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Mixed martial arts and boxing should be banned, says BMA

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39328.674711.DB (Published 06 September 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:469
  1. Caroline White
  1. London

    The BMA is renewing its calls for an outright ban on boxing, including mixed martial arts, ahead of a combat sport tournament to be held on Saturday 8 September in London's East End.

    The BMA's Board of Science, which has issued a new report on the latest evidence of the damaging effects of boxing, says that the relatively new mixed martial arts format is just as dangerous.

    Mixed martial arts involves various fighting techniques, in which a combination of wrestling, boxing, and martial arts is used to strike and grapple with opponents.

    The sport was forced underground in the United States after sustained political pressure but has re-emerged there and is currently enjoying a surge in popularity, says the report.

    London was set to host the Ultimate Fighting Championship, featuring the combat sport this weekend.

    For the championship, which first started in 1993, contestants fight inside a metal cage. Each bout lasts three to five rounds of five minutes each until submission, knock-out, or disqualification, says the report.

    “Because of its no holds barred nature, the [championship] fighters are open to a myriad of injuries, including subdural haematoma, thought to be one of the most common causes of injuries in boxing,” the BMA report says.

    But contestants also risk fractures, tears, muscle and ligament sprains, as well as electroencephalographic abnormalities as a result of neck holding manoeuvres, it adds.

    Supporters claim that this style of fighting is safer than boxing, and so far only one death has been reported.

    But the report warns that “[mixed martial arts] tournaments, such as [the Ultimate Fighting Championship] are still in their infancy”; since 1993 there have been only 800 fights in 14 years, “it is still too early to draw any meaningful conclusions,” it says.

    The BMA has been campaigning for the complete abolition of boxing on medical grounds since 1982, but it says that the sport should be banned in under 16 year olds as a first step.

    It rejects claims that boxing helps young people work through their aggression. “There is no place in contemporary society for a youth sport which has, as its primary goal, the infliction of acute brain damage on an opponent,” says the report

    And the argument that the sport provides a unique opportunity for working class boys to “better” themselves is patronising. The government should instead provide better leisure facilities for young people, particularly in inner cities, it says.

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