Weighing In on Kyle Maynard’s MMA Debut
He’s what some would call the Perpetual Human Interest Story. And now, the story of Kyle Maynard takes another intriguing and more controversial twist, just by the very nature of his latest pursuit.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with his story, Kyle Maynard first gained notoriety when he competed in the 2004 Georgia High School Wrestling Championships. Which on its own merits is an impressive accomplishment but nothing for me to figuratively or literally write home about. Except for the fact that Maynard was born with an incredibly rare condition known as congenital amputation, a disorder that causes the limbs (or parts of the limbs) to literally fall off the foetus in utero.
As a result of this disorder, Maynard was born without arms past his elbows or legs past his knees. Despite this severe handicap, Maynard expressed an early interest in grappling and quickly astonished friends, family members, and onlookers by competing at the highest levels of his weight division and out-wrestling able-bodied competitors en route to a 35-16 High School freestyle wrestling record.
Needless to say, Maynard’s story is inspirational and extraordinary, and it only gets more interesting when you consider how he was able to succeed in his chosen field of expertise. Maynard used his skill and natural athletic ability to not only compensate for his lack of forearms and shins, but actually turn what would normally be considered weaknesses into strengths. Because such large sections of his limbs were absent, Maynard was in actuality much bigger – even if not in weight – than his competitors. Additionally, opponents had trouble figuring out and adjusting to an opponent with a vastly different center of gravity than anybody else they’d ever faced and one with no extremities to grapple.
Maynard wrestling through college with the University of Georgia, where he received his four-year degree in 2008. Though he did not attain the same level of success at the collegiate level, he was still able to realistically compete with the competition presented to him.
Now he has a different battle ahead of him. This weekend, Maynard will compete in his first professional Mixed Martial Arts fight at the Auburn Covered Arena in Auburn, Alabama. The event will feature nine other bouts and also advertises an “appearance” by former “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant and UFC competitor Junie Browning. The impending debut has generated a lot of controversy both locally and nationally and has sparked impassioned debates amongst both uninformed mainstream sports journalists and the hardcore MMA fanbase.
On one hand, Maynard’s story naturally makes you want to sympathize and root for him. He’s an inspirational figure who everyone wants to succeed or at the very least be given the opportunity to do so. And as was the case with his amateur wrestling career, the detriments his handicap provides may be equaled by the unique advantages they provide. Beyond an opponent having to adjust for a physically awkward match-up and not having any arms or legs to lock on a submission, MMA rules may also be in Maynard’s favor. After all, the nature of his physical condition means that he is quite literally always a downed opponent (on one or both “knees”) and therefore means that he can’t be struck in the head.
With the detriments and benefits weighed against each other and the fact that he’s defied expectations in the past, can Kyle Maynard’s venture into the sport of Mixed Martial Arts be that different?
I want to say that Maynard should be allowed to compete just so that he can fulfill this aspect of his competitive nature and be given a chance to prove people wrong yet again. However, while Mixed Martial Arts may not be the bloodsport that so many in the mainstream media still seem to believe it is, its very nature does provide some unique dangers for its competitors. Commission oversight – and in particularthe Unified MMA rules adopted by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission in 1997 – seeks to guarantee that fighters are protected and to ensure fairness. As such, there’s a question as to whether someone in Maynard’s position can be provided that protection and adequately defend themselves in a combat sport. The Georgia State Athletic Commission doesn’t seem to think so, as it decided in 2007 not to grant Maynard a license to compete. Although it’s not clear what factors specifically led to that decision, one can imagnie that his physical inability to cover and protect himself from strikes – particularly from the bottom when mounted by an opponent – was a very real and legitimate concern for the Commission.
What’s equally (if not moreso) worrisome is that this event is taking place in Alabama, a State with no Athletic Commission or oversight. One would hope the NJSAC MMA Unified Rules would be in full affect, but with no overseeing governing body or legislation on the books, there’s nothing legally obligating them to do so. The only hope is that the fight’s organizers and the referee of the bout have a desire to work outside of the State at some point in the future, as decisions and rulings made by any SAC in the United States are always enforced by other SACs in order to show respect for the Commission’s authority and to ensure unity and solidarity within the sport. Failure to comply often results in various Athletic Commissions denying licenses and/or banning individuals seen as not being in compliance with prior rulings from participating in the sport.
Unfortunately, Maynard’s participation in this event already flies in direct conflict with the the Georgia SAC ruling which could potentially be evaluated, argued and overturned by another Athletic Commission but hasn’t and most likely won’t be. Adding to the confusion and the concern, the fight’s promoters have stated that his opponent won’t be revealed to him or the general public until the weigh-ins occur on Friday, giving him about a day’s notice. All this lends a hefty amount of skepticism and doubt as to the legitimacy of the promotion putting on the fight card, their sincerity in presenting Maynard as anything other than a “freak show” attraction, and most importantly their commitment to protecting and serving in the best interests of their fighters.
The only thing for certain at this point is that, barring any last-minute injury or an act of God, Kyle Maynard will have his first MMA fight on Saturday night. I just hope for his sake, and for the sake of MMA’s image in the mainstream meadia that nothing happens to confirm the concerns and skepticism of folks like myself.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Article: http://www.ajc.com/services/content/printedition/2009/04/19/maynard0419.html
CagePotato.com Weighs In: http://www.cagepotato.com/kyle-maynard-knows-what-hell-hes-doing-when-it-comes-mma
Internet Pay-Per-View Broadcast of the Fight Card in Auburn: http://www.todocast.tv/satlogic/afn/
Thanks to bpdermody for pointing out to me that I mistakenly wrote Junie Browning appeared on “Tough Enough,” when in fact he was on “The Ultimate Fighter.” The latter show has been on the air for at least as many years as the former’s been off the air and I STILL get the names confused to this day.