Is MMA Violent? | Reasonable Discussion

The rise in popularity of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in America over the past decade has led some people to question whether the sport glorifies violence.

On the surface, MMA seems to play on America’s taste for violent entertainment, as the fights tend to look quite brutal and usually end with both participants covered in blood, bruises, and black eyes.

Is MMA Violent?

Although it may appear to be unusually violent, MMA is no more or less violent than the combat sports that predate it. In fact, studies have shown that MMA is in many ways safer than boxing and poses no more of a risk for serious injuries than other sports like football and hockey. 

A whole host of factors will go into deciding if a sport is violent, and each person will have their own unique perspective on the issue.

This article will delve into the background and practice of MMA as well as other popular sports to see the role that violence plays and whether or not it is appropriate. 

Do Martial Arts Promote Violence? 

The history of martial arts spans thousands of years and is practiced in cultures all over the world. Martial arts have a rich tradition of combining physical activity with mental discipline and even elements of spirituality. 

Some of the most widely practiced unarmed martial arts are: 

  • Karate 
  • Kung Fu
  • Judo 
  • Tae Kwon Do
  • Jujitsu 

Modern competitive martial arts are popular for adults and children alike. Children as young as four or five years old are commonly found in martial arts academies. 

Professional leagues for all kinds of martial arts exist in America, with both judo and taekwondo being represented as full medal sports in the Olympics. Many people also view martial arts as more of an art form than a sport or self-defense technique.  

Meditation and body control are important aspects of martial arts and help to show how the practice is more than just a blood sport. 

MMA Does Not Encourage Violent Behavior

It is possible to view martial arts as violent. They are, after all, fighting techniques that are used for self-defense. Any type of fighting and aggression, even in the setting of competition, will make certain folks uncomfortable.

However, it is important to keep in mind that martial arts do not promote violence for the sake of violence. 

There are even studies that suggest participating in martial arts can actually lower a child’s risk for violent or aggressive behavior. 

Just because something seems violent on its surface does not necessarily mean that it is dangerous. Martial arts, while they can be viewed as violent in a way, offer a whole host of benefits that make the practice important and useful. 

Is MMA Dangerous? Are Injuries Common?

Playing any sport comes with a level of risk. Painful injuries are common at all levels of physical activity, whether you are playing a contact sport or not (just ask anyone with tennis elbow).  MMA requires participants to inflict damage on their competitors, which makes injuries quite common. 

However, just because injuries are common in MMA does not necessarily mean that the injuries are severe or that the sport is inherently dangerous. 

The three most common injuries in MMA are:

  • Cuts and skin lacerations 
  • Sprains and fractures 
  • Head injuries (concussions) 

Each injury poses its own level of danger, and while every injury should be taken seriously, it is important to understand what to expect in MMA before making a judgment as to whether it is violent beyond reason. 

Cuts and Skin Lacerations

  • The most common form of injury in MMA are cosmetic cuts and lacerations. 
  • While these are the culprit for all the gore of a normal MMA match, the injuries are largely not serious and are easily treatable. 
  • The cuts are caused by strikes in the form of kicks and punches, usually to the eye and nose region. 

Sprains and Fractures 

  • The second most common injury in MMA is broken bones and sprained joints. 
  • The style of fighting in MMA makes use of techniques like armbars that put a large amount of strain on the bones in the arms and legs of the participants, leading to injuries that can vary in levels of severity.

Head Injuries 

  • The most serious injuries that are sustained in MMA are head injuries like concussions. 
  • Injuries to the brain have been in the news since researchers began to investigate the causes and effects of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which is caused by repeated blows to the head. 
  • CTE is the most dangerous of these injuries because it can lead to long-term cognitive issues and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. At present, there are very limited ways to treat the onset and effects of CTE. 

Has Anyone Ever Died in MMA?

As of 2018, MMA has led to the death of at least six people. These have occurred at both the amateur and professional levels. While difficult to confirm, there are likely more deaths tied to unsanctioned MMA fighting events that occur around the United States. 

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the largest and most popular American league for MMA, and they champion the safety of the sport by citing how no one has died in the ring at any UFC event. 

The same cannot be said for boxing, which has seen many hundreds die during fights. Boxing has an unfortunate history of dangerous and fatal outcomes, as well as a high rate of injury and confirmed cases of CTE tied to the sport. A 2019 CNN article cited a figure of 13 boxing-related deaths per year. 

Is MMA Safer Than Football?

There is no definitive way to say which sport it safer, MMA or Footbal. Football is America’s sport, but it is no stranger to criticism due to the violent nature of some aspects of the game. Tackles and collisions in football have increasingly been shown to lead to CTE and other traumatic head injuries like the ones in MMA. 

A few factors separate football and MMA in terms of their relative safety. 

  1. MMA has more repeated blows to the head 

In a football game, every play ends with a tackle. Players are involved in a few tackles each game, and by and large, the hits are isolated events. In an MMA match, there will be several strikes to the head by each competitor in a short period of time, greatly increasing the likelihood of a head injury. 

  1. In MMA, there are weight classes

Each MMA fight will have two people of near-equal size. A football game may have a 300lbs defensive lineman crushing a 185lbs receiver… ouch! The fact that MMA has normalized weight classes lessens the ability for fighters to get seriously injured from mismatches in size. 

  1. Football players wear helmets

The use of protective equipment in football does seem to present it as a safer sport than MMA, where fighters wear nothing but shorts and small padded gloves.

But some suggest that football pads and helmets give the illusion of safety rather than providing real protection, causing players to hit with more force than they should because they believe the pads will lessen the blow. 

All in all, both MMA and football have aspects that are dangerous, more so than many other competitive sports, but there is no way to definitively say which sport is safer.

Both sports have an elevated risk factor due to the prevalence of head injuries and certain rules that allow for collisions.


It is hard to deny that MMA is more violent than non-contact sports. The ability for fighters to hurt one another is relatively high when compared to a sport like swimming, where you are never going to come into contact with another person, much less fight them. 

MMA is not any more violent than collision sports like football and is believed to be less dangerous than boxing. The risks for serious injury in MMA are present, though the brutality of the sport does not indicate that it is overtly dangerous or harmful. 

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