Mitchell Johnson: Our UFC stars are just as talented as AFL, NRL champions

Mitchell Johnson
The Nightly
3 Min Read
WA’s Jack Della Maddalena.
WA’s Jack Della Maddalena. Credit: Megan Briggs/Getty Images

UFC 300 was huge on Sunday, and even better, the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion will be back in Perth later this year.

I find it interesting MMA appears to still be categorised as a fringe sport in Australia, with it being a global sport followed by huge numbers around the world and with many Aussies competing in it.

Maybe it is seen as primitive and barbaric as athletes are facing off with each other in a caged environment, wearing minimum protective gear surrounded by people cheering them on for a beat down.

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Maybe the haters of the UFC are just haters of sport in general. Maybe the intent of the sport to hurt someone is what turns people off and I can understand that too.

The two biggest contact sports in the country would be Aussie rules and rugby league. And the highly competitive and combative AFL and NRL are enjoyed by plenty of fans.

I grew up with the NRL and I have many memories of watching and playing rugby league at school lunch time.

It is very physical and has its dangers, such as head collisions and spear tackling - which is now an illegal tackle because of the risks that come with it.

I even remember and still enjoy watching the State of Origin between Queensland and NSW. They were brutal times back in the late 1980s and 90s.

Fights would often break out in these three-match series and as a fan watching, we wanted it to happen at times against the players we wanted to get softened up. It was part of the game and the excitement.

So my question is, why is the UFC viewed so differently to the AFL and NRL?

Footballers in both codes have certain skills they train for and when it comes to game time they do what they can to execute those skills and also to protect themselves and teammates at the same time.

Western Australian fighters Steve Erceg and Jack Della Maddalena
Western Australian fighters Steve Erceg and Jack Della Maddalena Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

Which is the same as UFC fighters or any other martial arts exponents out there. Karate, Judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, boxing … the list goes on.

These incredible athletes train to the absolute max, working on attack but also on how to defend or not be hit, their movement and how to avoid putting themselves in a bad position.

Unfortunately, being caught in a bad position does happen in all sports. And in the UFC, in the cage, the blood tends to make things look worse than what it may be at times.

I’m not trying to force the haters to start liking the sport. It’s fine if you don’t. My problem starts when West Aussies complain that the UFC isn’t a good thing to use to showcase Perth and our State to the world.

I don’t agree with that. The visitor numbers and economic impact of previous UFC events in Perth speak for themselves and without those successes, the State Government would not have been so keen to bring it back. What’s important is when we have these big events, the city is open and not shut down like it was for the WWE event last month.

Visitors at UFC 284 at RAC Arena last year got to be part of one of the best sporting atmospheres I have ever experienced when local boy Jack Della Maddalena and fellow Aussie Alex Volkanovski fought.

With Robert Whittaker, Steve Erceg and Tai Tuivasa also at the forefront of the sport, there are so many Australians forging successful careers on the biggest stage. And they are no different to our biggest stars in the AFL and NRL, because there is also high risk in what they do every weekend.

Jack Della Maddalena takes down Gilbert Burns.
Jack Della Maddalena takes down Gilbert Burns. Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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