A recent study into the medical histories of participants in two of the most notoriously dangerous sports in the world has revealed that when it comes to serious injuries, boxing remains the undisputed heavyweight champion.
A team of researchers led by Shelby Karpman of the University of Alberta’s Glen Sather Sports Medicine Clinic examined the medical records from 10 years of boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) fights in Canada, publishing their findings in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. According to their report, boxers were significantly more likely than MMA fighters to lose consciousness, with 7.1 percent of the former having been knocked out cold, compared to 4.2 percent of the latter. Boxers were also more than three times more likely to suffer serious eye injuries such as retinal detachment.
However, that’s not to say that MMA is the way to go if you want to stay pretty like Van Damme rather than end up like “Kid Moe.” On the contrary, the paper found that MMA is on the whole a bloodier sport than boxing, causing a higher number of minor injuries such as contusions (bruises), bloody noses and nasty-looking cuts. Furthermore, a separate study published in 2010 suggests that when it comes to protecting your mug, kickboxing is the sport to avoid, as it causes the highest number of facial injuries, 85 percent of which include a broken nose. The same report also identified Thai boxing as the leading cause of facial lacerations, with 93 percent of all injuries suffered by participants involving cuts to the face.
Yet while ugly scars and twisted noses may be unpleasant on the eye, the effects of concussion are much more cause for concern, especially as there is still so much we don't know about the long-term consequences of all the jabs, hooks and crosses that fighters endure during their careers. For instance, in September this year a team of researchers at Gothenburg University concluded that neuronal damage following a concussion persists for longer than previously thought, after monitoring the ongoing after-effects suffered by a boxer who had been knocked out.
Blows to the head are not the only hazards faced by combat sports enthusiasts. According to a paper that appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year, alarming numbers of MMA fighters are also employing extreme dieting techniques in order to rapidly lose weight immediately before fights. This is because fighters often like to compete against lighter opponents, so will attempt to fight at a lower weight class than their natural physique allows. In order to “make the weight,” they often resort to techniques such as “water loading,” which involves over-hydrating in order to trigger excessive urination, leading to sudden weight loss. However, according to Matthew Haines, senior lecturer of health and wellbeing at Huddersfield University, this can cause potentially fatal dilution of the blood.
Of course, combat sports are not the only dangerous pursuits. In fact, a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that golf injuries were proportionally more likely to be life-threatening than those caused by Australian rules football.