Written by: Erin Littlefield
Developing a New Scene To Enable Social Change.
In honor of the UFC’s imminent return to Brazil, the birthplace of vale tudo and modern MMA, it’s time to take a look at the emerging MMA scene in neighboring Colombia. Colombia has been torn apart by civil conflict for the past forty years, breaking records for murder and kidnapping rates as well as suffering widespread poverty and cultural violence. However, in the past few years, Colombia has undergone a cultural revival, and the new influx of foreign business and tourism has brought with it new ideas. One of these foreign imports is MMA, and after its incredible bounds in popularity, the sport has become something of an instrument for social change.
Due to strained relations with Brazil, Jiu Jitsu only appeared on the scene seven years ago, but it was shortly followed by Kickboxing and the UFC on Colombian televisions. However, the rise in popularity and spread of the sport has been incredible, and in the past two years have sprouted an administrative body, several high quality event organizers and more than ten professional level clubs, in a country slightly larger than Texas that’s still in the throes of development. Events are not as common as in countries with more established scenes, but are every bit as popular and professional, taking root in all the urban centers.
What makes Colombia remarkable, however, is their attitude towards the sport. They view it as a way to develop themselves, to help establish strong relations with other countries and put themselves on the map as something other than the kidnapping capital of the world. Club Kanji in Bogota, the capital, has created a Big Brother-esque program to start training promising young men, creating future fighters as well as keeping those from impoverished areas away from crime. The fighters-in-training are each given a personal mentor, who is responsible for not only their training, but making sure they have enough money for transport, gear and food, in exchange for which the boys work two days a month at the club. These “Little Brothers” are not only incredibly talented, but train with a ferocity and determination that is precious in any sport, and some of them have the potential to become the great professional fighters of the future.
The hunger and innovation that fuels the training here, as well as the creation of a business infrastructure to support the sport, is the reason for the sport’s impressive boom in the past few years, and is also why, Colombia could well be the country to watch.
As German Morante of Club Kanji says: “We still need to explore what countries like Brazil and Mexico have, in order to develop a group of outstanding fighters and businesses to take MMA to the next level, however we have the human material to accomplish this, and in the next five years we can be producing some of the finest fighters in South America.”
[UFC will be fighting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday, Aug. 27 in UFC 134 Silva vs. Okami]
Erin Littlefield is a kickboxer and blogger, currently based out of Bogota, Colombia. As well as writing for political and cultural blogs, she’s expanding her writing to her favourite sport, MMA, and hopes to take what she’s seen in Colombia and become active in the MMA scene when she returns to her native England. So, stay tuned for more post coming from Erin!
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