Boxing vs MMA. This is a controversial one and there isn’t one clear answer. Boxing and MMA are both brutal combat sports and you can sustain serious injuries – sometimes life-threatening – from either of these sports. However, the general consensus is that boxing is technically more dangerous, at least in the department of acute brain injury and concussions. While MMA seems much more brutal, the implementation of wrestling and takedowns nullifies some of the danger of concussions.
However, MMA is still very dangerous and concussions are still common. In some cases, head injuries can even be worse, for instance, if a fighter gets knocked out with a head kick. The point is, boxing is only safer from a statistical perspective. In reality, both sports can get you seriously hurt.
What Makes Boxing Dangerous
Boxing as a concept makes concussions more likely. This is simply due to the structure and rule set of the sport. For example, if you get knocked down in boxing, the referee will start to count you out. If he finishes the count, he will stop the fight. However, this gives the fighters an opportunity to get back up and continue fighting on their feet. More often than not, this means the fighter who was knocked down will continue to absorb more punishment until they get knocked down again or someone stops the fight. This study on Combative Sports Injuries: An Edmonton Retrospective even suggests that MMA is statically safer than boxing on certain grounds.
What also makes boxing dangerous is the fact that the head is the primary target. While body shots are effective, most fighters will target their opponent’s head in an attempt to score a knockout. So while MMA looks a lot bloody are gruesome, holistically speaking, boxing is considered to be more dangerous in regard to head injuries. Lacerations and bruises heal, even fractures and breaks. However, repeatedly absorbing punches to the head will always have a lasting effect.
These effects are well documented and there are so many legendary fighters that we can use as examples. Most notably, the greatest of all time, Muhammed Ali. Ali was fierce in his prime with lightning hands, unbelievable head movement, and a granite chin. But despite his toughness, the sport caught up to him, and at the end of his life, he was completely crippled by Parkinson’s disease.
What Makes MMA Dangerous
What makes Mixed Martial Arts so dangerous is the sheer variety of ways that you can get hurt. Firstly, you can get hurt by strikes. This includes punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. These strikes are more likely to create wounds and leave bruising. This is why so many MMA fighters, like Nate Diaz for instance, have so much scar tissue. This is also why MMA tends to be much more bloody.
The other injury you’re more likely to sustain in MMA is fractures and breaks. In boxing, you can break your orbital bone and bones in your hands and wrists. In MMA however, the list of potential breaks is much more extensive. If a fighter decides not to tap in a submission like a kimura or an armbar, they risk breaking a limb.
MMA fighters can also break their limbs from strikes. For instance, the ankle break was made very famous in 2021 after Conor McGregor snapped his leg in his third bout with Dustin Poirier. Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva also suffered horrific leg breaks and frankly, neither of them was ever the same after the injury.
Worst Injuries In Boxing
- Hasim Rahman vs Evander Holyfield: Rahman suffered from a severe bruise that grew to the size of a tennis ball on the size of his head.
- Badou Jack vs Marcus Browne: Probably the worst cut in boxing history, Jack’s forehead was split down the middle due to a clash of heads. A very gruesome and bloody fight.
- Sebastian Lujan vs Antonio Margarito: The fight was stopped via TKO as Lujan’s ear was hanging off. The tissue around his ear had been deeply lacerated and was nearly detached from his head.
- Klitschko vs Lewis: Without this cut, this was a competitive fight. But throughout the rounds, Lennox targeted this area around Klitschko’s eye resulting in a bloody mess of cuts and tissue. The fight was stopped by the doctor to preserve Klitschko’s health.
- Warrington v Martinez: Despite winning the fight, Josh Warrington suffered a broken jaw at the hands of the Spaniard. However, his face looked severely disfigured post-fight.
- Alvarez vs Saunders: While Saunders showed signs of brilliance throughout this fight, it was evident he wasn’t a match for the sheer power of Canelo Alvarez. A brutal uppercut from Canelo resulted in a broken orbital bone for Saunders.
Worst Injuries In MMA
- Wiedman vs Hall: Chris famously broke his leg against Uriah Hall at UFC 261. Weidman threw a leg kick at Hall which caused the leg to snap before he touched the floor. When Weidman places his back leg on the ground, it simply gave away.
- Mark Hominick vs Jose Aldo: Hominick suffered a severe hematoma on his forehead. Aldo had another dominant performance for five rounds and the fight wasn’t stopped despite the protruding injury.
- Micheal Bisping vs Vitor Belfort: Bisping’s eye injury is among the worst in MMA history. After getting finished from a head kick against Vitor, Bisping sustained serious damage to his eye which would effectively leave him blind in one eye for the rest of his life.
- McGregor vs Poirier 3: McGregor took an extremely kick-oriented approach to this fight and for the first few minutes it was working for him. However, the culmination of hard kicks being thrown and the fact he had hair fractures around his ankle resulted in a leg break.
- Alistair Overeem vs Jairzinho Rozenstruik: Overeem ate a huge right hand which resulted in his lip exploding open. The photos of this wound are truly gruesome as Overeem’s upper lip was a messy gash.
- Joanna Jędrzejczyk vs Weili Zhang: Joanna and Weili went to war for five rounds during this bout which made it an instant classic for the fans. However, during the third round, the fighters clashed heads which resulted in a hematoma forming on Joanna’s forehead.
Is It Safer To Train In Boxing Or MMA
The answer to this question really depends on how you’re training. Regardless of which sport you do, if you spar frequently and often absorb shots to the head, you’ll have a higher risk of injury. I think the wrestling element of MMA negates some of the danger of acute brain injury during training but this is just my opinion. Besides, the difference will be minimal if you’re actively sparring on a regular basis.
However, if you’re not sparring, it is just as safe to train in either of these sports. You may risk cauliflower ear if you grapple a lot during MMA training but this isn’t a life-threatening injury and occurs after several years of grappling without ear protection. However, the risk of injury when just training is minimal. Hitting the bag of pads is generally low-risk activity. It’s only when you start sparring or fighting do things become dangerous.
All combat sports are going to be dangerous. Whether you’re training in Judo, Sambo, Wrestling, or Boxing, there is always some risk involved. That is simply the nature of combat sports. If you’re interested in becoming proficient with them, you have to be willing to take those risks.
There are certain Martial Arts like Taekwondo or Karate that have been commercialized as a form of self-defense with low risk. These Martial Arts are presented with the intention to make money. In their purest form, TDK and Karate are incredibly useful and effective Martial Arts. However, anyone who suggests you can become a good fighter without sparring is simply not telling the truth.