As the Ultimate Fighting Championship and rival promotions like Strikeforce have risen in popularity, leegislators in states like New York are feverishly trying to ban MMA in the state, citing dangers to fighters as a reason to continue bans enacted as early as 1993. But, it may surprise you that MMA is one of the safest of the combat sports.
Here's a list of the four safest combat sports on the planet (For a list of the most dangerous, see here):
1) Taekwondo (Korea)
Taekwondo is the safest combat sport in the world. Also an Olympic sport, Taekwondo focuses solely on kicks, with most coming from the less powerful lead leg. Taekwondo also utilizes a point fighting system adapted from Karate. So why is Taekwondo the safest combat sport in the world? The list of protective equipment includes: head gear, mouthpieces, chest and torso protectors, arm pads, shin guards, and foot guards. Kicks that come from the lead leg are unable to generate the same power as kicks performed from the rear leg, such as kicks in Muay Thai. Combine the weaker kicks, immense amount of padding, and long list of rules, a penchant for flashier aerial moves, and you have a sport that makes kittens dangerous.
2) Judo and Jiu Jitsu (Japan)
Before you go jumping down my throat about how Judo and Jiu Jitsu are separate forms let me first explain. Judo, an Olympic sport, is a refined, rule-based version of Jiu Jitsu, which is more open. Jiu Jitsu was created by the Samurai in feudal Japan for use in hand-to-hand combat situations where both fighters were wearing armor. When the era of the Samurai ended, practical Jiu Jitsu became irrelevant. In 1882, Dr. Jigoro Kano made a comprehensive study of these ancient self-defense forms involved in Jiu Jitsu and integrated the best of these forms into a sport which is known as Kodokan Judo. Both styles remove strikes entirely, focusing on trips and throws to take an opponent to the ground, and then submission moves to end a match while on the ground. Common injuries include: pulled muscles, loss of breath, and bruising.
3) Shutokan and Kyokushin Karate (Japan)
Ah, yes, Karate. One of the most widely practiced martial arts in all the world, both Shutokan and Kyokushin Karate have become the basis for most self-defense courses, as well as a babysitting outlet for parents. While Karate has a very violent history, competitive Karate is littered with rules, to include a “point fighting” system. Point fighting awards points for contact to the opponent, and after a point is scored, the bout is halted. The bout is not to be resumed until both fighters have returned to the starting points. Head gear, as well as mouth guards, and even shin and foot guards, are mandatory for professional level fighters, and are quickly becoming mandatory in bouts for lower level fighters.
4) Mixed Martial Arts (USA)
It goes against everything most people believe, but MMA is actually one of the safest combat sports in the world. This is due to the wide variety of strikes, kicks, takedowns, and grappling moves that MMA fighters are allowed to use. In fact, since the inception of the UFC in November of 1993, there has not been a single death or serious brain injury in sanctioned bouts. Yes, there are injuries that occur, but typically the referee will stop a bout before serious harm is caused. Why is it here on the list? Amateur MMA bouts are not as carefully monitored as professional bouts, and promoters have been known to allow a fighter to fight several times in succession, regardless of how damaged the fighter was at the end of his last bout. Several UFC fighters, as well as UFC President Dana White, have expressed their concerns regarding this, and plans are underway to create a global governing body for MMA, which would be in charge of fighter records, health screenings, and drug testing.
There are some honorable mentions that I feel deserve at least a nod: Greco-Roman Wrestling (no strikes allowed), and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (very few strikes allowed).