As MMA grew from a small time TV special in the 2000s to a worldwide phenomenon in recent years, many people have been outspoken about the potential dangers of “no-holds-barred” cage fighting. Since we’ve gone over how MMA is actually a clean sport due to the long list of illegal moves, we won’t be focusing on that in this article. Instead, we'll compare MMA and Boxing to find out which of the two combat sports is more dangerous.
Since boxing is pretty similar to MMA (only in the fact that they are both combat sports, but it’s the closest comparison available), MMA has often been compared to the Sweet Science. Some of the most common questions you’ll hear when people are assessing mixed martial arts (MMA) are:
- Which is more dangerous? MMA or Boxing?
- Is MMA safer than boxing?
- Is MMA safe?
In general, MMA is safer than boxing in the grand scheme. Sure, there’s more opportunities to get hurt since fighters aren’t just limited to their hands. Arms break in kimuras, facial injuries are common, bruised legs from leg kicks are a regular occurrence, and submissions put fighters out cold for a period of time. But one important distinction between boxing and MMA lies in the fact that boxers have much less to work with.
As a boxer, you can only use your hands. And you can only use those hands to hit an opponent in the face or the body. Because of this limitation, most damage is focused on the head, and getting repeatedly hit in the face can cause some lasting damage.
Luckily, we don’t need to just speculate about whether MMA or boxing are more dangerous. Studies have been done where experts compared the risks of injury in MMA to those in boxing, and they’ve taken the time to lay out the risks of each sport.
According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, statistically, MMA is safer than boxing. In this study, the researchers sought out to determine the incidence of injury in professional MMA fighters.
In general, the study found that although MMA competitions have a high rate of injury, the KO rate in MMA is lower than the KO rate in boxing.
“Mixed martial arts has a safer track record in respect to serious injury and death. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing, suggesting a reduced risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in MMA competitions compared to other events involving striking.”
The authors argue that the main concern in combat sports is repetitive strikes to the head, stating that MMA competitions give opportunities to “attack the extremities with arm bars and leg locks and the possibility of extended periods of grappling could serve to lessen the risk of traumatic brain injury.”
Basically, you’re not just restricted to striking with your hands in MMA like in boxing, which means that you don’t just focus on the head. Obviously the head is still a main target for fighters looking to KO their opponent, but dominant wrestling and submissions are just as important.
In fact, take a look at the most dominant champions in recent history. Khabib Nurmagomedov, Stipe Miocic, Kamaru Usman and several other UFC superstars are known mainly for their ability to overwhelm their opponents with wrestling and ground game. Sure, they can stand up and fight, but that’s not the entire story when it comes to MMA.
MMA has also become safer with the strict guidelines that were introduced once the UFC began exploding in the United States. Dangerous moves like the 12-to-6 elbow, eye gouging, fish hooking, knees/kicks/stomps to downed opponents and throat strikes are all considered illegal.
WHICH SPORT HAS MORE DEATHS: MMA OR BOXING?
Sadly, because of the nature of combat sports, there will always be the possibility of death. When comparing MMA and boxing, the number of deaths in boxing completely dwarfs the number of deaths in MMA.
Considering the number of deaths in the ring, there is about one death recorded per year related to MMA. Comparatively, there are about 11 deaths in boxing each year.
There are also much more deaths in the history of boxing compared to MMA, but you also have to keep in mind that professional boxing has been around much longer than MMA.
IS MMA SAFER THAN BOXING?
When comparing MMA and boxing, MMA is definitely the safer sport. It’s not because the gloves are thinner or the fighters are less dangerous – rather it’s because MMA fighters in the octagon don’t have to focus on knocking their opponent out. In boxing, fighters are limited to strike the face and the body, which means that fighters either get hammered with devastating blows or peppered with constant shots (like in Fury vs. Wilder 2). Both can lead to traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which compounded over the span of a boxer’s career can cause serious damage.
On the flip side, MMA fighters have more options. You can knock an opponent out, chop away at their legs, put them in a kimura or leglock, or simply choke them out. There’s no constant focus on the head (although some fighters are knockout artists), which means fighters are much less likely to get severe head damage. The only part that makes MMA more dangerous than boxing is that MMA fighters are more likely to get injured in general.
So MMA is safer than boxing, and we can finally answer the age old question: “What is more dangerous? MMA or Boxing?”.
In most cases, MMA fighters just end up in the hospital. Boxers are at a higher risk of severe injury than MMA fighters.