Taken as a whole, MMA's fighting system has a lot in common with Undisputed, which is understandable. But while Undisputed emphasises depth and complexity, MMA's gameplay is more forgiving. That's not to say an experienced player won't dominate an octagon newbie, but MMA has the less demanding learning curve.
It's also surprising how rarely the game throws up a full-blown knockout, as nine times out of 10, the fight will end in a TKO. Some matches will go the three- or five-round distance, but if both players keep a modest tempo then it's only a matter of time before someone gets rocked by a well-timed superman punch. At this point, the game turns into a mash-fest where the attacker rapidly punches with the analogue stick while the defender tries to weather the storm by bashing the defend button.
As streamlined as MMA sounds, EA Tiburon has nonetheless bulked out its plucky young fighter with a few bells and whistles. The most notable is the Career Mode which lets you pick a weight class before using a pretty average fighter creation system to put together your ideal man. In itself this is a missed opportunity, since the one area in which Strikeforce trumps the UFC is by having a women's division.
Once you've selected a menacing haircut and fighting style you're then inducted into Bas Rutten's Elite MMA training gym. From here it's a case of choosing an amateur fighting league and then training for eight weeks before each match. This is done by completing training exercises which slightly improve your attributes and take the form of practising punch combinations on pads and escaping from a full mount within a set time limit.
A good trade-off is that once you complete an exercise to an A-rank standard you can then simulate it rather than go through the whole routine again. Plus, as you advance through the ranks and earn more money, you can travel to other gyms which offer more advanced training programs as well as the opportunity to learn additional techniques. This is the only way to unlock the deadlier flying knees and climbing armbar submissions.
Compare this to Undisputed's number-crunching expedition through the UFC, and MMA feels more straightforward, lighter and less substantial. But it isn't without its charms; intrigue comes courtesy of an aspiring young blogger named Justin who documents your progress through the amateur divisions all the way up to Strikeforce.
In terms of graphical output, MMA is a trickier beast to judge, as although it strives for realism with detailed character models, it often looks oddly pronounced and rubbery. Nonetheless, the attack animations do a good job of conveying momentum and, with cuts and bruises piling on as a fight enters the final round, it's possible to end a match with both fighters looking like they've just taken a Super Soaker of tomato puree to the face.
The best way for a fighting game to save face is to include a robust and full-featured online mode something which Undisputed has often been accused of lacking. Unfortunately, MMA's online servers are currently barren, but with the Belt Race and Fight Card modes standing in for ranked and player matches there seems to be plenty to keep MMA fans busy.
More interesting still are the hyped Live Broadcasts, invite-only events where the EA Sports community managers check out the online leaderboards and video uploads to determine which players will fight the most interesting matches. Then, after setting a date and a time, players compete for bragging rights with the best matches being posted on the official website.
This is a great idea which, if done correctly, could help to give MMA an edge over the more technically accomplished Undisputed. Because right now, that's exactly what's holding MMA back. Although it gets a lot right with a well-structured fighting system which has a solid mix of subsystems to master it doesn't have the same level of hardcore appeal as the current champion.
This also extends to the license itself. Placed side-by-side with the UFC effectively the MMA premiership Strikeforce only has a fraction of the big-name fighters. But EA Tiburon's effort is still an accomplished debut which is capable of standing on its own two feet. It doesn't put Undisputed on notice, but at least the MMA arena is no longer a one-game fight.