James Barnes celebrating after submitting Albert Morales with an armbar. (Courtesy of James Barnes and Dave Mandel)

Mixed martial arts strikes high in popularity

By Diana Vasquez, Feb. 9, 2021

Mixed martial arts has gradually peaked in popularity throughout the world, but left CPP students who once participated in martial arts fitness lessons at the BRIC with nostalgia of what these classes used to be.

Mixed martial arts is a combat sport based on various fighting techniques and other forms of self-defense like boxing, wrestling, judo, taekwondo. CPP fitness martial arts classes have generated popularity among students contributing to the growth of one of the world’s fastest-growing sports.

“I took the group fitness classes on taekwondo for almost three months straight,” said Valerie Place, a third-year environmental biology student. “It was another challenge to push my potential as an athlete.”

(Courtesy of Mark Gonzales)

Place grew up watching televised boxing and Ultimate Fighting Championship matches before she began the sport at the BRIC. She felt intimidated to try the fitness classes because of the stigma behind martial arts as a male-dominated sport, but after experiencing the classes she realized it’s a sport anyone can participate and learn with time.

Time and practice is what James Barnes, a professional martial arts fighter in Los Angeles for the World Fighting Championships promotion company, would say is important to advance to the next level.

Barnes, known as Mooka in the fighting cage, has fought professionally for six years in the 132 pounds-Bantamweight class with a record of 13 wins, four losses and zero draws. He was training six to eight hours every day prior to COVID-19; now he trains about three to five hours.

“It used to be a lot easier to find a fight; if I was healthy, I’d be able to fight once a month, now it’s been over a year since my last fight,” said Barnes. “Shows get canceled because of COVID, opponents back out because of lack of experience. It’s hard, there are not many promoters that will have fights without an audience, and without ticket sales they’re just giving fighters a fight without them making any money.”

James Barnes celebrating after submitting Albert Morales with an armbar. (Courtesy of James Barnes and Dave Mandel)

Pay for professional fighters can range depending on the ticket sales and the promotion of the fight. In the past, Barnes won up to $7,000 for a fight that lasted four minutes, but due to the show cancellations he had to find another part-time job to be able to support his family.

Being in the industry and working as a trainer, Barnes feels the sport is acquiring popularity and becoming more competitive.

In the United States, 36 million people participate in mixed martial arts every year according to Statista, a database market company. According to market research from IBIS World, martial arts studios make $4 billion in profit in the United States each year, with 75,000 studios operating throughout. MMA equipment revenue is expected to reach $565 million by 2022, reports IBIS World.

In California, there are about mixed 671 martial arts gym locations, according to Tapology, a fighting database for MMA and combat sports.

At CPP, martial arts classes helped Aiko Masaki, second-year architecture student, become stronger and learn general self-defense. Masaki decided to participate in the Bronco fitness classes with inspiration from their favorite animated television series, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra.”

“I was able to fit almost all the classes into my schedule,” said Masaki. “I took a pretty insane number of MMA classes, maybe around 160 and each lasted about an hour.”

(Courtesy of Mark Gonzales)

Mark Gonzales, CPP trainer and fitness supervisor for the group fitness programs at the BRIC, also believes that there’s been an increase in popularity for mixed martial arts due the mainstream boom of the UFC.

In January 2020, UFC 257 brought in an audience of 1.6 million pay-per-view buys toward the fight with competitors Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor, according to The Sports Journal. ESPN Plus partnered with UFC in 2018 and UFC 257 proved to be one of ESPN Plus’ highest selling paper-view events since their association.

However, Gonzales views mixed martial arts as more than just fighting in a cage.

“When I first started my martial arts journey, I had no self-confidence; I could not speak to people. I felt like I was not good at anything, but martial arts started giving me the confidence,” said Gonzales.

(Courtesy of Mark Gonzales)

The martial arts classes once taught at the BRIC can now be accessed online through Zoom. Gonzales said teaching online is complicated with having to cater to the amount of space and equipment students have available. He encourages students to join these martial arts classes at the comfort of their home, until they become available at the BRIC.

“I don’t think martial arts is about fighting,” said Gonzales. “Martial arts is about finding the best version of yourself.”




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