MMA gets a lot of flack these days. It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and generally involves muscle-bound men punching, kicking and grappling each other to win bouts, the dream being to be crowned the “Ultimate Fighting Champion.” It’s a visceral sport, bloody to watch, almost animal-like in its intensity, the solid thuds of flesh hitting flesh provoking something primal and urgent in the fans.
But that might change with a new development from an Australian company called Unified Weapons Master. They’ve designed a high tech armor for MMA contestants to wear, that protects the wearer from blows. Called “Lorica suits” (from a Latin word for protective gear) the suits are designed to be used to fight with blunt martial arts weapons. The robotic suit - which brings up easy associations with superhero costumes such as Batman and Iron Man - has a design team which includes a former armor developer for the Lord of the Rings movies, which might explain why it looks so impressive. It’s tough as well.
“The armor has also been extensively safety tested using steel. The glasses in the helmet have been tested with steel projectiles fired at 150 meters per second and then smashed with steel tools on a steel anvil,” the company said on their Facebook page.
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Every time the suits receive a blow, be it from a fist or a weapon, the hi-tech armor calculates a score based on an algorithmic scoring system that was created with trauma and fracture profiles taken from medical records.
The suits weigh in at 48 pounds and contains a number of hi-tech sensors. These are used to calculate damage that the body gets from blows, and to display this data visually, by glowing red on the “injured” part of the suit. The suits also include a two-way microphone and a POV camera. The company plans to add biometrics that measure heart rate and temperature, as well as a GPS (for team events where you might lose track of the position of a fighter).
Unified Weapons Master expects to hold their first bouts with the suit in late 2014 in Australia, with MMA fighter donning the new robotic outfits. No names of contestants have been shared yet.
Currently, the use of hi-tech armored suits like this is against UFC rules, which state that contestants should wear basic clothing, but nothing else.
But UWM said that though these suits “could” be used for MMA fights, that’s not their main purpose.
“UWM has been designed specifically for expert weapons martial artists of all systems and styles as a standalone forum,” the company said in response to questions on their Facebook page. “It will enable them to prove how skilled, athletic and effective they really are, using objective technology and medical data that treats them all the same. It will enable them to understand who would have really ‘incapacitated’ who first and how, but with high levels of safety. It is not MMA with weapons. It is a new standalone combat sport based on thousands of years of history, but using advanced patented technology.”
So what will the future hold? The company is working on another armored suit system that can analyze blows from edged weapons (think swords, etc.) which suggest that competitions could get even crazier.
But could these Batman-like skins really be adopted into the world of MMA? Safety-wise they offer protection, but though they might add a futuristic science fiction element, they lose the flesh on flesh grit that has drawn many to the sport.
Bleacher Report correspondent Gregory Chase wrote that, “This sport allows people to rally behind one single person. People love to rally behind a football team, but put a great deal of emphasis on the quarterback. It is easier, more relatable, and more fulfilling to back one person. The reason why, is that there is a connection there. With MMA, there are no masks, there are no jerseys, and very little else concealing whom the athlete is.”
The attraction is more than just the fighter, as violence indisputably plays a key part in the action.
In the book, "Why We Watch, The Attractions of Violent Entertainment," by Jeffrey H Goldstein, the author writes that, “Violence is precisely what modern society most strongly inhibits and what sports spectatorship most gratifyingly permits.”
Journalist Dave Naylor described seeing an injury in a football match in a similar manner. “I am simultaneously fascinated and horrified by what I've just seen. But my immediate response is to grab the remote control and rewind my television set so that I can watch the hit over and over again.”
Naylor analyzed why he felt this way. “We can get our fix of violence on television or in movies as well. But only in sport s there is no script, allowing us to be captivated by the uncertainty of when a shocking moment may unfold.”
There is a psychological reason for this, according to Paul Boxer, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University told CNN, "There's a rubbernecking syndrome. When you see a body splayed out, you couldn't help it. You had to see."
It’s possible that if MMA adopted a smart armor suit, the sport might lose popularity. But for now there’s no plans to do so, so fans of MMA gore can rest appeased.