MMA is typically a fight between two people in a cage or ring. There are rules, a referee, weight classes and protective gear. For some MMA promotions, that norm is something to be experimented with or practiced differently as a gimmick to gain attention.

Thrones, a Russian-based MMA promotion is doing something different with the stage on which MMA fights take place. They hold fights in a sand-filled ring.

An internet video of a Thrones event that takes place in what looks like a large beach volleyball court in St. Petersburg, Russia, has gained attention. A sand pit isn’t something commonly seen outside of backyard amateur MMA fights. It appears to be a gimmick used by the promotion to set themselves apart, and it has positives and negatives.

The fight featured MMA action one would normally see, but it wasn’t helped by the inclusion of sand. The fight was stopped early in the first round due to a mouthpiece falling out and needing to be cleaned thoroughly. Not long after the action restarted, the fight needed to be stopped again due to sand finding its way into a competitor’s eye. It is easy to assume that a fighter could use the sand to their advantage with it blinding their opponent.

The fight ended by TKO with one fighter getting the better of the other through standing strikes and turning the fight to their advantage when it went to the ground. It was a pure enough MMA fight, with one man fighting his way to victory over his opponent. The sand-filled arena didn’t make the fight better, and it seemed to hinder movement. It is possible the sand would make it easier to grip an opponent for submissions, and that would take away from a fighter being fully able to defend himself.

If the promotion took the sand away and just had the large open arena, then that would be a viable alternative, but this sort of thing isn’t going to change the way MMA is viewed or practiced. It’s an interesting idea though.

Before Thrones’ sand-filled rings, a well-known failure at making a change to the arena was the YAMMA Pit Fighting promotion. The promotion’s one and only event held in 2008 in New Jersey featured a bowl-shaped ring floor with raised edges, the goal being that the unique area would no longer allow fights to be stalled by fighters being held against the cage.

The opposite was true and fighters found themselves more prone to be taken down due to tripping on the raised edges. Fortunately, the unique cage design didn’t play a part in a fighter being injured, but the promotion didn’t last long enough for that to eventually happen. YAMMA attempted an experiment that would create a more exciting MMA experience, and it failed.

Promotions such as these badly want to distinguish themselves, but their problem is that they are trying to re-invent the wheel as to how MMA is practiced. That is backwards thinking when considering what has been successful for other MMA promotions. Yet, these promotions deserve credit for trying something different, the purity of the one-on-one aspect of the sport remained intact, but the changes are unnecessary hindrances to something that already works just fine.

What happens when you have gimmick turned into an all-out spectacle? You get XARM, a promotion that mixes arm-wrestling with MMA to form a new combat-sport hybrid.

Two fighters have their arms strapped together as in a regular arm-wrestling match, but now they can punch, kick and grapple each other like in MMA. Though movement is somewhat restricted by each fighter having one arm strapped to a table.

Art Davie, the man behind the creation of the first UFC tournament, partnered with XARM to push the sport to the next level. He is from the old school days of the UFC, when it was promoted as a blood sport and a spectacle of violence. The promotion for XARM isn’t much different, pushing the angle of violence.

The problem with the gimmick of violence as a spectacle is that it hurts the name of MMA when the sport has matured past that point. Most viewers that see XARM will think it is only for the glorification of two men hitting each other and equate that to MMA.

The UFC brand that Davie helped established has moved past him. The UFC is no longer a gimmick, but a full-fledged sport that has taken the correct steps to establish itself into the mainstream. Promotions like XARM and Thrones are trying to piggyback on the success of MMA and the UFC’s growth by offering something different that might capture a fan’s attention.

It is too early to say if such gimmicks will catch on with combat sports fans; however, it is very unlikely. Some might see it as something fun to watch while others view these gimmicks as a cheap way to make money off the sport. A promotion like Thrones could have a feasible future in MMA because the purity of an MMA fight remains intact, although it does seem unnecessarily hindered by the sand. XARM technically isn’t MMA; it is arm-wrestling that incorporates elements of MMA.

When we look at what makes MMA successful, adding sand or violent arm wrestling aren’t the first thoughts that come to mind. It’s a good thing to see the sport growing, but we must remember that combat sports experiments such as YAMMA’s pit and XARM’s new twist on fighting are not the same thing as watching the UFC. The UFC has earned its acceptance and popularity, and if smaller promotions want to use gimmicks to gain some of that success, then they are going to have to brave the long, tough road to success that few others have successfully traveled.

Photo: A sand-filled ring is how Thrones attempts to stand out from other MMA promotions (Facebook/Thrones MMA)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.