Published Friday, 24 January 2014
NI mixed martial artist Norman Parke in action. (© Getty)
MMA can divide opinion between those who see it as a disciplined sport and those who look solely at early examples of cage fighting with limited rules.
But it is growing around the world, both in terms of popularity and profile, with more rules having been brought in and efforts made to make the sport safer.
While Bushmills native Parke understands where the misconceptions come from, the 27-year-old believes the rise of MMA can only be a good thing for other young enthusiasts - teaching them to use elements of everything from boxing and wrestling to ju-jitsu and other martial arts.
The more people understand the sport, the more they'll see a different perspective.
"It's like every other sport - everything's a skill," the UFC lightweight fighter told UTV.
"This is the most exciting sport in the world and we work just as hard as any professional athlete."
Parke added: "Ten years ago, when I first started, we barely had a referee. We only had about 300-400 people coming to a show.
"Now I'm fighting in shows where there are 15,000-16,000 people all over America.
"It shows you a little boy from a small country can go and chase those dreams and fight in the big shows. I'm kinda leading the way for all the younger kids here."
Ballymena man Rodney Moore, head coach at the Next Generation IMMA gym where Parke trains, is also convinced that the popularity of the sport in Northern Ireland will simply continue to rise.
"I've been involved in this since 2001 and there was maybe only three clubs in Northern Ireland at that stage - there's nearly three in every town now," he said.
It's more than just getting into a cage and fighting - it's an art.
Those training in the sport at Rodney Moore's facility aren't just looking to compete in MAA fights, many are simply looking to reap the health and fitness benefits.
And, perhaps surprisingly to some, they even include doctors and accountants.
"There are loads coming to the club of all ages and it's definitely not just a blue collar sport - everyone's into it," heavyweight mixed martial artist Colin Robinson added.
Professional mixed martial artist Conor Cooke told UTV that even some of his own family and friends don't understand the sport - but he hopes that will change in the future.
"I boxed for a long time - I was one of the best boxers in Ireland at one stage. I have a lot of respect for boxing, but in my opinion, MMA's a totally different league," he said.
© UTV News