The attractiveness of Mixed Martial Arts

The pull factor that is called MMA. Why are so many fighters making the switch?
Written by Guido de Boer
Published on Aug 15, 2022, 8:34:11 AM
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Fighters within martial arts are increasingly changing disciplines. There are several reasons for this. It could be that everything has been won that there was simply to be won, as you might say about the Irish MMA fighter Conor McGregor, who fought a boxing match against the most successful athlete ever Floyd Mayweather, or the Dutch Lucia Rijker, who switched from kickboxer to boxer and her career finished with zero loss.

But, sometimes there are also financial considerations behind such a decision to switch. You might say this about the same McGregor who reportedly pocketed tens of millions after his only fight so far. At the UFC, the world's most famous and prestigious MMA association and of which McGregor was a member, fighters earn considerably less. Frustrations about the rules of the game sometimes also play a role in the consideration of switching to another branch. More on this later.

Within the Netherlands, young athletes are also increasingly making the switch to MMA. Recent examples of this include Jason Wilnis, former Glory kickboxing world champion, and now fighting for KSW in MMA. Wilnis recently lost his fight and is currently recovering from a broken finger. But also one of the Netherlands' talented karatekas to keep an eye on: Tyrell Ilaria, with whom Warrior Code had the opportunity to speak recently, made the switch last year.

Ilaria is due in a week in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, for his first official debut in MMA at GMC OlympiX 112, trained by Orlando Prins from Root MMA, after 10 years in karate and participating in tournaments organized by the International Budo Federation (IBF). He always performed very consistently at national and European level. Ilaria has 5 Dutch IBF championships to his name and he also showed that he can compete with the top at the European championship in Poland where he participated in 2019.

A pioneer in his family

Ilaria started karate at the age of 9 and was the pioneer in his family in discovering the martial arts. After watching the movie Karate Kid, Ilaria was permanently attached to the sport and wanted nothing more than to join a local club. He managed to convince his parents to contact a local gym, which was Dojo Kokoro in Groningen, headed by shihan Raymond Brouwer von Gonzenbach, and was able to join immediately. Within a year, Ilaria started participating in his first tournaments. His talent was undeniable and until he made the transition to seniors at the age of 12 (is that right?) he had full wind in his sails.

He more or less cleared out every opponent that came his way. But when he made the transition to the higher age class, something happened. Tyrell had to face a 17-year-old boy who washed his ears a lot. His self-confidence took a serious dent that by that time he was completely done with sports and didn't want to fight anymore. Ilaria would not fight for about 1.5 years but continued to train. Also in the competition group at his local gym. His talent and drive were undeniable, but frantic attempts by his senpai and mentor Ennio during that year to consider competitions again came to nothing: “Mentally it was too high a mountain to get on top,” as Ilaria herself looks back on that time.

As befits a good senpai who knows his students through and through, Ennio managed to put his finger on the sore spot with his protégé. As described above, Ilaria really only knew what it felt like to win. Setback and loss were not part of his vocabulary. Until he ran into that one 17th year old kid. It was “a lesson in humility”. Ennio then explained to Tyrell that a snapshot in your career does not determine who you are as a fighter and what you stand for. Ilaria had to learn to learn from his mistakes and make the most of them. The outcome of the fight is just as important as the preparation and training that precedes it.

This awareness in Tyrell, the fact that you can win and lose, and do both with your head held high, lifted quite a heavy mental load off him. This gave him even more motivation to train even harder. He finally managed to muster enough courage and still get back into the ring. And, indeed, this time it went well. He won and what followed were many successful years in the sport in which he managed to win those 5 Dutch titles.

Making the move

Tyrell was taken by his mentor to the European Championships that were organized by the IBF in Poland at the time. While these may not go quite as he had dreamed, Tyrell's managed to finish well within the top 10. So there was plenty of potential for Tyrell to build on, but he still got the feeling that his motivation to continue with the sport was waning. There were, it turns out, several reasons for this.

First, the sport itself. Ilaria himself participated under semi-contact rules, which means that although it is a martial art, you should not hurt your opponent on purpose. Although you are not out to intentionally inflict an injury on your opponent, this obviously sounds very contradictory. It is a martial art and that involves contact. A well-known example where this went wrong is the Olympic final Karate in 2021 where one of the fighters was disqualified for handing out too hard. The sport has come under a lot of criticism.

Tyrell recognizes it all too well because he has run into this several times. He often got points deducted because they thought he kicked or punched too hard. The frustrations that arise in Tyrell's mind led him to consider switching to MMA, which is a full-contact sport. In his own words: “I feel too great a fire burning in me to continue practicing a sport in which I cannot expend all my energy. To put it very rudely, I want to be able to take down my opponent.”

Second, financially. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the money that makes the top of the MMA class pales in comparison to what boxers can earn. That said, the money you can make from MMA is still way better than you'll ever get from karate. While Tyrell wants to emphasize that it's all about his passion for the sport, he is realistic that if he wants to build a bigger career he needs to get himself involved in a sport that can bring him more financially.

Finally, it can be noted there is more of a trend happening in which fighters becoming more aware of where the money can be made and, of course, also driven by enough talent and sporting considerations, making the switch here.

Tyrell will compete against 20-year-old Ramin Ghasemi this Saturday, August 20, at the GMC OlympiX in Gelsenkirchen. Tickets are still available at:

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