The Press Box Perspctive: Is MMA a Sport?
By Drew Zuhosky
If you turn on the TV every weekend, there’s probably a good chance that you’re going to scan the channels and find some sort of mixed martial arts event on, be it the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Bellator MMA or the World Series of Fighting.
MMA is cage fighting, which combines elements of boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, jiu-jitsu and taekwondo among other styles. There’s no doubt that MMA is popular throughout the world, but the question remains whether or not MMA is a sport.
On one hand, MMA is a sport because it involves the competing fighters trying to knock out or submit their opponent. Additionally, MMA is a sport because the various MMA leagues and promoters subscribe to a set of rules for the fights, which invalidates the perception that MMA is no-holds-barred competition.
MMA is a sport whose athletes once practiced other sports. Ronda Rousey, formerly the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, competed in judo in the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics prior to joining the now-defunct Strikeforce MMA promotion.
Fabricio Werdum — who was slated to fight Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight championship at UFC 196 this weekend in Las Vegas until both withdrew from the card due to injuries, resulting in UFC 196 being pushed back to March — was a Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner before joining the MMA ranks.
Holly Holm, who won the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title after defeating Rousey in November, won 32 fights as a professional boxer prior to her MMA career.
However, there’s also the argument that MMA isn’t a sport due to its violent nature. Back when MMA and UFC were just starting out in the United States in the 1990s, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona spoke out against UFC, calling it “human cockfighting”, working with the Federal Communications Commission to stop MMA events from airing on television.
In the ensuing years, with UFC and MMA adopting regulations to make the competitions legal and safe, McCain’s thoughts about UFC have changed.
Others might say that MMA is not a sport because it’s too much like pro wrestling, such as World Wrestling Entertainment. Everyone should know and understand that the outcomes of WWE matches are scripted in advance.
Much like a dramatic television series, wrestling shows follow storylines that carry over week-to-week or program-to-program. MMA fights, on the other hand, are decided by the contenders in the fights, not predetermined and fleshed out by a group of writers.
In the grand scheme, yes, MMA is a sport. MMA is physical competition in its best form. It’s 15 to 25 minutes of the most intense action you will ever see. What makes MMA worth watching is its unpredictability. A fighter might be dominating in one round but could very well try to survive the next round after getting knocked down by his opponent. One fight could go all the way to the end of the last round, while the next fight may be done in two minutes. You just never know. It’s crazy.
As a fan of MMA, I like to act as if I’m in the arena with the crowd. When watching at home, I’ll yell at the TV, cheer the big punches and kicks and even stand up and applaud as I see fit.
Bottom line, due to its competitive nature, among other factors, MMA is, in fact, a sport.