Is MMA safer than boxing? The statistics indicate that MMA is safer than boxing in terms of fatality and serious injury rates. The injury rates in MMA are higher but they are less likely to be serious or fatal when compared to boxing.
Ever since the UFC’s inception in the early 90s, Mixed martial arts has been on a booming growth trajectory. As a result, MMA is constantly compared to the globe’s most popular combat sport, boxing. To a casual onlooker, the sports can look similar, but the truth is they are extremely different beasts.
A common debate is the safety of each sport and whether MMA or boxing is safer for the fighters. This article will explore this question and compare each sport in terms of their safety records.
MMA vs Boxing The General Aspects
In reality, there are so many differences between MMA and boxing that it will be hard to cover them all in a short article, so this section will focus on the key differences.
The greatest difference between the sports is the rules, precisely what is and is not allowed during a fight. In a boxing match, fighters can only use their hands to punch the opponent, and fighters must aim every shot above the beltline.
MMA allows significantly more. For example, punches, kicks, back fists, elbows, knees, takedowns, and submission moves are all fair game in an MMA arena. The addition of so many different techniques makes MMA very different from boxing.
Even when boxing techniques are used in MMA, they will look different from the methods used in a boxing ring because an MMA fighter needs to be mindful of so many other potential attack options their opponent could use.
Injury Rates in MMA and Boxing
The best data we have available for comparing injury rates in boxing and MMA comes from a 2016 comparative study performed at the University of Alberta. The study examined post-fight medical examinations for all MMA and boxing bouts in Edmonton, Canada, between 2000 and 2013. The study includes data from 1181 MMA fighters and 550 boxers.
The data showed 49.8% of the boxers suffered an injury due to their bouts compared to 59.4% of the MMA competitors. However, boxers were more likely to suffer from a severe eye injury or loss of consciousness.
The conclusion to the study was overall injury instances are higher for MMA fighters. However, the injuries that boxers suffer were more severe than MMA injuries (concussions, head trauma, retinal detachment).
Fatality Rates in Boxing and MMA
For such a brutal sport, the fatality rates in officially sanctioned MMA bouts are surprisingly low. The first recorded MMA-related death was back in 2007. After that first death, there have been seven recorded deaths in MMA since the data was last officially updated in 2019.
During that same period of 12 years, boxing has seen almost three times more deaths than MMA at 21.
The drawback to this data is that there are no figures given for the total number of bouts. However, almost all of the statistics show a higher rate of fatalities in boxing compared to MMA.
The most effective safety regulation for an MMA event comes in the form of the referee. The referee is instructed to step in as quickly as possible once they notice that a fighter can’t defend themself any longer. There is no knockdown rule in MMA, so a fight is over if a competitor is knocked out or submits.
When it comes to boxing, the referee can also intervene. However, fighters are given to the count of ten to get up from the floor. If a fighter can get up and show the referee they’re now capable of continuing; they are allowed to carry on.
The knockdown rules in boxing mean a fighter could potentially be knocked unconscious and recover before being allowed to carry on fighting.
As an added safety measure, some boxing fights implement a rule where a competitor can only be knocked down three times in a single round before their opponent is awarded the victory.
However, the three knockdown rule protects fighters but isn’t active during title fights for most of the largest boxing organizations.
There are also fighting rules and regulations for both sports that prohibit dangerous moves like fish hooking, groin kicks, biting etc, for the full list of rules for MMA have a look at our ultimate guide to MMA article.
How to Make the Sports Safer
Safety levels in both sports are constantly improving and have come a long way over the years, but there is always more that we can do. Here are a few potential suggestions for making boxing and MMA safer for fighters:
Education around concussions
Recognizing the effects of concussions as early as possible is essential in preventing lasting damage. All trainers and coaches should undergo mandatory education courses on how to recognize these signs.
Smaller gloves for boxers
Contrary to what some believe, the gloves boxers wear are there to protect a fighter’s hands. The rouble is that a fighter who doesn’t need to worry about hand damage can punch harder, more often, and with less care.
Smaller gloves mean fighters need to be more thoughtful of their punch output to reduce the chances of hand injuries.
Increased recovery times
Being tired means a fighter finds it harder to defend themself and makes it easier for them to be knocked out. An obvious solution is to increase the rest time between rounds, but there is a balance since longer rest times mean more breaks in the action and less of a spectacle for audiences.
Is MMA Safer than Boxing? – Final Thoughts
In the last decade, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has become an increasingly popular sport. Beyond being a spectacle, many people believe that MMA is a safer form of fighting than boxing. In order to prove this point, a study was conducted in which scientists observed the number of injuries sustained by professional MMA fighters and professional boxers from 2000-2010. The study showed that MMA fighters sustained more injuries than boxers, but those injuries were less serious than the boxing ones. Therefore it can be concluded that MMA is safer than boxing.