The first thing you notice at a mixed martial arts fight is the absence of blood. The second is the almost reverent dedication of the young fans who attentively watch the change of techniques from the fighters in the ring.
Companies such as MMA Costa Rica and Fite Night have been actively working the last few years to promote mixed martial arts (MMA) events throughout Costa Rica.
In the last four years, more than 20 professional MMA tournaments have been held around the country, growing from a few hundred fans initially to several thousand today.
MMA fights usually invite international athletes who are experienced in numerous martial arts, such as Brazilian jujitsu, kick boxing, karate, tae kwon do and judo and fight while mixing all of the techniques into one match.
Abel Chavarria, an old time boxing fan, said he attended his first MMA event last Friday night at the Villa Olímpica in Desamparados, a neighborhood south of the capital.
“I’ve been a fan of boxing since I was conscious,” he said. “Mixed martial arts has been growing on me as they’ve been improving their events here in Costa Rica.”
Last week’s event attracted more than 3,000 fans in the arena and about 20,000 through live streaming on the Internet. Although this sport brings in thousands of fans to its events throughout the year, it still has to win the respect from groups governing sporting events nationwide.
In December 2007, Costa Rican Sports and Recreation Institute (ICODER) passed a resolution condemning the ad hoc fights and sent a letter to all of the municipalities across the country encouraging them to deny permits to activities “that threaten the safety of human beings.”
Rafael Vega, the vice president of ICODER, said he was particularly bothered at the lack of training of the fighters and said there were reports that similarly underground fights were taking place around San José and Desamparados (TT, Jan.11).
Another issue surrounding this sport is the absence of a governing body that would make sure the rules of the sport are being followed at every event.
Both the promoters and athletes alike agree that such a body needs to be formed to ensure the safety of fighters as well as the future of the sport in Costa Rica.
James Sutcliffe, an MMA fighter from the United States, said the sport in Costa Rica has not progressed since the last time he competed two years ago.
“People could do whatever they want with regards to rules, as far as preparation for the fight and organization of the show,” said Sutcliffe, who teaches Brazilian jujitsu in Florida. “My opponent was in the same locker room as me. There are things like that where they have a long ways to go in regards of professionalism.”
Anthony Albanese, promoter for Fite Night, said that even though sharing a locker room with an opponent is very common at their level of fighting, there is a need for a governing body to oversee MMA events in the country.
Brazilian fighter Sydney Machado has been fighting professionally for the last 13 years in Brazilian jujitsu agrees a commission is needed.
“I know the difference between a sweaty fighter and a slippery fighter,” said Machado, who also participated on Friday night’s competition.
“The organization of this particular event was good, but there wasn’t a criterion in terms of the awarding of points or a commission making sure the rules were followed.”
Albanese denied the allegation, saying he makes sure his people follow the rules by hiring certified referees. During the Friday fight, Albanese said there were two referees from a professional commission in Florida in each of his events.
“We do weigh-ins, a rules meeting where each fighter is obligated to attend with their coaches, and four monitors that watched all of the fighters during the events,” Albanese said.
Albanese conceded there should be more monitors during the fights.
“I love the sport, I want to see it grow and I think there is potential with MMA to make some money,” he said. “I hope there will a commission or sanctioning body to oversee MMA events in the near future.”
An estimated 40 Ticos fight regularly in MMA events, which pay between $100 and several thousand dollars, depending on the fighter’s experience.