Mixed martial arts (MMA) may now be regulated in almost every state in the United States, but as New York continues to demonstrate, the expansion of the still-growing sport continues to meet pockets of resistance.
One country where MMA has not been embraced by the authorities is Thailand, which might seem surprising given that it is the home of Muay Thai and is well known in the West for martial arts-based movies like 'Blood Sport' and 'Ong Bak.'
DARE Championship was rapidly developing a fanbase in Bangkok but, after putting on show number four, disaster struck when the Sports Authority of Thailand announced that while it was willing to regulate boxing and Muay Thai, it had decided to draw the line at MMA.
These were some of the comments of SAT Deputy Governor Sakol Wannapong:
"It (MMA) is against the 1999 boxing law."
"Organizing a MMA event here would hurt the image of Muay Thai."
"If you want to do this kind of business, you should do it in another country."
"Organizing MMA here could mislead the public into believing that Muay Thai is brutal."
It seemed that the work which the people behind DARE had put in, launching and developing the country's only MMA event, might have gone to waste but, just like Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) had to resort to ingenuity in the midst of Senator John McCain's 'human cockfighting' campaign, bouncing around between places like Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama to sidestep regulations, this Thai promotion has also decided to engage its imagination in the face of an adverse reaction from authorities.
The MMA event known as DARE Championship instead became a 'game show' called DARE. The fighters were 'actors,' the audience were 'extras' and the location of the venue was a closely guarded secret which was not revealed until the night of the event.
On Sept. 29, 2012, six months after the previous DARE event which has incurred the wrath of the SAT, six fights took place featuring mixed martial artists from all over the world. The main event was a heavyweight contest between Mike Connors vs. Mirko Patteri and the videos are all available to view, along with some interesting intros, on their YouTube channel.
Jussi Saloranta, from Finland, is the driving force behind DARE and he says that the decision to defy the ban in order to put on an MMA event in Bangkok has not had any negative repercussions.
"We are working very much right now in order to get DARE approved by authorities and just had a meeting with the Vice President of the SAT last week about it. And no, there has not been any negative feedback from any authorities after the last event."
There is a large ex-pat community in DARE's spiritual home of Bangkok and the audience typically contains a mixture of foreign and local fight fans. MMA is slowly but surely starting to gain traction among Thais and on Nov. 24 the country's premier university is set to host an event of its own entitled 'War in the Cage III.'
Thammasat University has produced multiple prime ministers and counts members of the Thai royal family among its alumni. If MMA can gain popularity in an establishment which educates so many of the nation's prominent decision makers, it will be well on its way to mainstream acceptance and it will be interesting to see whether this event will help to alter the negative perception of the sport in political circles.
Regardless of whether 'War in the Cage III' proves to be a turning point, Saloranta and the DARE team intend to continue to try to build the sport with their live shows which have already helped to launch the careers of fighters like Arnaud Lepont, who headlined the most recent ONE FC card.
Intriguingly, he doesn't feel that the fate of DARE is intrinsically linked to the revocation of the MMA ban but Saloranta is completely confident that there will be more shows in the future and plans to stay put and carry on putting on events in Bangkok.
"I don't know if MMA will be approved in Thailand any time soon, but I have a feeling that DARE will be. Popularity is clearly growing in Thailand as in every Asian country (my opinion). We are currently planning two new seasons of 'The Most Dangerous Gameshow' and a bigger, live DARE event for the beginning of 2013. All in Bangkok."
Bangkok is a city which will always be associated with underground fights, particularly for the generation which was brought up on famous '80s movies starring Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme. Thailand also produces some of the toughest pound-for-pound fighters around in other sports and hopefully having DARE on the doorstep will help more of them to continue to transition to MMA.