Rules, Regulation, and Mixed Martial Arts

By Snyder, Thomas; Campbell, Noel | Freeman, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Rules, Regulation, and Mixed Martial Arts


Snyder, Thomas, Campbell, Noel, Freeman


The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) illustrates well the benefits of limiting rules and regulations, and provides an example of immense success despite - rather than because of- - government intervention.

The UFC, which hosts mixed martial arts (MMA) events, has grown immensely popular in recent years. In the early years, the mid-1990s, the sport had a limited number of rules of combat, and even today has far fewer than most fighting sports. However, its popularity was constrained because the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to sanction it and many states banned it. Eventually the UFC modified its rules so it could get sanctioned. The government's intervention in the UFC parallels its intervention in the economy and personal freedom, while the success of the UFC demonstrates the benefits of less regulation.

When the organization started, one of the main attractions was to see which types of fighters would reign supreme in a fight with essentially no rules (with a few exceptions, such as no eye gouging or biting). Fighters with different backgrounds - such as wrestling, Muay Thai, boxing, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - competed against each other. Although the participants willingly entered the competition knowing the rules (or lack thereof) and the risks, most state governments were reluctant to allow the fights. Essentially, the government was protecting the fighters from themselves, similar to how the government steps in to prevent people from eating, drinking, or smoking certain substances. Of course, this frustrated some fighters who did not understand what business the government had in interfering with their lives. As former UFC fighter Kevin Randleman said, "If the public wants it, how can the politicians deny it? . . .They can be out the next election cycle. They need to listen to the people (www.tinyurl.com/ 22qxbxw) ."

UFC copycat organizations were also banned in many places. One of the people who led the crusade against the UFC and MMA events was U.S. Senator John McCain. As Amy Silverman of the Phoenix NewTimes wrote in "John McCain Breaks Up a Fight" (Feb. 12, 1998), a sold-out show was canceled hours before the bell, the owner of the theater explaining, "I'm not going to take on the U.S. Senate." One of the fighters, Lyman Markunas, explained his frustration: "I am kind of disgusted, because of all the training I do." The people wanted to see the event, the fighters wanted to participate in the event, but powerful government figures pressured the states to ban the sport.

From the government's perspective, allowing people to fight with few rules may seem likely to lead to multiple deaths and serious injuries. Even if true, one can argue that the government still has no business telling a fighter that he cannot assume the risk, but the evidence does not support claims that MMA matches lead to serious injury or death. Up to now no deaths in the UFC have occurred. A study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine in 2006 observed that in 171 MMA matches from 2001 to 2004, over 61 percent of the injuries were hand injuries or facial lacerations. There was only one reported neck injury, and there were no reported chest or abdomen injuries.

As time passed the UFC added a few more rules, became sanctioned, and was allowed to put on events in many states and countries and on cable television. Overall the fighters are still fairly free to fight in any style they prefer as long as they don't participate in activities such as eye gouging, head butting, groin attacks, hair pulling, or fish hooking. The main changes in the UFC seemed to have been for entertainment and television purposes. For instance, fights now consist of three or five rounds of five minutes each; there were no time limits before. Fighters are also repositioned if in a stalemate to prevent a long time of dull inactivity.

With the fighters essentially having the freedom to fight in any way they want, those with the best strategies and most ability will succeed and those with poor strategies and ability will fail, as with entrepreneurs in a competitive market. …

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