Opinions abound regarding mixed martial arts. Not everyone likes the sport, nor should they. I’ve been a fan since UFC 1 in 1993, and even I have misgivings, so I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything. But it’s important to get the facts straight, so you can love it or hate it for what it actually is.

Fiction – it’s too dangerous

Since its inception, more people have died cheerleading than in the UFC octagon. No one has died in the UFC cage, and there have been few serious injuries. Fighters sustaining injuries are put on suspension by the  athletic board with jurisdiction. Unlike the NFL and NHL, the UFC is government regulated and not subject to team governors or CEOs.

Fact – potential head injuries

Head injuries can be sustained by athletes in any contact sport. CFL and NFL players have had psychological problems that have lead to addiction and family break-ups, and are known to have drastically reduced life expectancies. NFL players regularly sustain head trauma -- because their helmets  are used like weapons -- and the NHL’s  goons have come under the microscope as a result of suicides and addictions. We’ve all seen the punch drunk boxer.

The danger to the UFC fighter is in his training, not in the competition. A UFC fighter sustains far fewer cranium-jarring shots in several  UFC fights than  a boxer will in one 15 round bout. In training, however, mixed martial artists are testing their physical limits all the time.

Fiction – UFC fighters are street fighters, bullies and thugs

Like any major sports organization, the UFC has hundreds of athletes under its banner. It’s not possible to control them all. The UFC gives seminars on appropriate behavior for its fighters, recognizing that they come from diverse backgrounds. Fighters are fined or let go for major transgressions, but at the same time, the UFC works with fighters in cases such as  drug addiction.

Rather than being bullies, many UFC fighters -- Canada’s Georges St. Pierre among them -- got into martial arts because they were being bullied. They know what it’s like to feel defenseless, at school or in their neighborhood. This is why the UFC tries to bring awareness to bullying, to stop it in its tracks.

UFC fighters are athletes, not hoodlums, and many have never been in a street fight. Gan McGee, a former UFC heavyweight hopeful who fought and lost to Tim Sylvia in a HW title fight, once fought and beat six Navy Seals in a bar. Navy Seals are the dudes who flew in and punched Bin Laden’s ticket.  The point here is that most  UFC fighters have nothing to prove, not  even to the toughest Joe, and would be in serious legal trouble if they vented on a civilian.

Fact – the UFC did have street fighters compete

In its early days, the UFC  wasn’t mixed, except that you had a Greco-Roman wrestler fighting a Muay Thai boxer, or a Sumo wrestler fighting a BJJ black belt, or a street fighter against a judoka. Back then, bona fide street fighters did reasonably well. Tank Abbott, a hard drinking Huntington Beach biker-type, boasted of drinking before fighting. And he was brutal in his punching and in his comments afterwards. But this is no longer the case. No street fighter would be fit to carry the athletic cup of a UFC contract holder.

Fiction – hitting a downed fighter is wrong

In boxing, standing eight-counts are given to dazed, staggering fighters who have been hurt so bad they need time to compose themselves. That is dangerous.

Due to the striking and grappling elements of MMA,  there are no standing counts, but fighters are allowed to ‘finish’ fights. It is up to the fighters to verbally submit or tap, and if they can’t or don’t,  the ref ends the fight when it’s clear one of the fighters is finished, or that he is no longer intelligently defending himself.

Several UFC fights have been stopped with the loser still standing, because he was getting hit at the will of his opponent and not defending himself. More than one fight has been stopped too early or a little late, because refs are human.

Fact – the sport can be difficult to watch

Despite the regulations, controls and overall excellent refereeing, UFC matches are fights, with blood, hematomas and broken limbs. The events aren’t for everybody. Even hardcore fans have to turn away from time to time.

Bottom line – fighter safety is paramount

UFC fighters know the risks, and are the best trained and informed athletes of any sport right now. The UFC is government regulated, and the owners are intent to not make the mistakes boxing made, whether it regards pay, health or the cards. Until we see serious injuries, long term health problems or concerted complaints by fighters and fans, those who choose can enjoy the most exciting sport on this planet, and the rest can opt out.