You can hold off on that sigh of relief.

A headline from earlier this summer may initially have seemed to provide comfort to the MMA community, when a study published by the Canadian Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine (h/t Erik Magraken and the Combat Sports Law blog) found that boxers were at higher risk of sustaining concussions and other head injuries than MMA fighters.

“Boxers are more likely [than MMA fighters] to experience serious injury such as concussion/head trauma involving loss of consciousness or eye injury such as retinal detachment,” wrote the authors, who were led by Dr. Shelby Karpman, a sports and exercise physician at the University of Alberta.

Not too bad, right? Perhaps best of all, it underscores conventional wisdom on the topic, at least in MMA circles.

Sadly for them, though, that was just the top-line finding. Yes, boxing is more dangerous when it comes to head injuries. But rejoicing because MMA is less damaging on the brain than boxing is like running with the bulls because it’s so much more fun than being a matador.

Using post-fight medical data from boxing and MMA contests that occurred in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, between 2000 and 2013, researchers studied the injuries of 1,181 MMA fighters and 550 boxers. The scientists appeared to use knockouts as a key indicator that a concussion had occurred—which makes sense because, while fairly primitive, there aren’t a lot of other indicators or assessment tools consistently in the field in combat sports.


By this metric, the study found 7.1 percent of boxers were likely to lose consciousness. But 4.2 percent of MMA fighters studied suffered the same fate. So, based on the raw numbers, 39 boxers got knocked out, while 50 MMA fighters had their lights lowered. So even though MMA is not as dangerous as boxing from a brain injury standpoint, it’s not exactly not in the woods.

And it’s contradicted by another (admittedly less thorough) study from 2014 (h/t the Associated Press via that found that MMA’s risk of brain injury was higher than boxing’s.

There’s also the issue of overall injuries. Here, the study found that MMA fighters were far more likely than boxers to suffer other injuries, including things like contusions and bruises (59 percent to 50 percent).

It’s just more evidence that, when you look at all the numbers, MMA is not the safer cousin of boxing that a lot of MMA’s proponents seem to want it to be.

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