Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The 'arts' are a hit in New Jersey

Larry Hazzard tells me that Mixed Martial Arts fighting is now more popular than boxing. Stunned, I reply that I may not be that fond of boxing these days, but replacing it with martial arts is like replacing ice cream with broccoli.

Martial arts, in which every moving part of the body is a weapon, is still a major player in society's relentless pursuit of decadence, and so I ask him why is he permitting this to happen in his own state of New Jersey, of all places, since he could stop it, if he wanted?

It turns out that Hazzard, who has been a reliable commissioner of the state's athletic control board for 22 years, is himself responsible for this depressing renaissance.

For the longest time, in New Jersey or elsewhere, martial arts had no home. It had no structured rules, and New Jersey didn't care for it. But back in 2000, promoters of the mixed elements of the sport -- wrestling, jujitsu, karate and boxing, too -- asked Hazzard to sanction their competition.

The commissioner agreed, provided he could soften or have rewritten the rules for a mixed martial arts fight. Now, not only New Jersey, but the rest of the country is buying into Hazzard's revision.

"The public wants it," he explains, "so I figured it should be recast."

In an earlier time, the popular fight was known as "No Holds Barred," a form of entertainment in which two combatants would punch, kick, spit, bite, wrestle, stab, gouge, to a point of depravity. The paying customers l-o-v-e-d it.

"They've always loved it," agrees Livingston's Michael Gerson, the column's resident psychologist. "The people themselves used to be part of it. Back in the days of the Roman gladiators, they cheered after a bout and then gave a thumbs-up or thumbs-down signal of what to do with the loser."

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