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Boxing vs MMA Safety: Which Is More Dangerous?

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Combat sports and martial arts are generally dangerous. Or, at least, they are generally more dangerous than some other sports, like tennis or golf. Still, some combat sports are notoriously perceived as extremely dangerous (which is why they are illegal in some parts of the world), while others are considered to be dangerous, but in such a degree. Perceived as one of the most dangerous, MMA is notoriously known for its brutality, especially when compared to boxing, a sport that is held in high regard, despite having a large number of injuries and fatalities. When it comes to MMA and boxing, a quick, but not definitive answer can be given.

When it comes to training sessions, more injuries occur in MMA. On the other hand, when it comes to fighting, more injuries occur in boxing. So, it is safe to say that for amateurs, boxing is safer than MMA. But, if going professional, boxing is far more dangerous in the long run.

But, that was a really simplified answer, and there are a few more factors we should consider. In today’s article, we’ll be discussing the numbers and statistics, so you can see for yourselves whether MMA is truly more dangerous than boxing.

General Aspects

When discussing the danger of combat sports, we cannot rely on mere perception. Certainly, there’s a lot more blood in boxing and MMA than in karate or judo, but you cannot state that the formers are more dangerous than the latter by just observing and pondering. To be able to give a precise conclusion, you have to have some numbers and the numbers we’re going to talk about today are the injury and fatality rates. 

The injury rate shows us how often serious injuries occur based on the number of injuries compared to the number of matches. The same goes for fatality rates, except that this number shows the number of deaths and not injuries. So, what are the numbers?

Injury Rates in MMA and Boxing

There have been several scientific and peer-review studies about the injury rates in MMA and professional boxing. Some of them are older, some of them newer, but the results, despite varying, are not that much different. The percentage is not that off (+/- 5%). Before we continue, we have to state that the general rate for both MMA and boxing is around 20% per 100 fighters.

Some other sports (like snowboarding or field hockey) have substantially larger rates, so we can already deduce that despite all the contact, combat sports aren’t the most dangerous thing you can do in life. 

An interesting thing about the injury rates is that in both MMA and boxing, most injuries happen during training sessions and not during fights. Boxing has a ratio of 70:30, while MMA’s ratio is 78:22, meaning that MMA fights are generally safer than boxing matches. The most dangerous is wrestling, whose rating is 63:37. 

% of injuries that occur in training % of injuries that occur during fight
Boxing 70 30
MMA 78 22
Wrestling 63 37

So, what are the exact numbers? A study made in 2017 calculated that the general injury rate for MMA matches ranges from 22.9 to 28.6, depending on a lot of different factors. The study also lists the injuries by type and region affected, but these numbers aren’t that important for this article. As for boxing, studies have shown that the rates range from 17.1 to 23.6. 

General injury rate range
MMA 22.9 – 28.6
Boxing 17.1 – 23.6

What do these numbers tell us? Well, for one – the general injury rates for boxing and MMA aren’t that horrible. Secondly, the fact that most injuries tend to happen during training sessions is somewhat of a consolation, although also a warning sign that fighters should pay more attention to their health during training. Finally, it tells us something we’ve intuitively known – that MMA is more dangerous than boxing, when injuries are concerned.

Although the numbers aren’t that different and they’re all in the same range, MMA is a tad more dangerous, although professional MMA fights have a smaller percentage of injuries than professional boxing matches. 

The latter piece of data is extremely important when it comes to interpreting fatality rates, which is something we are going to discuss in the paragraphs that follow. To conclude, you can expect injuries if you’re an MMA fighter or boxer, but the numbers aren’t that worrying and you shouldn’t be afraid of people telling you you’re going to get badly hurt. As the numbers show, people tend to exaggerate when the safety of combat sports is concerned. 

Fatality Rates in Boxing and MMA

As for the fatality rates, MMA has a surprisingly low fatality rate compared to the number of potentially fatal moves allowed in the sport and the injury rate in MMA (see above). We are, of course, talking about officially sanctioned MMA events, not underground matches, but from 2007, when the first MMA-related death was recorded, until today – there have been only seven recorded cases of death in MMA.

The first one was that of Sam Vasquez, who collapsed and died on November 30, 2007, after being knocked out by his opponent, Vince Libardi. The most recent case was that of Mateus Fernandes, who died several hours after a sanctioned amateur match in Brazil, on March 30, 2019. But, even if you add the nine deaths from unsanctioned fights, the number is still very, very low. For more information on this topic, read our article.

If you compare these numbers with boxing, which has had 923 cases of fatal injuries in a 118-year period (1890-2007), you will see that MMA would have an incredibly small number of deaths for the same period of time.

In this case, we calculated the average death rate of MMA for a 12-year period (2007-2019), which was 0.58 deaths per year and used that number do determine that if such a rate was applied to a 118-year period, there would have been less than 70 deaths in total in MMA, which is substantially lower than the death toll of boxing matches.

Deaths RELATIVE to 118-year period Deaths per year RELATIVE to 118-year period
MMA less than 70 0.58
Boxing 923 7.82

For comparison, boxing has a ratio of 7.82 deaths per year, based on the numbers we mentioned, a number 13.4 times higher than the same number in MMA matches.

Even if we just took the known boxing deaths in the same 12-year period (2007-2019), there have been 21 deaths in total, which is three times more than in MMA for the same period of time.

Total deaths (2007-2019) Deaths per year
MMA 7 0.58
Boxing 21 1.75

So, to answer your question – is MMA so dangerous it should be illegal? It is not and the numbers show it, but it’s all a matter of perception and that perception has determined and still determines the legal status of MMA fights in the world.

And that’s it for now. Keep checking to see our new content and more on the topic of martial arts.

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