Boxing, MMA & The Disillusion Of Safety

Boxing, MMA & The Disillusion Of Safety

By James Lee

As combat sport is on an ever-expanding trail of cultural phenomena, that justly comes with an assumed level of scrutiny. Rightfully, and due to the transparent danger embroiled in combat, an examination of the highest level is necessary upon likening damage and its significance.

Nevertheless, the emergence of mixed martial arts, bolstered by the UFC, has undertaken an instrumental growth in the 21st Century despite overarching anxieties encircling permitted combat. Boxing, on the other hand, has been a significant part of sports culture since at least the early 1900s amid the acquisition of its Olympic status.

As Muhammad Ali transcended sport and became an icon for the suppressed in the United States, boxing became imperative to weekly sports viewing. A golden era of heavyweight boxing in the 1990s likewise made Saturday fight night must-watch television as the idea of two of the best fighting against one another was tough to match in anticipation. 

Consequently, boxing matured into the global sports culture through films and books like Rocky. Similarly, it gathered a historic status as the media began to make heroes of those who compete.

The more recent outlet of combined martial arts strived to tackle the deficiencies in the sole art of punching and has had success in doing so. As the decades of folklore martial arts feats have enticed an imperious society to require a less limited form of fighting, the Ultimate Fighting Championship was born in 1993.

A memorable opening night in which a 180lbs Brazilian beat all-comers of different sizes determined jiu jitsu the most effective discipline in combat. Though ultimately, the initial episode revealed all concepts of fighting to be profoundly competitive and fed into the century-old hunt to identify the most qualified fighter in the world.

Consequently, the collective of boxing and mixed martial arts have ensured licensed combat is indispensable in most cultures across the globe. However, there is a clear difference between the pair in perception. As what is observed as a higher amount of brutality in mixed martial arts is perhaps an explanation to that, research pinning boxing as the more dangerous outlet in terms of brain trauma casts doubt over that supposed belief.

Crucially, a 2016 study by researchers at the University of Alberta found that boxers are more likely to experience long-term health injuries than MMA fighters. A ten-year sample from 2003 to 2013 found that 7.1 per cent of boxers lost consciousness or suffered severe eye injuries in matches compared to 4.2 per cent of MMA fighters. 

Likewise, a study by Australian Epidemiologist Reidar P. Lystad concluded that boxing has a significantly higher concussion rate of 14 per cent compared to 4 per cent in mixed martial arts contests. Also, statistics detail that boxing had 339 deaths between 1950 and 2007 and mixed martial arts had significantly less at four from 1981 to 2007. 

Of course, there are a multitude of unknown factors that could explain those statistics, but crucially it proves the notion that boxing is less brutal is unfounded. The limited amount of research conducted in this area has instead highlighted brain trauma as lesser in mixed martial arts.

When hypothesising, it could be said that mixed martial arts is rugby’s equivalent to American football. The perpetual dialectic of safeness between those two sports is extensive compared to that of boxing versus mixed martial arts, and the history of brain trauma in American football has long been classified. 

The main similarity posed between boxing and American football is that the brain trauma is caused by a false sense of security, as the fighting nature of the athletes means the safety procedures embolden the individual to more punishment. 

Larger glove size has been noted to cause a more substantial accumulation of damage as it enables a larger volume of strikes to be exerted, whereas the smaller gloves in mixed martial arts make an instant knockout strike more likely. 

Accomplished health writer David Zinchenko detailed boxing paraphernalia as false protection that submits athletes to higher levels of punishment. Glove size, ten-count and 36-minute contests have been noted to enable longer-term damage than instant trauma noticed more by their counterpart, despite that being more overwhelming to watch.

Likewise, that same argumentation has been put forward vicariously in discussing the impact of safety wear in American football. It has been maintained they cause the athletes to tackle one another with more reckless freedom due to the perceived nature of protection. Although these theories are not undividedly proven, head trauma issues have been more prevalent across the Atlantic than in rugby in the United Kingdom.

Furthermore, the avenues of combat in boxing are limited to body and head strikes. In contrast, the majority of mixed martial arts contests engage in extra variables, meaning head trauma is likely less, particularly when contemplating the vaster time limit in boxing too.

However, and regardless of the unproven thesis’, it appears the disparity in sporting essence between the pair is contradictory. Personally, I believe neither should be listed as a sport. Granted, skill and work-ethic accompany all who compete. Yet, it is onerous to comprehend how sporting prowess exists in something where the intention to succumb another human being into physical or mental submission is paramount.

Moreover, as the combat fanbase demands more mainstream sports coverage, I do not. Mixed martial arts may not even belong to typical sporting news, but if the reasoning behind the uneven coverage is based on it being too violent, then boxing should be treated with the same cause. There is nothing conclusive to indicate a violence disparity, but a discrepancy in judgement decidedly subsists.

What is certain though is that developing research in the forthcoming years surrounding long-term injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) specifically will evidence whether they differ in safety. Mixed martial arts is notably younger, and future research could, in fact, categorise the sport as far more hazardous. 

Momentarily though, the notion that mixed martial arts is incomparably more severe must be profoundly scrutinised. There is no evidence to suggest that boxing is safer, so while research is superficial, limiting the damage of any combat should be the leading priority, as well as examining the morality of every individual associated.

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