Boxing and MMA are popular combat sports known for their high risk of injuries. But which is more dangerous and imposes a more significant risk to your health, boxing or MMA?
MMA has a higher rate of injuries, and athletes get hurt more often. But boxing imposes a greater risk when it comes to the development of severe and long-term injuries. Boxers absorb more strikes to the head, which translates to more concussions and brain traumas, while MMA is ahead in minor injuries.
Following is a detailed look into different studies and injury reports from both sports. Also, you will discover how various factors, such as rules, contribute to one sport being more dangerous than the other.
Injury Rates in MMA and Boxing
The injury rate, as well as the type of injuries, differ a lot between MMA and Boxing. Here is a detailed comparison.
MMA Injury Rate
According to the study performed by Sports Health, the rate of injuries in MMA ranges between 22.9 and 28.6 injuries per 100 exposures.
However, the study carried out by “Phys Sportmed” is more credible as scientists used the official injury reports from the “Nevada State Athletic Commission” recorded by the ringside physicians to determine the injury rate and most common types of injuries.
Their findings showed 291 musculoskeletal and head injuries were recorded in 285 UFC matches between 2016 and 2018. Or 51 injuries per 100 athletic exposures. The most commonly injured body areas were:
- Head injuries (67%)
- Upper limb injuries (40% in females, 14% in males)
- Lower limb injuries (19% men, 5% females)
Boxing Injury Rate
According to studies, professional boxing has an injury rate of 17.1 injuries per 100 exposures or 3.4 injuries per 100 boxing rounds. The analysis is based on 524 boxing matches from the state of Nevada between 2001 and 2003. The most common injuries were:
- Facial Laceration (51%)
- Hand injuries (17%)
- Eye Injuries (14%)
- Nose Injuries (5%)
Regarding injuries sustained in training, “Br J Sports Med” discovered 21 injuries per 12 months of boxing training or 2.0 injuries per 1000 hours of boxing training.
Deaths In MMA vs. Boxing
MMA is a younger sport than boxing; with that, there have been fewer recorded deaths in regulated competitions. As of 2022, there have been seven deaths in sanctioned MMA fights and nine in unsanctioned fights.
It is worth pointing up that none of these deaths happened in the largest MMA promotion, UFC.
Boxing has been around since ancient times, but fatalities were only recorded with the establishment of “Marquess of Queensberry Rules” in 1884. Between 1884 and 2019, there were 1,876 recorded deaths directly caused by injuries sustained in a boxing match.
Boxing or MMA — Which One is More Dangerous?
Boxing is more dangerous than MMA regarding serious, life-threatening injuries. Due to repeated blows to the head, concussions, CTE, Parkinson’s, and other head injuries are common. The scientist confirmed this at the “University of Alberta.”
The study focused on the period between 2003 and 2013. Researchers took all the post-fight medical reports from 1,181 fighters and 550 boxers. They confirmed a higher injury rate in MMA, 59.4%, than in boxing, which was 49.8%.
However, the main reason boxing is more dangerous than MMA is the number of knockouts, which are the leading cause of brain traumas. The study showed boxers get knocked out more often (7.1%) than MMA fighters (4.2%).
The shocking discovery came in 2013 when the Association of Neurological Surgeons came out with their findings. According to research, 90% of boxers will suffer concussions in their careers, regardless of their competition level.
“The brain has very little space to move inside the skull. It is never good to have repetitive trauma on an encased organ. Even if you have strong neck muscles, the punches will take its toll.” — Dr. Luis Villaplana.
MMA has a higher injury rate overall, and students and competitors get hurt more often than their colleagues from boxing. But if you focus on the type of injuries and which parts of the body get injured the most, you will see why boxing is more dangerous.
Throughout their careers, boxers absorb more head strikes and get knocked out more often, which results in a higher chance of developing serious brain damage.
What Makes Boxing More Dangerous Than MMA?
Boxing focuses only on punching the upper body area, primarily the head. Thus, the majority of strikes and injuries are concentrated on the head. MMA involves fewer head strikes as fighters throw a lot of leg/body kicks, wrestle and fight on the ground.
