tap gloves before and after knocking each other’s lights out and sometimes even swop manly pats on the back or hugs, regardless of their victory or loss.

“Fighting in the cage is the ultimate test for anyone,” explains Bristow. “There is always a certain amount of fear and adrenaline that goes through your head.”

Dain Neveling (28), also a professional MMA fighter, started MMA to become fit. Despite being a family man, an insurance broker for a firm of financial consultants and animal activist, Neveling is dedicated to the sport and is rumoured to be facing big international fighters in the near future.

“It’s like any other sport. You learn the skills and then you want to go out there and test them.” He adds that MMA becomes an adrenaline drug.

“It is a relatively safe sport. It’s not a bar fight, it’s more controlled. You control your aggression and emotions. In the cage, you respect your opponent because it takes balls to get in there and fight someone.”

Regardless of what one may think, the sport is growing with the Lion’s Den alone having 84 members.

Says Neveling: “The first fight I was in was in a backyard and now the fights are held at places like the ICC. It’s huge and it involves every aspect of fighting … There are thousands and thousands of moves and the more you learn, the more you realise how much you don’t know.”

However, before you can step in the cage, arduous training is required.

“A fighter should normally train about five times a week for six months before entering an amateur fight,” explains Bristow. “At least 10 amateur fights should be entered into with a 70% win rate before the fighter can become a professional fighter. Professional fighters can earn up to R50 000 per fight, paid by the promoters, and can have up to six fights a year.”

But how safe is it?

“Although injuries do occur, the controlling body is very strict about fighters’ safety. Refs will stop the fight if the fighter is in trouble or risks serious injury,” says Bristow. “There are far less injuries in MMA than in rugby or motor cross.”

Van Staden has no fear of death in the cage. “Anything is possible. If you are going to die, rather die inside the cage than outside on the streets.”

The hype over something seemingly primitive and uncivilised may be explained when a sculpted Brad Pitt in the film Fight Club asks his underground followers, “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”


• For more information contact Mark Bristow at 082 302 8013 or e-mail him at

TATTOOS are back in vogue amongst this crowd and the finest artworks were on display, peeping out of T-shirts on brawny necks and arms. One obliging muscleman even kindly removed his T-shirt to give us a better look at his sculpted, beautifully decorated back. These tattoos are no corny blue hearts, roses or dolphins. They are exquisite full colour artworks, beautifully executed. Scripts spell out words, which ripple pleasingly on bulging biceps.

SUBMISSION Holds: When MMA Submission Holds are applied correctly, the opponent will be forced to submit due to pain or fear of injury.

• Choke Holds – Submissions applied to the neck to cut-off blood flow to the brain.

• Rear Naked Choke – Hold applied from behind the opponent.

• Triangle Choke – Submission using the legs in the form of a triangle.

• Arm Triangle – Choke using the arms in the form of a triangle.

• Guillotine – Choke hold applied while facing the opponent.

• Gator Roll – Submission applied from the north-south position.

• Joint Locks – MMA Submission Holds that hyper-extend or hyper-rotate one of the body’s joints.

• Arm Bar – Arm lock that hyperextends the elbow.

• Kimura – Lock that hyperrotates the shoulder.

• Americana – Lock applied to the shoulder.

• Omoplata – Shoulder lock applied with the legs.

• Knee Bar – Lock that hyperextends the knee.

• Ankle Lock – Joint lock that hyperextends the ankle joint.

• Heel Hook – Submission which hyperrotates the ankle joint.

• Toe Hold – Joint lock that hyperrotates the ankle.

• Can Opener – Submission which hyperextends the neck.

• Crucifix Neck Crank – Submission hold which hyperextends the neck. Applied from the crucifix position.

• Twister – Submission which hyperextends the neck. Popularised by Eddie Bravo.

• Spine Crank – Joint lock which hyperextends or hyperrotates the spinal vertebrae.

• Compression Locks – MMA Submission Holds which cause intense pain by pressing a muscle against a bone.

• Achilles Lock – Hold that applies pressure to the achilles tendon.

• Bicep Slicer – Lock which puts pressure on the bicep.

• Leg Slicer – Compression lock applied to the thigh muscle and/or calf.


• EFC AFRICA and Nu Metro Cinemas have arranged an exclusive opportunity for fans and fighters to interact. Meet your favourite fighters at a Nu Metro near you on April 9 between 7 pm and 8 pm. For more information, please e-mail Jack Birch at

MIXED Marshall Arts is the new cool and as the sport grows in South Africa, it is gathering a cult-like following.

An MMA meet is a thrilling, adrenaline filled evening. On March 31, Fight Force presented Outrage, an international cage fight at the Durban Exhibition Centre.

Picture the scene at this contemporary colosseum where the men fight and the women wear gladiator sandals: Deafening heavy rock music, the fighters’ cage lit up theatrically centre stage surrounded by burly eager spectators. A surreal twist, Dave Guselli smooth as silk with his freshly touched up hair highlights, is the MC.

Testosterone pumps as the Hooters Girls prettily serve the drinks, and the fighters, trainers and general acolytes flex their muscles.

While the young are uber-cool, the older hangers-on just look sad. It is an ageist sport. Camaraderie is big. Hands are pumped, and gruff hugs exchanged among the men, many of whom are clad in MMA T-shirts with thick gold chains around their necks.

It’s all about image and belonging and they badly want to be part of this group. As the time comes for the fights to start, the crowd is hyped. They bay for blood, or a successful choke hold or knock-out at least.

The fighters come into the ring, followed by their trainers and other men who walk up too in a stoic show of support. It looks like one is followed by his dad and brothers. Where are his mother and sisters? The competitor is gently inspected by a man at the entrance — genital protector, gum guard and Vaseline applied to the face.

As the fighter enters the ring, his supporters pat him on the back mouthing words of encouragement. Barefoot, wearing only shorts, some amateurs appear nervous, but the professionals are snarling.

First fight, round one and a bikini clad girl in high heels clambers into the cage and enjoys her moment of glory as she struts around with the Round One board. This is not the terrain of feminists. She totters off and the gate is bolted from the outside; there is no escape.

Choke holds, high kicks and punches pound thick and fast as the fighters grapple for victory. Blood flows; a badge of honour for the bleeder, and the crowds lap it up.

This is no choreographed Wrestlemania. It’s the real thing and it looks lethal. The aggression and violence is startling, and at times nauseating, but there is an undeniable visceral thrill. The pace is fast. Some fights last only a minute or so before a victor is declared.

It’s time for SA vs Ireland; the fighters come out to the tune of Amazing Grace ala hard rock. One forgets how pale white people can be until the Irish fighters appear in their shorts. The anthems are sung. Nkosi sikelel iAfrica is a big hit, but one local gives the sieg heil salute throughout God Save the Queen. We win one international fight and lose one.

The Irish victor leaps atop the cage fence in glory. It’s all over. The crowds leave on a high. They’ve had their fix. The verdict on the evening as a whole? A hit. A palpable hit.

Hudson can kieck! – Gauteng accent.


He’s running away!


From a fighter, livid after he lost his bout. “I wanna fight him again! He must come!”


“Stop playing! Hit him! F**k him up!”

Anything is possible … If you are going to die, rather die inside the cage than outside on the streets.

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