Which is More Dangerous: Boxing or MMA?

by Engage Team March 23, 2020 5 min read

Which is More Dangerous: Boxing or MMA?

As MMA rapidly grows in popularity each year more eyes than ever are on the sport. Those people come concern about the safety of the fighters due to the violence that comes with MMA especially UFC fighters. This brings up a debate that is constantly had between fans/experts of MMA and Boxing.

Which is more dangerous? MMA or Boxing

Health experts have finally been able to do comparable studies on the risks of injury in MMA and Boxing. The results of the studies are somewhat surprising and really lay out the risks of each sport.

So Which Is More Dangerous?

Studies that have been done show that MMA is statistically safer than the sport of Boxing. One of the most notable studies cited was done by researchers at the University of Alberta's Sather Sports Medicine Clinic.

What these researchers discovered was boxers are more likely to receive injuries that’ll affect their health in the long term. MMA fighters were shown to have less of a risk of receiving injuries that’ll affect their long term health. Just more of a risk from facial cuts and contusions in MMA than Boxing.

The data they compiled was a 10-year study spanning from 2003 to 2013. Researching post-fight medical data from 1,181 MMA fighters and 550 boxers.

Out of this research, it showed that 59.4% of MMA fighters received some sort of injury in their fight. Boxers in the research showed a 49.8% injury rate in their fights.

This data shows you’re more likely to get hurt in MMA. However serious injury was higher in Boxing

Of the 550 boxers studied 7.1% of them were knocked out or lost consciousness. This compared to 4.2% of MMA fighters that were knocked out or lost consciousness.

Researchers also added that boxers were more likely to get medically suspended post-fight due to concussions.

To people that know these sports, the numbers are not surprising.

Which Sport Has Had More Deaths?

The number of deaths in Boxing dwarfs the numbers MMA for a number of reasons. Mainly because the Boxing is older than MMA and the nature of the sport.

Deaths In Boxing

There are two numbers cited for the number of deaths in Boxing history. Wikipedia reports approximately 500 deaths in Boxing’s history. The numbers reported by the Manuel Velazquez Boxing Fatality Collection are more accurate at 923 deaths.

The research done by the Manuel Velazquez Boxing Fatality Collection was done between 1890-2007. As of 2011, they have re-estimated their numbers to be around 1,064 deaths in Boxing from injuries sustained fighting.

Last year there were four deaths in Boxing that sparked debates about safety in the sport.

Deaths In MMA

In the history of MMA, there have been 16 deaths in the cage/ring. 7 in sanctioned bouts and 9 in unsanctioned bouts.

Why Are There So Many Deaths In Boxing?

There are three reasons why there are so many more Boxing deaths than in MMA. The age of the sport, the nature of the sport, and its slow development of safety regulations.

Boxing’s Long History

Organized Boxing has been around for almost 130 years compared to organized MMA being less than 30 years old. By the age difference alone, there would obviously be more deaths in Boxing than in MMA.

If the sport of MMA was older, the numbers would probably look a little different.

Over the past few decades, mixed martial arts and its highest-level competition, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) have emerged as fierce competitors to boxing for combat sports fans. MMA is also winning the superstar fight with the emergence of stars like Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Israel Adesanya and the retirement of notable boxers like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

The Nature Of The Sports

MMA is a more diverse sport than Boxing. In MMA, a fighter can strike to the body and legs or grapple and try to set up submissions. With Boxing, you’re limited to just punches from the beltline and up.

In Boxing, fighters are just allowed to punch to the head and body of their opponent. This means that a boxer receives significantly more strikes to their head than in MMA. It isn’t the one punch that gives fighters brain damage, but the sheer volume of punches they’re receiving.

A boxer could receive a few hundred blows to the head in a single boxing match. While in MMA, the strikes to the head are significantly less due to the diversity of strikes in the sport. An MMA fighter also has a bigger area to hit their opponent rather than most strikes going to the head.

When there is a higher volume of head strikes, the risk of life-altering head injuries is obviously higher.

Safety Regulations

The safety regulations in MMA developed much faster than the regulations in Boxing. Mainly because they saw the mistakes Boxing made and the rules of the sport.

With MMA, if a fighter gets hurt and can’t defend themselves, the ref immediately steps in and stops the fight. This protects the fighters from receiving unnecessary damage that could have long term effects.

In Boxing, when a boxer gets knocked down they’re given till the count of 10 to get up. If they can get up, they’re given a standing 8 and the fight can continue. Pending they show the referee they’re able to continue to keep fighting.

Today, most Boxing matches have implemented a 3 knockdown rule and after that, the fight is stopped. This means a boxer can receive 3 traumatic concussions before the fight is stopped.

Early years of boxing were a lot more dangerous. There was no 3 knockdown rule. If a fighter could get up before 10, the fight would continue.

It wasn’t out of the ordinary to see a fighter get dropped 5-10 times before the fight was stopped or when the coach throw in the towel. This is why most of the deaths in boxing happened in the early 1900s. Fighter safety wasn’t a huge concern back then.

Steps To Make The Sports Safer

While MMA is statistically safer than Boxing, there are both combat sports and have inherent dangers. Better safety regulations are being put in both sports, but there is still a lot of work to do.

Here’s a list of possible steps each sport can take to improve safety.

●     Extend Rest Time: When a fighter is tired, they are more likely to make mistakes and seriously get hurt. If rest time between rounds is extended this could possibly benefit the safety of fighters.

●     Smaller Gloves(for Boxing): One of the reasons there’s less head trauma in MMA is the glove size. MMA gloves are 4 ounces and with less padding, fighters tend to throw fewer punches for fear of broken hands. In Boxing, the extra cushion allows for more punches, so there could be possibly less head trauma with fewer punches.

●     Shorten Fight Time: The longer you fight, the more likely a fighter may sustain severe injuries. A shortened length of fights could benefit the health of fighters.

●     Have A KO Limit: Have a certain number of KOs a fighter is allowed to sustain. If a fighter reaches a certain number of knockouts, they are no longer allowed to compete. The more knockouts they receive, the more likely they are to degenerative brain disease later in life.


Which is More Dangerous: Boxing or MMA?

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