From the Muay Thai rings of Bangkok, to the Sumo wrestling matches of Osaka, Japan, the tradition of fighting for sport and public entertainment exists across many cultures around the globe.

Travelers visiting these countries will often adopt a ‘when in Rome’ mentality, eagerly paying their admission tickets to cheer on local contenders. But, as MMA (mixed martial arts) dominates pay-per-view popularity here in the U.S., travelers don’t necessarily have to go far for gladiator-style grappling with global flair.

For newbies like me, MMA could be described as the melting pot of blood sports, combining the elements of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, kickboxing and Taekwondo, among others. This full contact combat sport is at once a modern phenomenon (created in the U.S. in 1993), with roots dating back to the Olympics of ancient Greece.

While it’s one thing to watch a UFC fight on TV, it’s another experience entirely being part of the crowd. I recently found myself at Commerce Casino for Badbeat 9, the live pro cage-fighting event held by Badbeat MMA. The event, located just outside of Los Angeles, showcased ten professional MMA bouts including two championship title fights and one retirement fight.

My first time at a MMA fight was an immersive cultural experience. Bare-chested opponents circled around each other in the octagon-shaped cage, strategizing their striking and grappling techniques. One lunged at the other and both fell to the floor. Slithering around in a sweaty athletic embrace, the pair performed choke holds on the ground for an action-thirsty crowd. A few wild kicks, a surprising take-down and a series of submission holds before one adversary submitted and the crowd went crazy. While at first glance it might look brutal, today’s MMA puts a high priority on safety, making legal head butting, hair pulling, and groin strikes a thing of the past.

The MMA phenomenon continues. Check out​schedule and for upcoming mixed martial arts events across North America.

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