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ThisAbility #26: A Fighting Chance

aaron broverman

Kyle Maynard trains through the pain for his MMA debut.

Kyle Maynard trains through the pain for his MMA debut.

It finally happened.

If I ever needed proof that there are people out there who think exactly like I do, I got it Saturday, April 25th. Not too long ago, while watching UFC 97 live from Montreal, I posted the following on my Twitter Page:

“If there’s a paralympics, why can’t there be paraMMA? There are tons of disabled guys I’d love to take on.”

Well, someone who can actually do something about it was thinking the same thing. Kyle Maynard had already made a name for himself with a 35-16 amateur wrestling record and on April 20, 2009, he made his mixed martial arts debut. Oh, and I guess you’ll want to know: he was born without either arms or legs.

Even though there are people taking steps to get elements of mixed martial arts into the paralympics, at the moment there are no other disabled competitors, so the 134 lb. Kyle was booked to face the 137 lb., able-bodied, Bryan Fry–let’s not even talk about the reach advantage.  To understand the rest of today’s entry you’re going to have to see a clip of the fight here. since (for the moment) we can’t embed videos into the blog. UPDATE: Fixed! Here’s the clip:

What do you see?

I know that when I first saw it, part of me was amazed he actually pulled it off (although, he was denied a license to fight and was forced to fight in Alabama where there is no governing body for MMA,) but part of me was also repulsed by the absurdity of it all.

Granted, Kyle Maynard is no slouch. I wouldn’t expect him to take this fight anything but seriously. The fact that they found an opponent willing to take him on, not to mention a promoter willing to book him on a card, is a huge statement about how far society has come in regard to the capabilities of people with disabilities, but if he’s ever to step in the ring again, Maynard and anyone willing to step up and face him, will have to do a serious self-assessment.

Getting beyond the schmaltz of how “inspirational” he is, MMA is not wrestling.  In order to pin an opponent, you must get down to their level, which gives Maynard more than an opportunity to win every match he participates in. But MMA is all about the ability to change levels and obviously Maynard only has one. Running around on your stumps and avoiding any confrontation does not make an exciting fight, but I think most of the blame for this disproportionate chess match lies with his opponent.

This watershed moment in sports really speaks to the unease people still feel about hurting disabled people, even when those people want you to. If Bryan Fry was able to get over his trepidation and just go at Kyle Maynard full bore, intending to, um…beat the living shit out of him, it would’ve taught all involved a few things:

1)  A few kicks in the ribs and a face like a hamburger patty would’ve given us a definitive winner, an exciting fight, and taught Kyle Maynard that he should hold off on MMA until there are other disabled opponents for him to face. After all, Jeff Adams would look like just another man in a wheelchair if he raced Usain Bolt.

2) Fry’s continued bobbing, weaving and evading doesn’t do him any favors either. He comes off looking like a pussy who is either too afraid of the possibility of being taken down by someone with no limbs, or too concerned about hurting a consenting opponent.

The “kid glove” treatment (only punching Maynard a few times in an awkward bent-knee stance) just hurts both of them and leaves the fight community with more questions than answers.  How can Maynard get his licence now?  Sure, he has a fight under his belt and maybe he proved he could “adequately defend himself” but when nothing of consquence is coming at you, that’s very easy to do.  A knock-down drag-out would’ve given his state athletic commission a better idea of whether it was safe for him to compete because they could’ve measured the level of damage. Instead, all we got was a silly stalemate and I’m sure, in his most private moments, Maynard wanted more than “the old college try” from his big debut.

Oh, and if he ever wants a real opponent, who wouldn’t be afraid to hit him with reckless abandon,  my phone is always on. 😉

broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted. [email protected]

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