Time to give MMA the respect it deserves

By Niall Clarke

  • MMA is not as dangerous as it appears
  • Here are reasons why it should be respected as a serious sport

Mixed Martial Arts is often labelled as ‘barbaric’ and ‘not a sport’, but the fact is MMA is a sport and not the brutal showcase of savage human beings it is made out to be, it is in fact one of the greatest sports in the world.

Since the inception of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993, MMA has undergone criticism. Sections of society have called for it to be banned due to the violent nature and many refuse to even label it as a legitimate combat sport.

There is no denying that the sport looks brutal on the surface. Even the most diehard MMA fan may wince at the sight of a broken bone and when a fighter is forced to wear a crimson mask. That results in the divide between those who love it and those who hate it, but is that not the case with every sport? Nothing can claim to be universally loved by everyone, not Football, Rugby, nor Cricket. But the difference is that MMA is being dismissed by people who know nothing about it.

Contrary to the belief of many, MMA is not a case of two people going into a cage and fighting to the death. The combatants that enter an octagon are highly trained athletes at the pinnacle of their sport. They are no different from sporting icons such as Muhammad Ali, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt.

 

Ronda Rousey, one of the sport’s biggest stars, was an Olympic medallist in Judoka. UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Cormier, was an Olympian in wrestling. Holly Holm was a World Champion in Boxing, all sports that are considered ‘legitimate’. So why are they considered ‘savages’, ‘cock fighters’ when they turn to MMA?

The UFC, in particular, has come a long way from its no holds barred origins. There are rules set in place by the organisation to assure fighter safety such as no kicks and knees to a downed opponent, no shots to the groin, and 29 other fouls that can be found on the UFC’s official website.

For a sport labelled as ‘barbaric’ and ‘human cock fighting’, there has only been four recorded deaths resulting from sanctioned contests in 23 years, and none of them have been in the UFC. Compare that to Football which is considered a ‘safe sport’ and you will see a startling difference. Last year alone eight players died on a football field, twice as much as MMA in the 23 years since the inception of the UFC.

Rugby is a sport that sees a group of individuals taking to the pitch trying to land big tackles and charging into each other that often results in broken bones, blood and concussions. But despite the brutal injuries there are rarely cries for it to be banned.

When Matt Matrione’s eye swelled into a grotesque state during his fight with Travis Browne in January, social media was flooded with cries for MMA to be banned, but yet again it was the voices of people who are ignorant of the sport. Browne’s eye pokes were indeed illegal and it was not the sport that was at fault, but the official. An eye poke is something that can happen in every contact sport. A flailing hand could easily catch another player in football and result in a swollen eye, but there would be no cries of ‘Football should be banned’ and ‘Football is barbaric’.

The beautiful game itself has had problems with concussions like the NFL. Their seriousness has not been fully appreciated until now and the long term damage to those that played through them could be tragic. Still, there are cases of people playing through concussion, risking further trauma. In MMA there’s an automatic 90 day suspension for fighters that get knocked out, and they are not cleared to fight again until they are given the green light by a doctor. Rousey for example was medically suspended for six months after being knocked out by Holm in November. The UFC, due to their wellness policy, often pay for the treatment to any injuries out of their own pockets and that is how they conduct medical procedure.

Whilst MMA and the UFC is far from perfect, if you dig deeper than just the surface image it is unfairly judged on, youwill find one of the world’s leading sports. The UFC deals with doping effectively as proven by the 12 month ban Anderson Silva faced for steroids. It has not been proven corrupt unlike Fifa, and women are also well represented with two weight classes and pay per view headliners. The fighters are not massively overpaid and with a few exceptions are humble, disciplined and well skilled.

 

It is also the most unpredictable sport in the world. Nobody is unbeatable as proven by McGregor and Rousey’s recent losses. It only takes one punch, kick, knee, elbow or submission for a fight to be over, and that’s what makes MMA so exciting. It also takes extreme knowledge to appreciate the technical aspects of the sport. There are so many different styles mixed in to one, it is perhaps overall the most technical sport out there, something not fully appreciated until you see the fighters at work.

MMA fighters are highly skilled and trained athletes, and the ones lucky enough to compete in the UFC are at the top of their sport. They are not the savages they are often made out to be. It is time the fighters and the sport is respected like any other. It is time for silliness to stop.

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