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Where And Why Is MMA Illegal?

The sport of MMA has come a long way from being portrayed as a barbaric slugfest to receiving the status of the fastest-rising sport in the world. A sport where people once fought without any rules, not even the basic ones like gloves or time limits, is now up there with NFL or NBA. But is this true, is MMA legal in all countries, and if not, why?

In modern days, MMA is legal in most countries across the world. Each of these countries has governing bodies responsible for promoting the sport and holding events. But, there are also countries, notably in Europe, where the sport is yet to become fully legal like France and Norway.

It is worth pointing up that cage fighting has become too big to remain illegal. It is just a matter of years, maybe even months, before all of these countries accept MMA as an official sport.

Keep reading this article to learn about where and why MMA is illegal, and whether cage fighting is more dangerous than other combat sports like boxing.

Is MMA illegal and if yes in which countries?

MMA is legal in most countries around the world. However, there are countries like France, Norway, and India that do not recognize cage fighting as a sport. This doesn’t mean that MMA is illegal in these countries, it is just not an official sport.

When it is all said and done, you have to accept the fact that MMA is still new and very dangerous. Despite being so popular and well spread all across the world, the sport visually looks brutal and that’s a fact. That being said, there are countries that consider this type of entertainment too violent for a broad audience.

On top of that, the interest in, not just cage fighting, but combat sports in general, is not high in most of these countries. It is not whether they think the sport is too dangerous or not, combat sports or any form of fighting are simply not their cup of tea, like in Norway for example.

The three key countries where MMA is yet to receive a full legal status are France, India, and Norway. Let’s take a closer look into each of these three countries and see how the sport is progressing.

Is MMA legal in France?

MMA is not illegal in France, however, this country does not recognize cage fighting as a sport. But, it seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel because France is slowly changing its stance and moving ahead with measures to legalize the sport. This is mainly due to the rapid rise of French UFC fighters like Francis Ngannou and Cryl Gane. Of course, there are also gyms popping up all across the country, and the fan base is getting bigger. When you combine these factors, you get why France is changing its stance, and why you are about to see the UFC coming to Paris soon.

French authorities made a decision to ban the sport in 2016 due to the lack of regulations. This was a bit weird because other, equally dangerous sports like Muay Thai and boxing are legal in France and very popular. But it was just a matter of time before the authorities would set things moving.

Just four years later, France would make a big step forward by deciding to legalize MMA in 2020. And a year later in 2021, the French Boxing Federation (FFB) became the official governing body responsible for the sport of mixed martial arts.

As a result of their efforts, the sport is no longer illegal in France. It does not have the same status as boxing or other sports, but at least there is some progress made. FFB is working hard on making it popular and fully legal, and the first amateur tournaments are expected to take place at the end of 2022.

Is MMA legal in Norway and why not?

No, pro MMA fighting is not legal in Norway due to various reasons. In fact, Norway is one of the very few countries where pro boxing is also illegal and all types of sports where athletes can win matches via knockout. This is a bit odd, to say the least, considering that all other Nordic countries like Sweden and Denmark, have legalized both boxing and cage fighting a long time ago. Whether it is a lack of interest, prejudice, or any other reason, the MMA scene in Norway is not that strong at all. The country is yet to legalize the sport, BUT, it seems like things might change in the near future. What is the status of MMA in Norway?

Back in 2012, the “Norwegian Mixed Martial Arts Federation” got accepted as a member of the “International MMA Federation”. This means that gyms are allowed to hold events and have sparring matches. But throwing strikes with full power or knocking the opponent out cold is not allowed. In some way, you can look at it as a soft version of amateur competition.

The thing is, there is a big interest in MMA in Norway, and no one can stop the sport from rising. There are also a lot of gyms spread all across the country, and naturally, talented fighters who are enjoying solid success in Europe and the UFC, like Jack Hermansson who has Norwegian nationality.

Is MMA illegal in India?

