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Is MMA safer than boxing?

By Saxon Cheng
Is MMA safer than boxing?
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The controversial sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) may seem more brutal than a pitbull dog fight, however, we investigate if it's more dangerous than the world's most popular fighting sport, boxing.

Ultimate Fighting Championship's president, Dana White, says there is a misconception that if fighter "can kick, knee, punch, elbow [and] slam [an opponent] to the ground, [MMA] has to be more violent and dangerous".

"What's more violent than boxing? You and I stand in front of each other for 12 rounds and my goal is to hit you so hard in the face that I knock you unconscious," White told the UK's Guardian in 2007.

"In the UFC you and I can fight and I can beat you and win and never punch you in the head once. We can go right to the ground, start grappling and pull off a submission. It's not 25, 30 minutes of blows to the head non-stop."

White, a multi-millionaire may have a valid point, but Johns Hopkins University researchers writing in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2006 found that 48 percent of MMA fighters suffered from facial lacerations and this was the most common form of injury.

Boxing Queensland's secretary, Jimmy Young, said he strongly disagrees that MMA is safer than boxing, as MMA fighters can put an opponent in a hold that can break their neck.

"I've seen fights when an MMA fighter is punched in the head continuously on the ground, which can cause a lot more injury than when standing upright," the boxing trainer with 44 years' experience told RALPH.

"The impact of a punch to the head is reduced about 60 percent when standing up and 40 percent of boxing knockouts are caused by the body."

The number of boxers who have died as a result of the sport is reported to be 11 per year in the US, although boxing still has a lower death rate than horseracing. In Australia, Young says there have been two deaths in boxing in the past 20 years after one professional and amateur bout. Both suffered a brain haemorrhage.

There has been one fatality in an unsanctioned MMA bout. White points out that there's never been a UFC injury more serious than a broken arm. However, he says, "At the end of the day it's a contact sport and anything can happen."

According to the UFC there have been tragic fatalities in the last five years in rugby, American football, motor sport and even track and field.

Although there have been no fatalities in the UFC, professional MMA organisations such as UFC, Strikeforce and Pride (Japan) have been around for less than 14 years compared to modern boxing, the rules of which go back to the 18th century.

The lightweight gloves with limited padding in MMA are designed to protect the hand, the fighter can produce a quick knockout and unleash superficial injuries.

In boxing, the gloves are designed to protect the opponent from serious injury. However, this has a counter effect, as when the glove hits the head, the boxer's brain rattles around their skull. Throughout the fight, boxers can take a greater amount of strikes to the head.

Over time, this can have long-term repercussions, considering the American Association of Neurological Surgeons says 90 percent of boxers sustain a brain injury, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

To prevent brain injury, Young says boxers perform a wide variety of exercises that help the neck to act as a shock absorber when they get hit in the head.

There are three five-minute rounds in a MMA match. But due to the lack of padding and the greater amount of aggressive fighting options available compared to boxing, officials frequently end particularly aggressive fights to prevent further severe injury.

A boxing match has 12 three-minute rounds and there's more emphasis on stamina and technique. A doctor can also end the fight if they think the boxer is in serious trouble.

Before a fight in MMA, the ref reads out two to three pages of rules banning things such as striking an opponent in the back of the head, kicking a downed fighter, headbutting and eye gouging, to name a few.

In boxing, Young believes the rules are a lot stricter as boxers can't punch the kidneys, they're prohibited from holding the ropes for support when punching, or holding an opponent. In addition, boxers can't hit with the wrist, the inside, back or side of the hand.

Conceding victory
In MMA, a fighter can at any point give up by simply tapping the mat (or their opponent) with their hands or feet. White says it's acceptable in UFC to "tap out with honour". However, RALPH has witnessed countless fights where blokes would rather go out unconscious than tap out.

"It's often difficult for a fighter to tap out — submissions can hit a nerve and you can't think," Young says.

UFC referee Steve Percival believes the different techniques in MMA allowed it to be safer.

"If someone gets hit and they get knocked out then that's the end of the fight," a ref in the UFC said last year. "In boxing you get a standing eight count and the fight starts again."

In boxing, a fighter can either win, get knocked out or have the towel thrown in by their trainer.

"In MMA a fighter can be hit in the head up to 20 consecutive times before the ref stops the fight," Young says. "This couldn't happen in boxing — the ref would stop the fight after three or four progressive hard hits to the head."

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User comments
mma is NOT safer than boxing. I think it is gutless fighting on the ground and is teaching the youth to do so on friday and saturday nights. I love watching boxing but still think its silly that people bash the crap out of each other, but mma is good to watch on their feet but as soon as they take it to the ground its boring and brutal. kids used to copy restling moves on each other now they use mma on each other. Let them get up and fight... no honour!
I would like to comment in regards to Mr Youngs comments regarding MMA and in particular submissions. I Have done Brazillian Ju Jitsu for the last year which by no means makes me an expert, but i know enough that the idea of submitting someone is to place your opponent is a position in which they are unable to escape untill they conceed defeat. As far a striking an opponent it really makes very little difference how you strike them as if you hit them with an elbow, fist or shin the end result will potentially be the same. In any contact sport the potential for a major injury is a constant and providing that the people involved are physically well equipted to deal with the contact then the risk is minimised. MMA is not a sport that you could just jump in and have a go, it requires a lot of training and discipline to compete at any level, my perception is that the boxing fraternity are doing what they can to protect their professional interests by tagging MMA as a ruthless blood sport.