Mixed martial arts may still have its detractors as a mainstream sport, but odds are those critics would be even more dismayed by M-1 Medieval, a Russian-based MMA-style combat brand that promotes fights between sword-and-shield-wielding, armor-wearing fighters looking to do battle like it's 1499.
Like the Ultimate Fighting Championship's version of the sport, two warriors fight in an enclosed area with a referee present to declare a winner. There are rounds, there are judges, and there are excited fans watching around a fenced-off, multi-sided ring. Unlike UFC, though, the well-armored competitors swing swords with all the gusto of Gregor Clegane -- in fact, those helmets don't seem to offer much protection.
"This is 'Game of Thrones' in real life," touts M-1 Medieval's Facebook page.
The style of combat raises obvious questions about safety. In the U.S., MMA is regulated in all 50 states, meaning that events must be overseen by a commission and have properly-trained referees and medical care on site. Slamming metal weaponry against a combatant's skull (even one protected by a helmet) would fall outside the auspices of what any state commission would allow, and for good reason -- the head trauma risks are far worse than would be caused by simple gloved fists.
Check out some of the action below:
Still, there are special rules for M-1 Medieval that are designed to keep competitors from ending up like so many members of the Stark family -- stabbing is explicitly banned (even though the swords are blunted), as are armlocks. As in regular MMA, headbutts and strikes to the throat or groin are also off-limits, and fights that don't "go the distance" can be decided by knockout, submission (usually attained when a fighter is pinned and can't get up) or forfeiture.
The so-called "knight fights" have struck a chord with fans -- both those who have seen them in person and those watching around the world on the Internet. "I liked the fans' reaction when we did it for the first time in St. Petersburg at M-1 Challenge 50," owner Vadim Finkelchtein told mmafighting.com in March of 2015, two months after the M-1 Medieval brand started promoting shows. "They seemed to really like it. They were impressed and supported the knights."
M-1 Medieval is an imprint of M-1 Global, a traditional MMA organization based out of St. Petersburg, Russia. The company is co-owned by mixed martial arts legend Fedor Emelianenko, who was named the greatest fighter of all time by ESPN, Bleacher Report, Sherdog, and other outlets. No word on if "The Last Emperor" is planning on donning the armor for an M-1 Medieval fight.