Is MMA too violent to be mainstream?

Sam Brown Roar Guru

By Sam Brown, Sam Brown is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    The rise of MMA from maligned backwater freak show to multi-million dollar sports juggernaut over the last twenty years has been monumental and many within the sport hope its ride will continue until it is nothing less than the biggest sport in the world.

    However in the immediate future the sport faces a potentially crippling image problem that will only become more and more prominent as it continues to grow in popularity.

    Just two days ago yet another ‘mainstream’ sports writer, this time the Murdoch press’ Phil Rothfield, took MMA to task.

    He labelled it “barbaric savagery”, saying it made him sick and calling for it to be banned in Australia.

    And while Rothfield and his shrill brand of sensationalism was expertly dissected and earned worldwide scorn, the MMA community would be fools to dismiss his piece outright because there is just no dodging one plain point that he and many others have tried to hammer home: MMA looks bad.

    And here lies the problem for the MMA community.

    While it can do all the education it wants about how safe the sport actually is, to the unseasoned eye it looks like two men locked in a metal cage, beating each other bloody all to the cheers of a crowd baying for even more carnage.

    To those in the know it is an image that doesn’t stack up.

    While there is no doubt that MMA is dangerous, it is a heavy contact sport after all, the sport has tight regulations in place to protect its fighters and structures such as ‘The Cage’ actually help prevent injuries compared to a more civil looking boxing ring.

    It even comes up trumps when compared to other high contact sports.

    A 2006 John Hopkins University study which appeared in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found MMA fighters suffer far lower instances of traumatic brain injury compared to boxing.

    These findings were backed up by a 2008 study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

    Moving even more mainstream, if a player suffers a concussion in the NRL or AFL they can expect to sit out for maybe a week, however in the UFC after a concussion, fighters are regularly banned for months from even sparring let alone getting back in the cage.

    Yet for all the skill in the sport, for all the regulations in the rule book, for all the safety the cage gives, for all the well informed cries of the fans, at times it does look exactly like “barbaric savagery”.

    Compared to those other contact sports MMA just looks less regulated and far more dangerous.

    And for the growth of the sport that is going to be a huge hurdle, particularly at the grassroots level; which is where the long term sustainable growth that truly makes a sport mainstream comes from.

    Can you imagine schools offering ‘cage-fighting’ as an option for school sport or middle class mums and dads cheering on their kids first outing in ‘The Octagon’?

    These scenes are normal for most sports but seem outlandish when played out with MMA.

    But is there anything MMA could change to help its image?

    The NRL banned the shoulder charge so anything is possible, however for better or worse it is unlikely any substantial progress will be made in the short to medium future.

    UFC President Dana White is the lead Ostrich, burying his head in the sand, publicly slamming the aforementioned Rothfield article and (somewhat understandably) leaping to the defence of the sport he has raised up into a multi-million dollar franchise.

    However if he, the UFC and the rest of the MMA community truly wants MMA to be the biggest sport in the world, there will come a time when we have to confront MMA’s violent image and adapt or perish.

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    The Crowd Says (44)

    • Roar Guru

      December 10th 2013 @ 7:12am
      Jason Tulio said | December 10th 2013 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      Well said, mate.

      I feel that much like boxing, MMA will continue to have its detractors forever. Calls to abolish boxing were in existence even before the 20th century yet here it still is today. I think the main problem as you pointed out is the mere perception of a mindless caged brawl. Never mind that the same/more violence can take place on another sporting field (perceptions change if you throw a ball into the mix).

      In the end, MMA is a combat sport and the nature of it naturally won’t appeal to some people. Still, it has come a long way from the days of untimed, open-weight fights with few rules. Education is key here.

    • Roar Guru

      December 10th 2013 @ 7:37am
      Sam Brown said | December 10th 2013 @ 7:37am | ! Report

      Also, so you know I am not just making things up, here are links to the two journal articles I mentioned.
      John Hopkins University Study:
      British Journal of Sports Medecine:

    • December 10th 2013 @ 7:37am
      lemo said | December 10th 2013 @ 7:37am | ! Report


    • December 10th 2013 @ 8:19am
      Nemo ohh ha ha said | December 10th 2013 @ 8:19am | ! Report

      I guess not everyone is going to like it. Like not every male enjoys watching all sports either

    • December 10th 2013 @ 8:42am
      Radar said | December 10th 2013 @ 8:42am | ! Report

      I don’t think that MMA should be toned down. It’s a hard contact sport as you said, and the rules worldwide are varied enough that it would be close to impossible to agree on one set of “Unified Rules” (as the UFC fights under). For example, ONEFC allows knees to the head of a grounded opponent, but no muay-thai style elbows when the action hits the mat – that means less blood, but potentially more concussive force to a fighters head. That’s pretty much the opposite to the UFC which generally supplies enough blood to wash your car across a night of fights (elbows are sharp, innit), but no kicking or kneeing the head of a grounded foe (grounded = one knee one hand etc)

      UFC is the brand leader so if they choose to ‘pussify’ their rule set to satisfy people like Rothfield then that’s up to them, but MMA as a whole will still be a sport for hard bastards who enter the Octagon/ring/cage with their eyes wide open and full acceptance of the potential outcomes.

      • Roar Guru

        December 10th 2013 @ 5:46pm
        Sam Brown said | December 10th 2013 @ 5:46pm | ! Report

        I think the most important line in your comment is that the competitors will always enter of their own accord, knowing all the risks associated with the sport they are participating in, this isn’t Bum Fights or pitting hopeless cases against each other.

        As for the rules, having watched PRIDE and a number of other organisations as well as UFC, I feel the unified rules strike a pretty good balance between freedom Vs protecting the fighters. If they did want to clean them up slightly and also make things a tad more lively they could easily remove elbows as Strikeforce used to do before its Zuffa purchase, it would remove the blood and an easy weapon for the less fan friendly grapplers, while not diluting things too much in the cage.

    • December 10th 2013 @ 9:35am
      cowelly said | December 10th 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report

      As long as UFC doesn’t have 5 belts per weight division, the sport will continue to grow. Really, MMAs growth has come from Boxing’s disgraceful governance.

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