The Top Story by Chris Graham
It was once referred to as “human cockfighting” by its detractors. But could it actually be that mixed martial arts – known by its growing legions of fans by the acronym MMA – is actually safer than the more mainstream combat sport of boxing?
A Johns Hopkins researcher thinks so.
“We looked at both professional boxers and professional MMA fights – and what we found was the overall injury rate was very, very similar,” said Gregory Bledsoe, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who studied data from boxing and MMA matches in Nevada from 2001 to 2004 and found similar injury rates between the two sports and, surprisingly, at first, that the rate of head injuries sustained by MMA fighters was lower than those suffered by boxers.
Chris Smith, a Charleston, W.Va.,-based boxing and MMA promoter who is putting on a series of Ruckus in the Cage MMA events in Virginia that begin this weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, had heard about Bledsoe’s study and its findings that MMA is at least as safe as boxing, if not safer. But he wasn’t convinced at first even with the data in front of him.
“I go to all of these Association of Boxing Commissions meetings where all of the boxing commissioners from all over the country get together and meet once a year, and I attended one of those events in Florida, and the UFC came in and gave a speech and talked about the safety aspects of it. I wasn’t a true believer at first. I was still skeptical – I was going to wait and see how this plays out,” said Smith, who has been promoting boxing for 12 years and got into MMA promotions only in the last two years.
“So I sat back and monitored the events for a couple of years and really watched them and made sure nobody was getting really hurt in them – because I didn’t want to be involved in anything that was unsafe for the guys participating in it. And to my surprise, it’s very safe – and I never really saw all the things that you would think would happen to these guys. Nobody’s been seriously hurt since we’ve been doing this. Sure, a guy will get a cut above his eye, but that’s the extent of it. I haven’t seen anybody with broken arms, broken joints – or get really hurt where they can’t work the next day,” Smith told The SportsDominion.
Another surprise comes from research done by California State University-Dominguez Hills professor Nancy Cheever on fans of MMA and what they want out of the sport. Turns out that MMA fans aren’t interested in the “human cockfighting” aspect that the sport’s detractors assumed was the main draw to the sport. Cheever surveyed more than 3,500 MMA fans to learn more about why they were interested in the sport – and found that the overwhelming majority are drawn by the clash of combat disciplines that MMA brings to the cage.
“One thing that I found that was very interesting was that more than half of the people that I surveyed – and my sample was almost 3,000 people – more than half of them engage in some sort of mixed martial art themselves. So they practice it themselves. So these are people who are really interested in the sport,” Cheever said.
“I think the reason they like it so much is the skill and the technique that’s used – rather than the sensational qualities, like the violence and the blood and the brutality. Which is what maybe a casual fan might be interested in. These fans were just not interested in it. In fact, only 15 percent of my sample reported that they liked the violence and the blood and the brutality and that type of thing,” Cheever said.
“Most of them are interested in the technique, the fact that there are different styles that come together, the skill that’s involved, the amount of training that’s involved, and the fact that it’s more entertaining than boxing and wrestling and those kinds of sports,” Cheever told the SD.
So the fans are drawn by the skill and technique of the fighters. And the fighters utilize skills and techniques from a variety of disciplines – from boxing and wrestling to jiu-jitsu and mui thai and brawling and others.
How is it that the clash of styles that is common in MMA doesn’t lead to more serious injuries – especially head injuries – among its participants?
“People have all these theories as to why we haven’t had any deaths or serious injuries in MMA,” Bledsoe told the SD. “I think it boils down to a number of things – probably not one thing in particular, but a lot of things in combination. One is the fact that you have the tapout – so that if someone feels that they’re in trouble, they can honorably stop the match, whereas in boxing, if someone quits between rounds, they just never live that down. That’s just seen as cowardice or weakness.
“Two, you have no standing eight count – in boxing, someone gets concussed, and they’re able to regain their composure, and then they go back and fight five, six, seven more rounds,” Bledsoe said.
“You have a shorter number of rounds – three in a typical MMA match, five in a championship match,” Bledsoe said.
“And you have more target areas in MMA. So instead of just two guys who are highly trained at throwing punches squaring off and hitting each other in the chest or abdomen or head, you’ve got people who might not even come from a striking background and might not know that much about throwing a really hard punch, but are excellent grapplers, for instance, and their objective is to take you to the ground and do more wrestling and armlocks and leglocks and chokes as opposed to striking. So it’s just a different game,” Bledsoe said.
Ruckus in the Cage
– More information on the events coming up in Virginia is available online at www.ruckusinthecage.com.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The SportsDominion.