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Do prejudices against MMA really matter?

Mixed martial arts have – predominantly since the turn of the century – become a sport which attracts a lot of attention and where people at the top end of the sport are close to household names. The sport has gone from being seen on a level with pro wrestling to being featured in the sports pages of respected newspapers. It would, however, be naive to pretend that these outward signs of legitimacy had put paid to the negative stereotypes about MMA.

For a fan of MMA, then, it can be tough to be put in the position of answering criticism about a sport you love. Especially in a world where confirmation bias is such a potent thing, any negative story about MMA or its leading lights can be taken as a judgment on the sport itself. And though it may be taken seriously enough that people often head here to find odds for the big pay-per-view events, MMA is young enough in the public eye that negative publicity can heavily affect people’s overall view of the sport. The question is whether this is something MMA needs to address, or if it’s just another part of the whole.

“It’s not skill, just legalized brawling”

Often invoked by people who want to differentiate the fighting sport they like from the fighting sport they don’t, this line is well-worn. A UFC champion has got where they have by pure thuggery, while a boxing star got there through tactical mastery and technique. This is wilfully naive, of course. Some of the better MMA fighters barely need to throw a punch to win a bout; Shinya Aoki has always sought to grapple his opponents to the ground where he can immobilize them with holds. Submission fighters still inflict plenty of pain, of course, but it’s far from frenzied aggression.

“MMA fighters are thuggish meatheads”

So, there is no point trying to downplay the fact that some cage fighters have been involved in some very unpleasant activities; it’s happened, and it will probably continue to happen. One could argue that the aggression demanded in order to win in the ring can be hard to control outside it. More than that, it should be argued that MMA needs to clean up its act, because there are plenty of fighters who don’t get arrested and don’t hurt others outside the ring. Meanwhile, let’s look at the NFL and other sporting organizations and see how “spotless” their records are. Being into MMA doesn’t mean condoning thuggery any more than cheering for a football team does.

“There aren’t even any rules”

This is just a straight-up lie. MMA certainly has rules. And while there is stuff that goes down in a UFC ring, or other MMA arena, which wouldn’t fly in boxing or karate, there is plenty that will get you disqualified immediately. Many of these revolve around blows to the head, which is perhaps more protected in mixed martial arts than it is in boxing. You also can’t strike your opponent in the groin, or grab and twist their flesh. The list of what you can’t do in MMA is pretty extensive, and is worth reading if you really think it’s a free-for-all in that ring.

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