Not too long ago I had the pleasure of attending an amateur mixed martial arts event, Maryland Cage Combat, in Millersville, Md. I provided a full recap of the event for the website U.S. Combat Sports, a site I've written for before, and you can read the recap here.
Amateur MMA is slightly different from professional MMA that we see every day in organizations like the UFC and Strikeforce. Among the different rules that I saw applied at the Maryland Cage Combat event was that all the fighters had to wear shin pads. Usually those are only used in sparring during training sessions, but in amateur MMA it's required during actual fights. The fighters were also forbidden from using elbows or attempting kicks to the head.
I think the fact this event was an amateur card and these rules were in effect were a benefit to the fighters. Almost all of the fighters appeared to be around my age (27) or younger, so many had probably not been training in MMA for very long. I think a slow transition into MMA through amateur rules is a good way to go for fighters just starting out.
Even despite the extra padding and rules, it was still an entertaining event to watch. It was easy to see that each fighter left it all in the cage and wanted to make a good impression because they were reaching their goal of competing professionally in front of an audience. It's easy to become jaded or cynical in a sport as unforgiving and relentless as MMA, but when you see young fighters laying it all on the line in what was basically a recreation center in front of a modest but enthusiastic crowd, you're reminded of why this sport has such a loyal and passionate following.