20 years ago, MMA was a bit of an obscure sport, typically something that was associated with ring or cage fighting that professionals engaged in. It is now a very mainstream martial art form that combines kickboxing, grappling, and ground fighting techniques that forces the opponent to submit by knock-out or by tapping out. It’s aggressive, eventually bloody, and men and women athletes are drawn to the sport. The training regimen is incredibly challenging on the conditioning as well as on the technical aspects of the sport. Organizations like the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) have gained broad popularity internationally, because there is an entertainment factor in UFC fights. Athletes are often portrayed as heroes, and media companies produce sensational back-stories of their journey, their training, and their rivalries. In 2016, the UFC was purchased for $4 Billion dollars, and has signed on with ESPN as the exclusive pay per view platform. A big deal in the fight world and in pay per view profits!
The nature of pugilistic sports
Unlike conventional sports like soccer, baseball, and football, fighting sports are inherently pugilistic in nature…meaning that your opponent not only wants to be better than you, but better than you preferably by knocking you out or placing you into a painfully submissive position. Conventional sports can be hard on your body, and the accumulation of training and competition forces often produce injuries to the athlete participants. Fighting sports are intended to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses, and be an opportunity for inflicting pain when they are exposed. The competitive fighter on a fight day is subject to numerous blows to the head and body by their opponent’s elbows, knees, punches, and throws. The presence of adrenaline during the fight often disrupts pain sensation, and fighters often continue fighting while ignoring pain until their body becomes overwhelmed by pain or disability. It’s painful even to watch as a spectator sometimes, but for many, it’s entertaining.
The training volume and regimen is also rigorous and punitive in some aspects. Fighters are athletes, and they train like one whose life may actually depend on it. Not only is the training consistently demanding, but these athletes need to be able to withstand the counter strikes by their opponents. This ultimately means that fighters have to learn to receive strikes and abrupt impact from their training partners in order to adapt to a fight situation. This is extremely demanding on the body as it has to recover from the metabolic stress of the conditioning and strengthening process, then recover from the bruises and injuries sustained from absorbing impact.
There is more to the dark side
I’ve been a medical provider and ringside physician in MMA competitions, and even trained for a while in the art. Many amateur participants are left to their own financial resources when it comes to the medical care that is necessary for injuries sustained in competition and in training. There is an overwhelming stress to maintain a high conditioning level that prevents many fighters from taking much needed recovery days. Many work through the pain on a regular basis, and often resort to using over the counter pain medications in order to carry on their regimen. Without a good support system, many fighters will stop competing because of pain and disability, and the risk of competition becomes less glorious over time. It’s a tough sport to be in!
Is there a positive side to this
I happen to enjoy may aspects of MMA training and intensity. I love the work ethic. I love being able to carry a sense of confidence in having self defense skills. What I don’t like to see are my injured athletes who feel compelled to return to training and competition in a rush, or who feel pressured to perform despite their injuries. Working in the ringside is also a tough job as a medical provider, as you work quickly to assess and patch your fighter so that they can go back out and possibly get hurt again.
Fighting sports is one of the toughest sports you can possibly participate in. I leave it up to my athletes to make this choice, and you don’t have to be practicing martial arts or MMA and feel obligated to compete. Just like if you participate in Crossfit workouts, you are not obligated to compete in their events unless YOU choose to, not pressured to.
My recommendation if you must participate in MMA competition…is to have good insurance, a regularly funded medical savings account, and to have good team members in the healthcare field. You’ll need frequent access to all of the above!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.