Something struck me as a bit creepy watching six-year-old Armenian MMA fighter Minas Avagyan doing his best Tito Ortiz impression with a "grave digger" routine after tapping out his seven-year-old opponent via a guillotine choke.
Whether or not it alarms you watching young kids fight in competitive mixed martial arts tournaments, the Ortiz-esque grave digger routine showed poor sportsmanship and came across to me as more disturbing than "cute."
Think about it. You essentially have a six-year-old child pretending to dig a grave for an opponent he just beat. A coach or parent should have told Avagyan pre-fight to not show up his opponent by performing this routine, as a classy MMA fighter would never do such a thing.
Respecting Your Opponent
If you're going to develop young MMA fighters, it's paramount to do so the right way, by pushing the idea of sportsmanship and respect towards an opponent. Respect is easily the most important part of martial arts, and children getting involved in the sport are going to model their behavior after the adults who compete in it.
Ortiz matured over the years, but he clearly had an influence over young students of the game. Hopefully, current UFC fighters will take a cue from this situation and see what kind of impact they have on some of the new kids getting into the sport.
I admire athletes like Junior dos Santos and Kenny Florian, who take new students under their wing to lead them down a good path and show them how to have respect for the sport by being classy towards opponents.
Kids Competing In MMA
Besides the post-fight actions, the fight itself was a bit too extreme for my liking.
I don't see anything wrong with young kids learning to compete in mixed martial arts, but at the tender age of six, striking should be modified and ground-and-pound should be limited or banned completely.
By the looks of the video, striking seems to be perfectly legal in this league. Avagyan's opponent opened the tilt with a wild, looping right cross that likely would have caused some major damage if it connected.
Later in the fight, Avagyan softened up his opponent with body shots before securing the choke.
Should They Wear Helmets?
At such a young age, punches to the head are quite dangerous. In the United States, six and seven year olds start playing football and engaging in wrestling, so MMA is not that far removed from other full contact sports.
"Other kids practice sports that could result in head injuries or concussions, but that doesn't stop parents from encouraging their boys to play football," said Yahoo! contributor Cheryl Ragsdale. "Injuries happen even when players are fully suited with protective gear."
Ragsdale's assessment was right on the money. Injuries can occur in any sport, especially at a young age when bodies are still developing.
Forcing young fighters to wear headgear might not be the answer, as that would take away from the development of head escapes from submission attempts. I think the proper solution would simply be to ban strikes to the head, and disallow ground-and-pound.
What are your thoughts on six-year-olds competing in MMA? Let me know in the comments.
Eric Holden is a lifelong UFC fan and supporter of the sport of MMA. He has been covering youth league sports since 2009. Follow him on Twitter @ericholden.
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation
- Tito Ortiz