Known by the acronym MMA, Mixed Martial Arts, is one of the most popular combat sports in recent times. It’s often mistakenly referred to as one of the most dangerous. Indeed, it’s a combat sport, and as such, it can present risks, but is MMA dangerous for its fighters? Despite its sulfurous image, MMA is gaining more and more followers among the older and younger generations worldwide.
Is MMA dangerous? Initially, MMA was much more dangerous than other combat sports in its early days, but its rules were gradually adjusted to make it less harmful than boxing. Of course, MMA can cause injuries, but the International Federation does everything possible to ensure the safety of the fighters and a thorough medical follow-up. At IMMAF, the international MMA federation takes the health of its fighters extremely seriously.
The initial reception toward MMA
In the years following the launch of the first MMA event, the general reaction against mixed martial arts was negative. Undoubtedly, it was an entertaining spectacle, but some early rules also resulted in unpleasant moments. During the early days of the UFC, one of the most striking incidents was when kickboxer Gerard Gordea launched a savage head kick at grounded Teila Tuli (6’2″, 420 pounds) in the corner. As a result of that kick, Tuli ended up with two of his teeth knocked out, one of which flew into the crowd and the other lodged in the foot of Gerard.
Undoubtedly, the early violence and spectacle created a great audience for MMA. However, it also made it very difficult to get athletic commissions to sign off on the sport in the first place. In his public lobbying, Senator John McCain thought the sport should be outlawed in all 50 states and referred to it as human cockfighting. In the early years of the sport, it saw widespread bans across the United States, making it a really difficult time.
How was the sport made less dangerous
MMA responded to Senator McCain’s comment by creating the unified rules to ensure the sport is as safe as possible. To circumvent the rule that KOs were the only way to win, TKOs and scoring systems were introduced. There was a round system with main events receiving five rounds and 5 minutes of round time. On the other hand, standard matches were set at three rounds and five minutes of round time. As a result of the influence of John McCarthy on creating these unified rules, the main objective of referees was also changed to the protection of fighters.
A nuanced understanding of the danger involved in this discipline is also necessary. Contrary to what many people believe, certain punches are not allowed in the fight. The International MMA Federation (IMMAF) has established several safety rules that must be respected during every competition held by the organization. In addition to striking the back of the head, kicking an opponent’s head while on the ground, and more., many other strikes are prohibited.
There is also an important fact to remember: it is possible to win a duel by knock-out or submission, as well as by the referee’s stoppage of the fight. An automatic suspension is in place when an athlete is injured during a match for a certain period. Before being allowed to resume training, a doctor will regularly examine him during this period. An athlete must make sure that this is done so as not to put him or herself in any kind of danger.
What are some common injuries that occur in MMA?
It’s generally true that the pattern of injuries in mixed martial arts is very similar to that of professional boxing. However, it differs from other combat sports, such as judo and taekwondo, which have different patterns of injuries.
Among all the body parts that were most commonly injured, the head was the most common, followed by the wrists and hands, and the most common types of injuries were lacerations, fractures, and concussions. Increasingly frequent impacts to the ear and the lack of use of hearing protection contribute to a high rate of perichondrial hematomas, leading to cauliflower ear due to the high frequency of impacts to the ear.
Brain injury and CTE
An accident that renders a person unconscious or even causes a concussion can have a lasting impact on their brain. When comparing the force required to knock someone out and the force needed to kill a person, there is no clear distinction between the two.
There is also a strong link between contact sports, particularly combat sports like MMA, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE for short: a brain disease that is associated with contact sports. MMA athletes are at risk for this disease during their lifetime; even after they have stopped playing sports, it continues to develop and worsen. As well as concussions, repetitive, sub-concussive blows to the head, are also known to cause CTE in the brain.
How dangerous is MMA in comparison to other sports?
Mixed martial arts is a full-contact sport. It’s violent. It can sometimes be bloody, and combatants suffer injuries during training and fights. These aspects that MMA is dangerous are inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that it is more dangerous than other contact sports, such as boxing or NFL.
MMA injuries are estimated to be similar to those sustained in other combat sports, including boxing. In MMA competitions, knockout rates are lower than in boxing competitions. There is also much less repetitive and accumulating blows to the head.
