Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in the United States. There are over 10,000 active participants in events that range from the local to the international level in the USA alone. MMA fighters pay can range from $100 or so for a local fight to literally millions when combining large venues and endorsement deals.
So, then, why can’t it be offered as a college degree?
There are a lot of worthless majors out there: communications, philosophy, art history, jazz studies, English literature (f***!). There are degrees that sound interesting in theory and have fun classes, but are lacking in real world application.
Bear in mind that there are professional fighters with advanced levels of education. Rich Franklin has a Masters degree in Math. Rosi Sexton has a PH.D. in Math. Both Rashad Evans and Jeff Monson have Masters in Psychology.
Forget for a moment that no professional sport is offered as a degree (that is a different, however connected subject, see the article: Open Mic: They're Athletes and the NCAA Should Pay Them) and look at the facts and potential that lay in legitimizing MMA as a field of study.
MMA is fighting (no pun intended) for legitimacy in the world of professional sports. It is a sport still relatively new to the United States, so there is still a very large talent pool of varying levels of skill.
Here is what an MMA degree would help to create: fewer and better fighters. Going to any local MMA event will typically reveal exactly how bad some fighters can be. There are often at least a few fighters in the ring or cage that look as though they have never taken a single martial arts class or spent a minute in a gym.
An MMA degree would help to broaden the knowledge of fighters, creating an even wider gap between the amateur armchair fighter and the fighter that is destined for a successful career.
By studying subjects that would vary from international studies to sport specific training to the history of fighting and warfare, the average meat head that thinks he is a good fighter might think twice before stepping into a cage against opponents that have spent two to four years of intensive training preparing to throw leather.
It would have the potential to create more well rounded fighters by having sport specific classes that deal with BJJ, wrestling, kickboxing, boxing, sambo, judo and other arts. Not only the actual practice of the arts, but also the study of the history of these arts will broaden knowledge and help the fighter to find the techniques that most effectively mesh to the individual.
This would also serve to legitimize the major by having classes like Brazilian, Russian and Asian studies to take an in-depth look at the history of the arts. Even physics, physiology and anatomy classes could be involved to make the fighters more effective.
Students taking these classes could also take a law or business angle to look into the fields of becoming agents and fight organizers. The agents would have a better understanding of skill and set up better fights. The fight organizers could also become better judges of talent and set up the most entertaining fight cards.
Not to mention the potential to get some of these fighters some public speaking and interpersonal communications skills. A little eye contact and a few complete sentences could serve to soften the public’s view of mixed martial artists just being brutes that train to break things.
There is also the coaching aspect. If you really look, there are a lot of gyms that offer MMA training. Very few of these gyms are actually run by professional or highly experienced fighters. Many gyms are run by myopic trainers that are turning out brawlers, not fighters.
By legitimizing the degree, the MMA trainers would become more well rounded and well versed, creating a better generation of fighters through which to pass on their training and knowledge. This would improve fighter safety and fewer fighters would enter the ring ill-prepared.
Trainers would have to complete certification as proof positive of their training skills and knowledge. While the trainers that only claim to have fighting experience still exist, they would largely be lost by the way side thanks to trainers that can prove that they have the knowledge.
Likening it to boxing—many boxing trainers used to box. They may or may not have college level educations and it definitely had nothing to do with pugilism. However, MMA is far too young for many of the trainers that are out there to have actually competed themselves.
These schools could offer financial add to ensure that they are getting the kind of training that they deserve, not just the kinds that they can afford. Many potentially great fighters get lost by the wayside because they can’t afford the bigger and better gyms and instead opt for the cheap gym that is more of a meat grinder than training facility.
Schools could offer a safe training environment and serve to set up amateur fights for students. Instead of participating in illegal “smoker” events, young fighters could be matched up in school regulated matches that pay professional referees to come in and ensure fighter safety, instead of just finding the guy that has seen the most UFC PPVs.
Not to mention that if this were a four year, or even two year degree, it would force the fighters to show a level of dedication to the sport. Instead of people thinking they could compete after doing 30 days of BJJ or muay thai, fighters would think twice before fighting someone with no less than two years of intensive experience.
All of this would actually serve to narrow down the talent pool of fighters. The fighters that train for the degree with have a more well versed knowledge and broader range of training (think about studying abroad for a semester in Sao Paulo), but the fighters that didn’t have the means to go to college could at least get better training.
The more narrow talent pool would increase the pay for fighters as well. Instead of being able to lowball fighters with weak pay, the fewer number of fighters would create a greater need and force promoters to pay more to get the more talented fighters.
Fighters would be able to make better a better living even if they weren’t able to earn contracts in the larger organizations.
For those of you that have made it this far in the article and still aren’t convinced, think about this: physical education is a degree. The people with these degrees become coaches and teachers. Why not specify MMA?
It may be too much to ask to see this at the state level, but community and technical colleges that specify in MMA might not be that much of a long shot. There is a lot of untapped potential and information out there that is not being utilized that could (and should) be put to good use.
The bottom line: MMA is dangerous. The more fighters that are in the sport that have little to no training just adds to the danger of stupid injuries. By giving fighters the opportunity to broaden and refine their knowledge and abilities we would be creating a safer environment to fight in with high caliber fighters that can no longer get by just with one skill set (*cough* wrestlers).
Keep in mind, the degree wouldn’t be necessary. Fighters can still compete and hope for the best, however, if there is anything that we can do to refine the sport, isn’t it an option to look into?
After all, these guys are going to be fighters anyway, why not see exactly how good we can make them?