Dana White: MMA Is 'the Safest Sport in the World, Fact'

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIJanuary 9, 2013

Dec 29, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; UFC president Dana White speaks during post fight press conference at UFC 155 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UFC president Dana White has proclaimed that his organization is safer than the NFL. Furthermore, he said that MMA as a whole is the world's safest sport. 

It seems ironic to think that a sport with choke holds, elbows, knees, kicks, joint locks and strikes is the least hazardous, but White doesn't seem to think so. 

White told MMAMania the following: 

Concussion is a huge dilemma right now for the NFL. Here's the difference between the UFC and the NFL as far as concussions are concerned. First of all, if you get a concussion, if you get knocked out or you get hurt whatsoever in the UFC, three months suspension. You are on suspension for three months and you cannot come back until you are cleared by a doctor. You can't have any contact whatsoever. In the NFL, you're not going to lose Tom Brady for three months, man. You lose Tom Brady for three months and your whole season is wiped out. So, the UFC, listen, we don't hide from it, it's a contact sport and that's what these guys do, (is) much safer. In the 20-year history of the UFC, it will be 20 years in November, there has never been a death or a serious injury. Never been a death or serious injury in 20 years because we go above and beyond when it comes to the safety of these guys. When you know you have two healthy athletes getting ready to compete, they get the proper medical attention before and after, it's the safest sport in the world, fact.

White is certainly correct about the perils of getting a concussion in the NFL. There are no medical suspensions issued by athletic commissions to protect football players. They simply get concussed, and then come back some weeks later for a new round of brain trauma. 

However, his disquisition on concussions and safety reeks of Dana White the promoter. That is, the diatribe is partly triumphalist hot air. 

Yes, it's true that there hasn't been a death in the UFC's Octagon, but there have been deaths in MMA. And the UFC can tow the "we're safe, we don't have athletes who wind up with long-term brain injuries" line because the company is so young. 

It was founded in 1993, but the early days didn't feature competitors that fought for decades. Some did, but others did not. For example, initial UFC mainstay Royce Gracie only fought 12 times in the 1990s.

The UFC wasn't the sprawling juggernaut it is now. There weren't as many "professional" MMA fighters then. 

Also, the early days of the UFC didn't have gloves. 

This seems like it'd make the sport safer but, in reality, it's the opposite. How many fighters were knocked out cold from strikes in the old days? The most prominent KO was when Tank Abbott fought John Matua at UFC 6. And what was Abbott wearing? Gloves. 

It was made evident early on that punching someone in the head with bare hands wasn't the most efficient way to win.

Keith Hackney did that at UFC 3 against Emmanuel Yarborough and walked away with a broken hand for his efforts. He got the "W" but couldn't continue in the tournament. Meanwhile, grapplers like Gracie took people down, choked them out, and usually walked away just fine. 

Adding gloves to "regulate" the sport made punching people in the face safer for a fighter's hands, and let knockouts come in droves.

It wasn't until Dana White and his financial backers, the Fertitta Brothers, purchased the company 2001 that it started to aggressively expand.

White and Co. have only been at the helm for 12-odd years. The initial cadre of full-time fighters has evolved into an entire generation of them.

Still, we haven't had enough time to see swaths of battered athletes retire and grow old. MMA is safe, yes, and the UFC does take precautions to protect its fighters, true. But calling the sport "the safest sport in the world" is errant hyperbole. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.