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Volume 29 • Number 4

October 2015



A Moral Critique of Mixed Martial Arts

by Nicholas Dixon

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a form of combat that allows moves from a variety of blood sports, including boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, Muay Thai, and jujitsu—hence, the name mixed martial arts. Fighters strike each other with punches, kicks, knees, and elbows, and they try to choke opponents and break, dislocate, or otherwise damage arms, legs, and joints. In the best-known and most profitable MMA organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), fights take place in chain-link cages. They consist of up to five 5-minute rounds, and the winner is declared when a fighter is knocked unconscious or submits by "tapping out," or the referee stops the contest or names a winner on points. Mixed martial arts fights are governed by rules, and acts such as eye gouging, biting, blows to the groin, and hair pulling are forbidden. However, the unrelenting nature of the striking makes MMA, in contrast with boxing, more closely resemble a street fight. Whereas boxers who have been felled by punches have a ten-second respite before the fight resumes, MMA fighters immediately jump on downed opponents and continue to punch and kick them as they lie on the ground. Mixed martial arts, which has its roots in the ancient Greek sport of pankration, only emerged in the modern world in the 1990s, but its popularity already rivals that of the much older sport of boxing. Because of its rapidly growing popularity and because its explicit goal is to hurt and incapacitate opponents, making it a paradigm case of violent sport, MMA is a worthy subject of moral evaluation. This paper's thesis is that the initial revulsion that many viewers of MMA experience is based on sound moral arguments, even though making the case against the practice requires more discussion of objections than might be expected.

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ISSN: 2152-0542