More Blows To The Head
On average, boxers throw around 780 punches per 12-round boxing match or approximately 65 per single round. Next, pro boxers land with an average accuracy of 30-40%, and each punch lands at an average speed of 25 mph. Most of these strikes are landed directly to the head, which is why boxing is so dangerous.
MMA fighters spend less time trading blows to the head. They throw kicks to the body/head, grapple in the clinch or on the ground, and work with BJJ moves to submit each other.
10-second Count Rule
The 10-second count rule is one of the most dangerous aspects of boxing. When a fighter gets knocked down and hits the canvas, conscious or unconscious, the referee starts a 10-count.
Knocked-down boxers have 10 seconds to recover, get back to their feet, and continue fighting, which is very dangerous from brain traumas, and here is why.
The first blow would cause a concussion in a lot of cases. A boxer would hit the canvas, hurt and often disoriented, or lose consciousness for a couple of seconds.
However, the 10-second count rule allows them to clear their mind and recover enough to stand up and continue. The trouble is, they are not fully recovered by any means.
Once the match continues, the opponent would, in most cases, rush in to finish the fight and blast a concussed opponent with another hard blow. This second shot is the one that does the most damage to the brain.
MMA is different because once a fighter hits the canvas unconscious, the referee steps in and stops the match.
Fewer Ways To Stall The Match
Clinching or pressing your opponent against the ropes is not allowed in boxing. Each time boxers clinch, the referee would separate them and reset the action. This means they must stand in front of each other and trade punches.
MMA enables fighters to clinch and press their opponent against the cage’s wall and keep them there for the entire round. The referee will not separate them if they are active enough.
The same stands for fighting on the ground. You can often see skilled wrestlers staying on top of their opponent for the entire round or fight while doing little to no damage.
Last but not least, ground and pound may look brutal, but striking on the ground is safer than striking in the standup. On the ground, fighters do not have much space and can’t create the same force in punches as they could in standup.
Most professional MMA fighters and boxers compete on average up to three times per year. Though they suffer head injuries in a match, hard sparring contributes the most to severe injuries.
MMA fighters spar, too but spend much less time exchanging hard blows to the head. In fact, if they are preparing for a grappling-based opponent, they might spend an entire camp without any standup sparring.
Even if they face a striker, they still need to work on other aspects of the game and spend less time exchanging strikes than boxers.
MMA vs. Boxing — Which One is Harder to Learn?
Both boxing and MMA are full-contact sports and fall into a group of hard martial arts to learn. To determine which one is harder, you must consider the following factors:
More techniques — MMA
MMA combines the most effective grappling and striking techniques from multiple martial arts, such as boxing, BJJ, and Muay Thai. Each athlete must learn the following offensive/defensive techniques to cover all the aspects of the game:
- punches, kicks, knees, and elbows
- takedowns, trips, and throws
- positioning on the ground, chokes, and joint locks
Boxing is a bit one-dimensional as it focuses only on striking using your hands. It revolves around 5–6 different punching techniques and how to mix those with footwork, head movement, and angles.
Higher injury rate — MMA
MMA includes a higher rate of injuries overall, and you will likely get hurt more often than in boxing.
More dangerous — Boxing
Boxing is more dangerous as the risk of brain damage caused by repeated strikes to the head is higher. In the long run, boxers are exposed to a higher risk of various brain diseases such as CTE, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Requires more skill and athleticism — MMA
MMA requires an overall higher level of fitness and athleticism. It is more physically demanding as you need to combine intense wrestling and grappling on the ground with striking on the feet.
It takes more time to master — MMA
Boxing falls into a group of easier martial arts to learn. You may expect to learn the fundamentals in 6 months and develop solid skills in one year of consistent training. MMA is a complex combat system where students need at least five years of training to reach the same level of skill, often more than that.
You should be well aware of the risks of training in boxing or MMA, as both sports carry a high risk of injuries. Which is more dangerous and imposes greater risk to your health depends on many factors.
But overall, boxing as a combat system includes more head strikes, and the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head increases the risk of severe brain injuries. Studies have suggested over 90% of boxers suffer a concussion at some point in their careers. If you decide to pursue a career in boxing, likely, you will too.
Training and competing in MMA is also dangerous but imposes less risk when it comes to severe head injuries simply because there is less striking.