A few things are as exciting as watching a high-profile MMA event and athletes battling each other in freestyle combat. But is MMA a sport? A real sport like football, boxing or soccer?
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is an official combat sport regulated in almost every country worldwide. All promotions and events must be in line with the official rules and overseen by the Athletic Commission of the state or country where the event occurs.
So, is MMA a sport? — Yes, it is, but not without flaws and room for improvement. Keep reading this article to learn more about it.
How is “Sport” Defined?
“Sport” is a broad term defined as a competitive athletic activity between two or more sides organized by the official national association or federation. In this event, the sets of rules regulate the behavior and performance of the athletes.
During the sports event, an athlete or group of athletes rely on their unique set of skills, physical fitness, and intellectual abilities to exceed the athletes from the opposite side following a strict set of rules.
The rules are crucial in sports to keep the event fair and safe and make it easier for the judges to decide the winner.
There are also various forms of sports. Some sports could be arranged as tournaments and leagues where the final winner is the champion. Or sports can also be single events/matches such as racing or combat sports.
Sports can be further classified into diverse groups. First, there are single sports (tennis) and team sports (soccer or basketball).
Next, some sports can mainly be physical such as rugby, or mental such as chess. Further, sports can be with or without contact (tennis), full-contact (boxing), motorized, animal-supported, etc.
But overall, sport as a competitive activity or game aims to:
- Improve the physical and mental ability and health
- Provide enjoyment to the spectators
- Form strong social relationships
- Obtaining results in competition at all levels
But how the chaotic world of MMA fits into all of this? Is MMA a sport?
Is MMA A Sport?
MMA is a legitimate sport as it meets all (or the majority) the criteria of being one. Yes, the exact definition of sports is constantly changing based on trends, social norms, and standards. But no matter from which angle you look, MMA is an official sport.
It is regulated, accepted, and well spread in just about every country. Each country has a governing body responsible for promoting the sport and hosting events. The events are also aired on the largest sports networks, such as ESPN, BT Sport, and MMA stars are among the most popular sports figures.
Each country has the main governing body and promotions hosting the events. All MMA events must be in line with the official rules of the state the event takes place, in most cases, with the “Unified Rules of MMA.” The rules are standardized and do not vary too much between promotions.
Athletes compete against opponents similar in size, experience, and rank level. The main goal is to win enough matches to entertain the audience and win world titles, money, and global fame. It is very much the same as in boxing.
In the cage, MMA fighters represent their team and country and fight to win titles and provide for their families. Many also serve as role models to younger generations and inspire many people.
Last but not least, let’s look at whether MMA meets all the major “sports” criteria:
- Regulated organized activity — YES. MMA is regulated and accepted in just about every country worldwide
- Provide enjoyment to the fans — YES. Cage fighting is among the most exciting sports
- Improves fitness and mental abilities and health- YES. MMA fighters are among the finest athletes
- Obtaining results in competition at all levels — YES. MMA includes both amateur and pro competitions.
When Did MMA Become A Legal Sport?
MMA origins go back to Ancient Greece and the sport “Pankration.” A sport that was a mix of striking and grappling and a part of the early Olympic Games. But the modern form emerged in the 1980s in Japan with the birth of the first real MMA promotion called “Shooto.”
Between the 1980s and 2000, many other MMA promotions would emerge, such as UFC and “Pancrase.” However, these early events were brutal and illegal in most countries and US states.
Looking at the early UFC events, it’s easy to spot why. There were no weight classes, illegal strikes, safety gear, or time limits. Senator John McCain once referred to MMA as “Human Cockfighting.”
To get legal acceptance and public approval, the sport of MMA needed to go through some drastic changes. The biggest one came in 2000 when the “New Jersey Athletic Commission,” with the MMA experts, decided to regulate the sport. The final result of their work was the birth of “Unified Rules of MMA.”
What Are The Unified Rules Of MMA?
Unified rules and many other changes made MMA safe, fair, easier to follow, and overall, a real sport. Unified rules defined the major rules such as:
- Weight Classes (14 for men, 5 for women)
- Medical requirements
- Prohibited Substances
- Judging Criteria
- Safety equipment
Is MMA The Hardest Sport To Compete In?