Compared to other events involving striking, MMA competitions appear to pose a reduced risk of TBI. This is because jiu-jitsu and wrestling are huge components of the sport and usually don’t result in serious injuries. An injury study published in the Journal of Sports and Medicine in 2006 clarified this.
Dana White, UFC president, has claimed that his organization is safer than the NFL. In an interview with MMAMania, Dana White stated: “Concussions are a huge dilemma for the NFL right now. Regarding concussions, here’s the difference between the UFC and the NFL. Three months suspension is the first cautionary rule if you receive a concussion, get knocked out, or get hurt in any way in the UFC.
In the next three months, you will be on suspension and will not be allowed to return to work until your doctor has cleared you. You are not allowed to have any contact with anyone at all. If you play in the NFL, there is no way that you are going to lose Tom Brady for three months. If you lose Tom Brady for three months, your entire season is ruined.”
In an interview for MMA Fighting, UFC middleweight and collegiate linebacker Eryk Anders echoes White’s point regarding the NFL’s safety.
According to Anders in an interview on the MMA Hour, the NFL has a higher injury rate than MMA. A knockout in MMA is just a one-time thing. Then you get up, take a couple of months off, and let your body heal. You may not get knocked out playing football, but you’re constantly getting hit, especially if you play linebacker, defensive line, offensive line, or running back. Your body doesn’t appreciate being hit every time you play.
How to avoid injuries during training?
Although MMA fighters can get hurt during training, practicing properly and safely to prevent injuries is essential. To stay injury-free, it’s important to practice properly and safely. As a matter of fact, sparring and wrestling training are two of the most common causes of injuries during training.
A fighter like Max Holloway is one of the fighters who advocates that sparring during training should be stopped after a certain age is reached. However, if they want the best results without the risk of getting injured, they can engage in touch sparring or point sparring like Muay Thai fighters to get the best results possible.
Also, remember that the risk of injury varies based on the frequency of training between a competitive fighter and a noncompetitive fighter.
A competitive fighter trains to the detriment of their health to push their limits, whereas a recreational fighter trains to stay healthy. Many amateur sportsmen and women are at risk of injury as they are very committed to their sport.
It’s because they train at a sustained pace but are not monitored by the same people as the professionals, so they train at an accelerated rate. In fact, it becomes nearly impossible to avoid injuries without the assistance of physiotherapists, nutritionists, and physical trainers.
As a result, amateurs need to pay attention to two things:
- It’s essential to have a basic understanding of nutrition, physical preparation, and recovery to take care of oneself.
- There is no point in comparing your performance to that of the professionals.
Listen to your body
It is essential for anyone passionate about sport to be aware of the desire to do more and more of it. As a result, they will be able to practice in a fun and relaxing manner and ensure they reach the desired level of performance.
Because training sessions are too close together and the practitioner does not take the necessary time to recover between sessions, the body doesn’t have the time to regenerate itself properly after too many training sessions. In this way, little by little, genes can develop, which can lead to the onset of pain, then to injuries, and finally to chronic pain.
Being able to listen to our own body means being able to adjust our training as soon as a body sends the first signals.
There is no doubt that mixed martial arts are a violent sport, but from a medical point of view, it’s no more traumatic than any other striking combat sport regarding injuries. Many health professionals who have worked with this discipline consider it less dangerous than boxing.
As a result of the frequent cuts and thin gloves used by the players, the perception of danger and hyper-violence is strengthened, resulting in spectacular superficial injuries. There is no doubt that the fact that MMA takes place in a cage contributes to its impressive visual effects. However, there have been several changes in the sport over the years since it has been around.
MMA has managed to change its rules to become less and less dangerous and is being better supervised than it was when it was first introduced. The measures taken, the obligatory recovery time after a fight or injury, and the forbidden moves mean that today MMA has become a discipline where serious injuries are not frequent when practiced correctly.
To conclude, it’s important to know that some fighters have a medical team to support them. Their constants are monitored daily to ensure that they reach their maximum capacity safely. It’s true, however, that this type of monitoring comes at a high cost that is not easily accessible to all fighters.
MMA is a sport that, like the NHL, NFL, or boxing, also contains certain dangers that you must be aware of, and it’s important to understand how dangerous MMA is.