What I mean is that is it more dangerous than other contact sports that aren't martial arts? Such as Football, Soccer, Basketball, etc...

And if yes, why?

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    We have another question that asks about the specific risks of concussions, which might be relevant to your question here. Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 13:44
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    I would find it very difficult to answer this question. What do you mean by "dangerous"? Are you asking about the incidence of minor injuries (bruises, jams, sprains) or about the incidence of major long term injuries? e.g. dementia pugilistica? When you say "kickboxing" which of the many different rulesets do you mean?
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 17, 2012 at 10:36
  • More so, I'd dare say, and obviously so. You risk getting kicked in the head when you play Soccer; it's more of a given in kick boxing. Can the risks be minimized? Yes. But they are inherent to the activity.
    – stslavik
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 17:35
  • Dangerous? Haven't you seen Rocky I through IV?
    – LemmyX
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 22:07

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure that your statement about the safety of boxing is generally accepted.

"There is absolutely no way you can make boxing safe," said Nelson Richards, MD, a delegate from the American Academy of Neurology who proposed the original resolution to ban the sport in 1983.

The BBC reported

According to brain surgeons, over 80 per cent of professional boxers have serious brain scarring on MRI scans. The evidence for harm or cumulative brain damage to amateur boxers is less clear.

Boxing advocates point out that amateur boxing has fewer injuries than soccer, gymnastics, etc. However that source doesn't cite how they measure "fewer injuries", and doesn't state whether they count long term damage to the brain. There is some evidence that even amateur boxing can cause brain damage.

Ultimately, you may want to look at a source which compares injury rates. A quick google search suggests that football and soccer have the highest injury rate/hour practiced. But that doesn't address the severity or long term consequences of those injuries.

  • I edited your Livestrong link to point directly to the BBC reportage, though it still lacks a link to the study. (If you think I erred, please feel free to roll it back or re-edit.) I think the distinction between pro and amateur is worth noting here. My answer on concussions (linked above) addresses this. Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 16:37
  • I would also question your use of the term "short term" to describe the evidence of brain injury in amateur boxing. From the article you link: "The boxers who participated in the study competed on the top-level of Swedish boxing and all had fought at least 47 bouts." These are world class amateur boxers; the amateur refers to whether they take pro bouts, not their level of involvement in the sport, which is quite extensive and certainly not short term. Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 16:40
  • Point taken. Answer updated
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 7, 2012 at 16:43

At a good gym, meaning experienced coaches and decent equipment, boxing/kick-boxing should not be that dangerous. First of all, you're probably not sparring right away, and once you are its in a controlled environment with mouthpieces, headgear, gloves, and shinpads(if kickboxing).

As pointed out in a previous answer, you are probably at an increased risk of facial bruises, bloody noses, etc, but not serious injury. However, if you are training for an MMA style of fighting which includes takedowns, your rate of injury is going to spike sharply.

Comparing it to other sports is tricky. Even at a high-school level we certainly had a higher level of general injuries in football, and typically more severe...broken bones not being uncommon. Basketball didn't have the same high incidence of really violent injuries, but a much higher incidence of high ankle sprains and the like. Soccer seemed relatively safe but I never played at a highly competitive level, and if you watch the Europeans play you'd think it was more dangerous than trying to snuff volcanoes with your bare hands with the frequency they go down screaming in pain.

In short, I think there are too many variables to objectively answer your question, but the above has been my (anecdotal) experience.

  • Headgear and large gloves(16 for sparring) do help a bit with brain damage - however it won't mitigate the risk at all, it's mostly for physical short term damage(cuts, bruises or the like). Some would argue that you're safer NOT wearing head gear(as per brain damage), since you catch more punches WITH a headguard on than you would without.
    – cbll
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 7:11

The short answer is yes. The very point of the sport is to do damage to your opponent. That being said, the chances of you actually breaking something (apart from your nose) is pretty rare. The only particularly dangerous thing that can happen to you in boxing or kickboxing is a concussion, which can and probably will cause scarring of the brain and make you "punch drunk" after a few years.

So yes, boxing and kickboxing is pretty dangerous, but the types of serious injury is limited to your brain unless you're very unlucky.