When you look at it from the physical and mental aspects, MMA might be the most demanding sport. Here is a list of why MMA is so brutal and why many experts believe it is the hardest sport.
Weight cutting is a big part of MMA. Each fighter must go through the process of losing up to 15–20% of their body weight, leading to a fight. In their own words, losing this much weight in such a short period is even more challenging than fighting inside the cage.
This process is fraught with danger, can lead to serious health issues, and even be fatal.
Athletes Need To Master Multiple Styles
MMA is a mix of striking, grappling, and ground fighting techniques. To cover all the aspects of the sport, each athlete must be skilled in at least two or three separate martial arts. Some martial arts that proved suitable for MMA are BJJ, wrestling, and Muay Thai.
You must hit the gym at least 5 times a week to keep up with the classes. Each week combines striking and grappling classes, intense sparring, grueling cardio, and strength workouts.
Not many people can physically and mentally sustain such a workload. Thus, minor and severe injuries are quite common, as well as losing the motivation to train.
High Level Of Conditioning
Learning multiple styles is not enough; athletes must also have top cardio and conditioning. All the skills mean nothing if you can’t keep high energy and strength throughout the match. As a result, MMA fighters must do a lot of grueling cardio and strength workouts weekly.
According to studies, MMA is a sport with the highest rate of injuries (28 injuries per 100 fight participations). Serious injuries and long recoveries are a part of the game, not to mention those injuries like brain traumas that might impact your health in the long run.
Hard To Stay On Top
MMA is the most complex sport where there is an infinite number of variables and ways you can lose a match. The game is constantly evolving, making it really hard for a fighter to compete at a high level for an extended period or keep up with the sport.
Is MMA A Martial Art?
MMA does not fall into the group of “traditional” martial arts. First, the concept of training is not designed for self-defense or military purposes.
Second, it does not directly support you to overcome yourself through various exercises. Last but not least, it does not include philosophical elements or weapon-based training.
Instead, MMA is all about competition, winning matches, earning money, and becoming a global star. In that sense, MMA can’t be looked upon as real martial art but rather as a popular combat sport that shares many benefits with real martial arts.
Martial arts is a form of art; engaging in this activity significantly impacts various aspects of your life. It represents a unique set of skills, not just physical in the form of fighting, but mental, that shape us and our behavior as human beings.
Martial arts could be armed or unarmed, modern or traditional, striking or grappling based, or hybrid. Combat systems that are considered to be martial arts:
- They are designed for self-defense or other types of real combat
- Have history and long-lasting traditions
- Encourage personal development
- Include life philosophies and even elements of religious beliefs (aikido)
Let’s examine why MMA is NOT considered a martial art and why some people think it should be.
MMA is not a martial art because:
- Training is oriented toward competition, not self-defense. Students learn how to win matches and follow strict rules, not how to defend on the streets.
- It does not include any ranking system where the main goal is to reach a high proficiency and skill level. Your results in competition define success in MMA.
- There are no “MMA techniques” as all of the techniques are “borrowed” from other martial arts
- It does not include any philosophies
MMA could be seen as a real martial art because:
- It is more practical in self-defense scenarios than most other legitimate martial arts
- Strong evidence that it provides an even greater range of physical and mental benefits
- Encourages personal growth and builds character (not through philosophies)
Frequently Asked Questions
No, UFC is a private company that promotes MMA matches. Each UFC event is overseen by the Athletic Commission of the state where the event occurs. On the other hand, MMA is a regulated sport like football or basketball. So saying that UFC is MMA is as wrong as saying NBA is basketball.
The reason why people mix UFC and MMA is quite simple. UFC is the first and largest MMA promotion that played a significant role in regulating the sport. Over the years, it has become synonymous with MMA, but thinking that these two terms have the same meaning is wrong.
No, MMA is not a part of the Olympic Games like other martial arts such as wrestling, boxing, karate, and taekwondo. But this doesn’t mean that it is never going to be.