When MMA (mixed martial arts) began, it was viewed as barbaric. It pitted people from different martial arts disciplines against each other, and the results were bloody. For some, this was not a sport, it was a brawl you could find on any Saturday night. MMA has gone mainstream in the 20 years since it debuted, so is it now viewed as a true sport?
The ranking system
The area most people point to when arguing MMA isn’t a true sport is the ranking system, particularly that of the premier promotion, the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). In the UFC there is no defined ranking system, which comes under criticism when compared to boxing. Boxers own their ranking number, and rise through the ranks to fight for championships.
Fighters in the UFC are ranked by a mysterious group of people with often to real rhyme or reason. For that reason, fighters can rise to fight for championships without needing to work their way to the number one contender slot. On the other hand, UFC argues that this method allows them to put on the fights that fans want to see.
An ever-growing fanbase
Boxing has millions of passionate fans all over the world, but MMA seems to be overtaking it in popularity. Nothing helps to establish a sport more than a large group of impassioned fans, and MMA has them in their droves.
Take one of the sport’s biggest stars, Conor McGregor, who has thousands of his fans show up just to see him stand on a scale at the weigh-in. People are willing to follow the Irish star all over the world to watch him fight, proving that MMA athletes can become global stars just the same as boxers.
The Muhammad Ali Act
In 2017 the Muhammad Ali Expansion Act threatened to change the way MMA rankings were done. It would change them closer to boxing’s rules and regulations, giving the power to the fighters instead of the promotions. The UFC is able to make whatever matchup they want, which some criticize because fighters can jump the line to the title. It is important to remember that at the moment an MMA championship is more of a ceremonial title than a true ranking belt. Fighters are not paid anywhere near as much as boxers in the current format, but the proposed act could change the dynamics. This is what many people believed could legitimize the sport and settle the multi-million dollar question.
The UFC makes more money than the fighters, which some believe is unfair, and if these changes are enforced, promoters will play a bigger part. Fighters would get paid more, but at a cost to the fans, as the super fights which have become common as the rankings wouldn’t allow them.
MMA had to struggle to become a part of the mainstream, but now that it’s here, people still aren’t sure it’s a true sport. The fight continues, but for many, it is the ultimate form of competition and can only be considered a sport.