Is MMA a Sport?


When it comes to contact sports, there are few as brutal, strategic, and tactically versatile as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Compared to other, more established sports, like baseball and soccer, MMA is relatively new to the sports world.

It also had a relatively tumultuous beginning as it was banned in several states not long after it was established. With so much uncertainty, and even controversy, surrounding MMA, many wonder whether it is even a real sport?

Is MMA a Sport?

Mixed Martial Arts became an official sport in 1980, but wasn’t truly accepted until September of 2000 when the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board decided to allow MMA competitions despite widespread bans in multiple American states. This became the basis of the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts and was a pivotal point in the sports acceptance.

Read on to learn more about the history of MMA as a sport, how this sport is played, and whether the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is also considered a sport. 

Is UFC a Sport? 

UFC is the most prominent company that promotes MMA as a sport and is currently based in Las Vegas, Nevada. It, in itself, is not a sport.

UFC and MMA typically go hand in hand as UFC is the most influential presence in the spread of MMA’s popularity as a sport. This has allowed for its increasing support over the past two decades. 

Because of UFC, many individuals around the world have the opportunity to watch MMA as it is the largest promotional company for MMA and creates a vast number of events worldwide. By 2020, the UFC has hosted over 500 events to expose and promote MMA.

These events will showcase the twelve weight division as well as the most successful and highest-level MMA fighters in the world. 

You could think of it like basketball and the NBA. Basketball is the sport and the NBA is the league in which professional basketball is played. In this case, MMA is the sport and UFC is the league so to speak.

When Did MMA Become a Sport? 

Elements of MMA have been present historically, dating back to ancient civilizations and the turn of the century, but it did not become an established sport reflecting modern rules and styles until the 1980s

MMA has a bit of a murky history, and its origins as a sport can be a bit subjective due to its nature. Because MMA is essentially built on the foundations of hand-to-hand combat, some could argue its origins dating back to the dawn of mankind or even ancient Greece, while others prefer to pin it more within the mid to late 1900s.

Between 1960 and 1980, several official challenges or contests were established between well-renowned fighters whose skills ranged from traditional boxing to styles more reflective of modern MMA. Highly influential instances include Gene LeBell vs. Milo Savage (1963) or Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki (1976). 

However, despite these fight’s public appeal, they were no more than a 1 vs. 1 challenge rather than matches of an official sport. It wasn’t until 1980 that MMA became more established with its own defining factors such as:

  • Rules
  • Weight classes
  • Safety equipment
  • Sanctions
  • Environments

Afterward, the sport attempted to expand with official MMA competitions introduced by CV Productions until it hit a significant obstacle. MMA had its earliest matches in the state of Pennsylvania, but by 1983, the Pennsylvania State Senate passed a bill that specifically called for: “Prohibiting Tough Guy contests or Battle of the Brawlers contests.”

This was detrimental to the sport as it was not only banned in Pennsylvania, but the same sentiments also quickly spread throughout the United States. As a result, MMA was banned or went unregulated in multiple states throughout the country.

It wasn’t until September of 2000, when New Jersey released its ban on MMA, that the sport could really enter the public sphere. With the support of events hosted by UFC, MMA started to become increasingly popular as more and more states released their bans and regulated the sport within their borders.

Nowadays, MMA is considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. 

Is MMA an Olympic Sport? 

Despite its growing popularity, particularly in the United States, MMA is not an official Olympic sport yet. 

Some might consider entering the realm of the Olympics to be the pinnacle of credibility for a sport. The Olympics is where the most influential and popular sports are hosted, and the most skilled individuals compete for gold and their country. Unfortunately, MMA has not yet been incorporated as an Olympic event.

The reasons behind this decision are unclear and still argued today. On a technical perspective, MMA cannot become an official Olympic sport without passing several prerequisites, one of which is obtaining full membership to the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF). 

Unfortunately, on February 4, 2019, GAISF denied MMA this membership on the grounds of “observer status,” a baffling decision considering the sport’s popularity. Some speculate that this denial can be attributed to MMA growing too quickly as a sport. Therefore, it would have an unprecedented commercial impact if it was able to become an official Olympic sport.

Others believe the membership block is due to the sport’s reputation. MMA has been banned in America and several other countries around the world, including France and Norway. This is partially due to the sport’s brutal nature, where blood is spilled, and bones are broken.

However, the injuries of MMA are comparable to those of boxing, a sport that has held Olympic standing since 1940

Ultimately, it is likely that MMA as a sport is too controversial at the present time to be an official Olympic sport, although there is hope it will be in the 2024 games. 

What Sports are included in MMA?

As demonstrated by its name, there are many fighting techniques that makeup Mixed Martial Arts. At its core, the hybrid combat sport incorporates techniques from:

  • Boxing
  • Wrestling
  • Judo
  • Jiu-Jitsu
  • Karate
  • Muay Thai (Thai boxing)

Several other disciplines are incorporated into the sport as well, but their uses and frequency will vary by the fighter. 

There is a vast array of techniques that MMA fighters learn in order to be successful in matches. Because this sport can be fought on your feet and grappling on the ground, fighters need to incorporate various styles of fighting to subdue their opponent. 

After all, boxing and karate techniques work well when you’re standing face-to-face, but once you’re rolling around on the floor, their techniques won’t do you much good. You’re better off turning towards wrestling and judo techniques.

Typically, because there are so many disciplines or foundations in this sport, beginner MMA fighters will choose just one, maybe two, to start. Once they are comfortable with this discipline’s techniques, they will slowly start to sprinkle in other disciplines they deem useful.

For myself and many others who are interested in MMA, the two most common disciplines are Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This is because Muay Thai teaches you how to fight on your feet and BJJ teaches you how to fight on the ground.

The best MMA fighters, like Georges “Rush” St.-Pierre and Jon “Bones” Jones, know precisely when to use their strongest techniques and when to incorporate more inventive disciplines to defeat an opponent to submission. 

Recommended Products and Final Thoughts

MMA might have had an unprecedented start as a sport, but fortunately, with the help of UFC, it is quickly dominating the sports world on a global scale. Despite a great deal of controversy surrounding the sport in terms of safety and regulations, it is deemed an official sport and legal in all 50 states on a professional level. 

Although it is not yet an official Olympic sport, MMA is growing exponentially with each passing year, and so, many are hopeful that with continued support and further safety regulations, the sport will one day enter the pantheon of sporting events. If not, there is no doubt in MMA enthusiast’s minds that they will see an increased number of new fighters eager to test their limits at this extremely technique and competitive sport. 

Keep training hard my friends.

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