MMA's most infamous description, "Human cockfighting" was coined by Arizona Senator John McCain in 1996, as he sought to drive the sport off PPV television. By 2007 he conceded the “sport has made significant progress.” And by 2014 he was saying he 'absolutely' would have tried MMA as a young man.
So, what spawned this dramatic Senatorial turnaround from MMA antagonist to advocate? According to Linda Shields, founder of New England’s popular Cage Fighting Extreme (CFX), “MMA’s little talked about secret is its increased focus on safety.”
Shields explained, “MMA was originally promoted as a competition to find the most effective martial art techniques for real, unarmed combat situations. Because of this, competitors were pitted against one another with minimal rules, as would be the case in actual combat situations.” MMA debunked a lot of fighting myths and showed the reality of what would and wouldn’t work in an actual fight. The sport has seen increased popularity with a pay-per-view business that makes it one of the fastest-growing sports in America. “Whether at the national or regional level,” Shields added, “safety is built into the all our rules and procedures.”
No one should think that MMA is not a dangerous sport and that serious injuries don’t occur. Every fighter who steps into the ring understands the risks. However, over the past 20 years, real progress has been made to minimize these risks to ensure safer competition for the athletes while still entertaining the fans.
Dr. David Worman, has a unique MMA perspective. Not only is Worman an MMA CageFX champion, he’s also an orthopedic surgeon.
“Most of the injuries occur not during the actual competition, but during training," Worman explained. "When I watch organized MMA fights, I’m always amazed that there aren’t more injuries. A lot of that has to do with all of the safety precautions that go into these productions.”
The precautions begin months before the actual event and start with the fight promoter. First, the promoter picks two fighters that should be evenly matched in training level and experience. Then the fighters and the coaches get to evaluate the opponent and decide whether they want to accept the match-up. The fighters then have months to train and prepare for that single fight. They are put through a rigorous medical screening for anything that would place them at increased risk for serious injury (dilated eye exam, EKG, CT scan of the brain, physical exam, and blood work for communicable disease, etc.) before they can even show up for the weigh-ins.
“What the casual observer doesn’t understand,” explains Worman, “is that these events are not street brawls or bar fights. The competitors are closely matched in size and are protected with groin cups, mouth guards, and small gloves. They are entering into a padded, contained, and protected arena.” At anytime, a fighter, his corner men, or the ref can immediately stop the fight verbally, or by simply by tapping the mat or his opponent. Outside the cage there are first responders and a physician waiting to care for the participant should an injury occur.
The safety measures continue after the fight as well. Any fighter who does receive an injury serious enough to warrant medical treatment, such as a fracture, cut, or most significantly, a concussion, will be suspended from competition for a minimum amount of time and until cleared by a physician to participate again.
“None of this eliminates the risk of this sport,” added Worman, “but I think the preparation, planning, and precautions that are taken before, during, and after a production, make these events as safe as possible, while still maintaining the ideal of ‘combat sport’ that draws the fans and competitors to MMA.”