Mixed Martial Arts - A Controversial Combat Sport
The risks associated with the practice of mixed martial arts (MMA) should always be assessed with a high level of attention. The practice of this sport, however, does not yet say everything about the risk potential.
Mixed martial arts is a controversial full-contact combat sport that combines a multitude of martial arts, and so it often attracts public criticism. The fights are brutal, and it may appear as if there are no rules; fighters lying on the ground are still punched and kicked by their opponents. Competitive fights often reach a bloody conclusion. It involves kicking and punching techniques from boxing, kickboxing, taekwondo and karate, as well as ground-fighting and wrestling techniques from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, wrestling and judo. Unlike other full-contact martial arts, punching and sometimes even kicking is permitted while on the ground.
However, there are rules - 32 specific strikes, holds and various types of behaviour are prohibited. These include throwing the opponent on his or her head or neck and holds involving the nose, mouth and eyes. Stamping on a downed opponent and unsporting conduct such as biting are also prohibited.
Comprehensive fight rules
Fights are held in an octagon, an eight-sided cage surrounded by a 1.8-metre high net for the safety of the fighters. The fighters are barefoot and must wear gum shields, groin guards and fingerless gloves that allow for certain grappling techniques. Fights are held in various weight categories from featherweight (up to 66 kg) to heavyweight (up to 120 kg).
Depending on the experience of the fighters, a fight can last from two to five rounds, each of which lasts for five minutes. Referees and judges score the fights and will end a fight prematurely if one fighter concedes, is knocked out, or disqualified. Fighters undergo a medical examination before and after the fight.
Rise in popularity
Due to its poor reputation, MMA fights were prohibited from broadcasting in Germany in 2010. The German Medical Association welcomed the ban, arguing that such events were intended exclusively to injure the opponent.1
Zuffa LLC, the parent company of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world's largest MMA organisation, filed a complaint against the ban and filed a lawsuit challenging the ban. In 2014, the ban on television broadcasting was deemed unlawful and annulled by the administrative court in Munich.
In the U.S., MMA is more popular than boxing. UFC fights are viewed by over 100 million people worldwide. The sport is also gaining more and more fans in Russia, the UK, Brazil, Sweden and Germany. Last year, 17 of 39 UFC fights were held outside of the U.S.
Similar injury rate to boxing
Most of fight injuries are lacerations, bruises, broken noses and injuries to outer extremities. The risk of life-long injury comes from strikes to the head that can lead to bleeding and brain damage. One long-term effect of such strikes can be dementia. In 2016, the Portuguese MMA fighter João Carvalho died after needing emergency brain surgery following a technical knockout.
Studies show that the general injury rates in MMA and boxing are similar. According to investigations, MMA can have a higher number of non-serious injuries than boxing. In contrast, MMA has a lower rate of injuries caused by strikes to the head than in boxing.
Amateurs versus professionals
In order to assess the extent to which MMA can be insured, insurers must always take into consideration whether the fighter is a professional or an amateur, as the risk of injury is significantly lower during training than in a fight. As soon as an MMA fighter steps into the cage, the risk of serious injury increases as fights tend to be hard and uncompromising. Depending on the information available, life insurance can be offered to amateur sportsmen and women at different conditions. Professionals, however, should be considered individually.