“Boxing is your father’s sport.”
—UFC president Dana White
And Muhammad Ali:
“Boxing is a lot of white men watching two black men beat each other up.”
The boxer James Toney was recently and quickly beaten by Randy Couture in a mixed martial arts (MMA) fight, via a first round submission hold. This, to me, is unsurprising. The skill set in MMA is much more complete, from punches, to kicks, to grappling and holds. But what about safety? The theory is that MMA is less violent because fights end faster, less repeated shots to the head et cetera. First off, both sports seem brutal to the brain, most likely in different degrees, and to the body. Secondly, there are definitely, in my opinion, way more all around injuries in MMA—legs, arms, tendons et cetera.
But less dangerous than boxing, brain-wise? Perhaps. I don’t know, but either way I still wonder if the repeated idea that MMA is less violent than boxing is an urban myth, a bit of propaganda. I have no doubt that there will be MMA veterans who slur their words at some point, to mention just one side-effect. I could be wrong.
Anyway, Dana White, the UFC outspoken President, gives his opinion in an interview in Playboy:
PLAYBOY: How hard on the brain is Ultimate Fighting?
WHITE: People think our sport’s more violent than boxing. Wrong! They’re weirded out because it goes to the ground. We grew up with John Wayne movies—you don’t hit a man when he’s down. It’s un-American! John Wayne would deck a guy, stand him back up and hit him again. So when Americans first watch UFC—one guy’s on top of the other, hitting him when he’s down—they say, “Oh God, he can’t defend himself!” It’s not like that in Asia, where they’ve been doing martial arts since the samurai days.
Here’s another misconception: Americans think, How much can it hurt, getting hit with those big padded boxing gloves? [I'm not sure who thinks that—nobody who ever saw Mike Tyson fight in his prime, that's for sure]. But they protect the hands. When boxing was bare-knuckle, fights would last about two seconds. Guys kept hurting their hands punching the other guy’s hard, bony head. So they created a padded weapon, and you could punch a guy in the head—bam bam bam—without breaking your hands. Boxing also has a three knockdown rule. You hit me so hard you jarred my brain, so I couldn’t stand up. That’s one. Now, if I can get back up, you can concuss me again. I go down and get up. If you do it again, the fight’s over. Boxers die every year, mostly from brain damage.
In the UFC a lot of the punching is on the ground. I’m trying to make you cover up so I can pull off a submission, get an arm bar, and maybe the ref will stop the fight. It’s not like a punch from a boxing stance, which is boom—throwing my whole 205 pounds right into your face. We also use smaller gloves. Our guys don’t take anything near the punishment boxers take.
I wonder if this has been scientifically tested through brain scans with long term MMA fighters and so on.
Again, for me, it’s hard to say. Facing Ali undeniably showed the effects of boxing on the brain, Ali, of course, and four of the ten boxers, all english speaking, were sub-titled. Mixed Martial Arts are dangerous, in the cage. But as hard on the brain as boxing? I don’t know. Anybody know of any actual studies comparing the two sports?
Take care of your head, it’s the only one you’ve got,