Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Mixed martial arts alive & kicking

As shin bone met leather punching bag, a thundering boom echoed through the dimly lit National Guard Armory in Cedar Rapids. Tucking a mouth guard behind his cauliflower ear, Derrick Mehmen paced barefoot across a wrestling mat.

Two days until fight night.

"Get your breath for a minute," barked Dave Sherzer, the coach and founder of Team Hard Drive, a mixed marital arts club. "Then I want you on the treadmill for five [minutes]."

Mixed martial arts, also known as shootfighting, pits two opponents against one another in a cage, and it is growing in popularity in Iowa. To some it may look like nothing more than an organized street fight, but competitors such as Mehmen meticulously cross-train in such martial arts as Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Thai kickboxing, and wrestling to mold themselves into as well-rounded fighters as possible.

In 1998, Iowa legalized shootfighting, regulating the sport much like boxing. Following the move, organizations quickly popped up throughout the state in such cities as Davenport, Tama, Waterloo, and Council Bluffs.

The federal government continues to leave the sport without national regulations, opting instead to let each state determine its own policy.

Florida, California, and New York, for example, all have bans in effect prohibiting amateur shootfighting.

While competitors could legally kick opponents in the groin and pull their hair in Ultimate Fighting Championship events during the early 1990s, strict rules and weight classes now give state gaming commissions the authority to govern mixed martial arts organizations, such as the Cedar Rapids-based Mainstream Mixed Martial Arts.

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