Singapore's first female mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Nicole Chua, was quoted in a magazine as saying: "Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are still uneducated about MMA, and view it as a primitive, violent and unsophisticated sport."
At first glance, an MMA match looks brutal, especially when one fighter is down and the other is raining blows on him, a move known as ground and pound. But upon closer inspection, there is more to the sport than just fighters trying to beat the hell out of each other.
In Russia, men go to a sandlot and pummel each other to a pulp, in matches with no time limits. The amateur street-fighting tournament, known as strelka, is becoming popular there, and fights only stop with a knockout or when one fighter surrenders. In short, there can only be quite a terrible end.
In comparison, MMA has rules to keep fighters safe from real harm. Referees are quick to end a fight before a serious injury occurs.
"In boxing there are about 25 deaths a year," said Victor Cui, CEO of ONE Fighting Championship. "In MMA, there has been one death in the 20 years it has been around. What cause massive damage to the brain are repeated blows to the head."
Dr Jason Chia, head of sports medicine in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Singapore, said punches to the head generally represent blunt trauma to the brain, regardless of which combat sport it is.
"Blows to the head can result in concussion, laceration, fractures or intra-cranial bleeding," he said.
"Boxing has 10 to 12 rounds in each match," said Cui, "and the gloves are specifically designed with added padding so that you do not get knocked out with one punch. They want to see a fighter get punched 500 times in 10 rounds, so that it's exciting. A one-punch knockout is what normally happens in sports - rugby players get knocked out, so do footballers. But that is not nearly as damaging as repeated blows."
Eric Kelly, a Filipino MMA fighter living in Malaysia, agreed. "Boxing is about hitting the head, and your brain gets shaken all the time," said Kelly. "You can get a brain haemorrhage. In MMA, you can hit the entire body, and if you submit, the fight will be stopped. If you hurt your hand, it will heal. If the brain gets damaged, you cannot heal it. And if you get knocked out with a punch, at least it's just one punch. But in boxing you get punched in every round."
If we were to take the cue from a 1999 Slate magazine article titled "Fight clubbed", where David Plotz wrote in support of what was then known as "ultimate fighting", we could then say that MMA with its smaller, thinner, fingerless 142g gloves is a safer bet for fighters. Traditional boxing gloves are not to protect the head but more to protect a boxer's hands. The hand is more likely to break when hitting the skull. As how Plotz argued that that is why "ultimate fighters" will not throw multiple punches, we can say the same for MMA.
Jason Lim, ONE FC's director of online media and publications, said that the rules in MMA are there so that people can appreciate the art of the fight, and not the violence.
Because there is still no single regulatory body for MMA in the world, MMA rules vary from country to country. The Ultimate Fighting Championship in the United States has its Unified Rules, while Japan's Shooto also has its own. ONE FC adopts a mixture of Unified and the now-defunct PRIDE FC (of Japan) rules. Jack Low of Raw Think Tank said the rules in Malaysia differ between organisers.
"For our events, we take former fighters as referees," said Low. "We don't take just anybody. The fighters have experiences from the different times of MMA's growth. So they would know things better. If you don't use referees who are qualified and know the rules, you would be compromising the safety of the fighters."