Payson Pankration Martial Arts team founder Wyatt Shepherd is adamant about protecting the dignity and respect of his chosen sport.
"There is sometimes a negative stigma that surrounds the sport, but hopefully we can educate people and show them it's not what it once was," he said.
"This sport is now under strict legislation by state athletic commissions, is the fastest-growing sport in the world and sells more pay-per-views than any other sport in the world."
Shepherd defends the safety of mixed martial arts by claiming it has not had a death since it was first introduced in 1993 as a professional sport.
"Football, boxing and hockey cannot make the same claim," he said.
"Unlike boxing, where a fighter gets hurt and they stand them up again let them take more punches to the head, in MMA when a fighter gets hurt, they stop the match."
Shepherd also cites protection rules that allow fighters to stop the bout themselves by "tapping out," which is considered in the sport, "a submission."
"The sport is safer than most people think," he said.
"Also, the sportsmanship is on a higher level than any sport I have ever played or watched."
Shepherd also believes mixed martial arts is growing in popularity in the Rim Country.
"Our school was recently named the best MMA school in Arizona," he said. "We now have professional fighters coming out of our little town that are having huge success.
"I think the best is yet to come."
Shepherd's claim that MMA is gaining popularity gained credibility with the turnout of the more than 500 spectators who attended the All Powers Combat tournament held Nov. 17 in the Tonto Apache gymnasium.
Shepherd says the showing was twice as large as the crowd that attended -- the same night -- a celebrity country western concert at the Payson Event Center.
The officials on hand to oversee the MMA bouts also contained some well-known celebrities of the sport.
They included "Jesse Forbes who was on season three of the Ultimate Fighter television show and two time Brazilian Jiu-jitsu world champion Gustavo Dantas," Shepherd said.
Forbes officiated the matches and Dantas was the head judge.
The highlight of the evening might have been the "Payson Tough Man" competition that attracted eight local fighters.
In the finale, Rodney Burba scored a rear, naked-choke victory over Bobby Gonzales.
"He was crowned Payson's toughest man and received a trophy and $500 in cash, Shepherd said.
In the main event, Chad "Gravedigger Griggs" who has in the past trained in Payson, defeated Eric Garcia for the All Powers Combat Heavyweight championship.
Other winners included Randy Steinke on a submission and Mike Bonnette by a majority decision. Both Steinke and Bonnette are members of the Payson Pankration team.