MMA is not illegal in India, but at the same time, it is not recognized as the official sport. This means that the government does not accept cage fighters as real athletes. They do not enjoy the same benefits or the support from the government as athletes from other sports do. The main reason for this, as in the case of France, is the lack of a regulatory body that would be responsible for MMA. The other problem is that no other existing regulatory body, like boxing, for instance, doesn’t want to accept it under their umbrella and regulate the sport. There are two main governing bodies (not recognized) that lead the Indian MMA scene:

  • All India Mixed Martial Arts Association
  • All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation

Apart from regulation issues, the main problem is the lack of public interest in MMA in India. The sport is yet to penetrate the market and get the media which would change the people’s perspective of it. There have been promotions that managed to hold legal pro events, but these all failed in an attempt to make it profitable.

Is MMA legal in all US states?

Yes, MMA is legal in all 50 US states, and it has been like that ever since the last remaining state, New York, accepted MMA in 2016. But bear in mind that, back in the 90s, the sport was banned in most parts of the US. The first state that accepted the sport was New Jersey. This was a result of the collaboration between the UFC and the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board that ended with the creation of the “Unified Rules of MMA” that are still in place.

It’s fair to say that the Unified Rules changed the sport forever because this opened the doors for MMA to get legal acceptance throughout the 2000s. The sport was no longer seen as barbaric, brutal, or as Senator John McCain once famously stated, “Human Cockfighting”. Soon after, more states would start changing their stances and to allow big promotions like the UFC to hold the events.

Is MMA more dangerous than boxing?

The answer truly depends on two main factors. According to stats, MMA is a sport that includes the highest rate of injuries, 28.6 injuries per 100 fight participations to be more precise. Boxing, on the other side, also has a high injury rate but less than MMA with 17.1 per 100 participations. This means that, on paper, cage fighting leads to more frequent injuries than boxing, but this does not mean that boxing is safer, and here is why.

MMA is the most versatile combat sport where fighters are allowed to use all limbs as weapons to strike with full power, even when the opponent is on the ground. They can also grapple, and fight on the ground and submit each other with chokes and joint locks. Or in other words, fighters have more weapons at their disposal and ways to hurt each other. Each fight includes a lot of injuries like cuts, bruises, strains, or torn muscles.

Boxers, on the other hand, only use their hands to strike the head and body area above the waist. This means that boxers absorb far more direct hits to the head, much, much more. Studies have shown that the risk of head and neck injuries was the highest in boxing (84%), while in MMA that number is much lower (64%). Next, boxing has a much higher rate of concussions, a staggering 14% of all injuries, while the MMA rate is 4%.

To sum it up, there is a greater chance that you will get hurt while competing in MMA when it comes to injuries that won’t impact your health in the long run. But boxing is far more dangerous when it comes to brain damage, CTE, and various other serious head injuries. It’s up to you which poison you are going to take.

How did MMA become legal?

The answer to this question is not clear because the legal status came in milestones and as the sport progressed through the years. Throughout MMA history, there have been many moments that contributed to the legalization of the sport. The most famous ones are Gracie Challenge, Ali vs Inoki exhibition match, the birth of Shooto promotion, Pancrase, and of course, the UFC, and many rule and regulation changes that came in the 90s. 

However, the biggest moment came in 2000 when Zuffa LLC company bought the UFC, which at the time was about to collapse, for $2 million. The new owners, brothers Lorenzo, and Frank Fertitta, and Dana White focused on making the sport legal. Instead of trying to put on events at all costs, they pushed for the regulation and to make the sport safe and suitable for broad audiences. They worked hard with various athletic commissions, experts, and the result of their mutual work was the creation of the “Unified Rules of MMA”, which are still present in modern times. 

Above all, Unified Rules made the sport safe and organized which resulted in many US states accepting MMA as an official sport. This was one of the most important moments in MMA history because, without the strict rules and regulations, neither the sport nor the UFC would be where they are today.

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