  • "which can and probably will cause scarring of the brain and make you "punch drunk" after a few years." Not true at all if you're careful and take time off after concussions. Also your boxing style has much to say in this regard - as in, how careless you are.
    – cbll
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 7:12

TL;DR: Yes, kickboxing, MMA, and boxing are extremely dangerous.

The greatest risk in all combat sports in which blows to the head are allowed is traumatic brain injury. When it comes to traumatic brain injury, boxing is by far the most dangerous sport, but kickboxing and MMA aren't far behind.

Brain Injury:

Almost a century ago, a rare but serious form of dementia was linked to repetitive head injuries in boxing. The dementia was aptly named, “Boxer’s dementia.” Lately, this “punch drunk” dementia has been found to affect athletes in other sports, such as American football and soccer, where athletes' heads take repeated blows, so a broader term for this condition was needed.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is a related brain disorder that has been shown to affect other kinds of athletes, and more rarely, non-athletes who sustain head injuries...

Its prevalence in boxers continues. One recent review study of athletes who were diagnosed with CTE found that of the 51 confirmed cases of CTE, 46 were in athletes – and of these, 39 were boxers. Five football players, a soccer player, and a wrestler made up the remainder of the athletes affected by chronic brain trauma.
- Athletes and Brain Trauma

From an article on a 2014 study, limited to kickboxers and MMA fighters:

The rate of serious head injuries among professional mixed martial arts competitors is potentially twice that of professional football players, according to U.S. researchers...

Yet [fighters'] risk of head injury hadn't been well studied, according to [Michael Hutchison, a researcher at the University of Toronto] and his coauthors. The highly physical nature of the contact sport - which some critics consider dangerous or violent - got the researchers wondering just how high a risk players run of getting knocked out repeatedly.

The first event they looked for was knock-outs, in which players are literally knocked unconscious. The second, known as technical knockouts, occur when a referee or other authority judges that the player is too woozy to successfully defend him- or herself. Both kinds of knockout end the match.

The researchers also used statistics to investigate which factors were associated with a player having a higher risk of a knockout or a technical knockout due to being struck multiple times.

They found that players suffered a knockout in 12.7 percent of matches, and that a technical knockout took place in about 19 percent, meaning that nearly one-third of matches ended as a result of some type of head trauma.

These numbers mean that out of every 100 matches in which a mixed martial arts athlete could be knocked out, known as an athlete exposure, the injury would happen 6.4 times.

The comparable concussion rates for boxing and kickboxing are, respectively, 4.9 and 1.9 per 100 exposures, the authors note.

Moreover, they observed that competitors often used the few seconds before the referee stepped in to repeatedly kick the downed opponent in the head.

If all knockouts and technical knockouts are counted as concussions, the rate among professional mixed martial arts athletes seen in the study was about 16 per 100 athlete exposures.

It's tempting to compare those statistics to rates of concussions in sports such as football, which has been found to have 8.08 concussions per 100 plays, and ice hockey, with 2.2 concussions per 100 athlete-encounters.
- Head injury risk is high in mixed martial arts: study

From an article about an ongoing long-term study of brain injuries in boxing and MMA, whose results to date were published in 2015:

Is boxing the better sport or does mixed martial arts win that title? While spectators may debate for hours, the answer to that question when it focuses solely on the health of participants is simple: Both are bad, research indicates, even if martial arts combatants have a slight advantage. The repeated head blows sustained by fighters during their battles link to slower cognitive processing speeds and smaller volumes of certain brain parts.

Repetitive head trauma may be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and is considered the primary cause of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE),” wrote the authors in their new study. Alzheimer’s is a well-known form of dementia, while CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain linked to memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and progressive dementia.

To understand how these sports might affect fighters’ brains, researchers from Cleveland Clinic turned to the data collected by the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study (PFBHS). They identified 224 professional fighters: 131 mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters and 93 boxers. The PFBHS athletes were all between the ages of 18 and 44 and the average time these professionals had fought was about four years, with an average number of 10 total matches... Next, the researchers matched these athletes with 22 same-aged people with a similar level of education but no history of head trauma.

At the start of the study, all participants underwent an MRI scan to assess their brain volume and then they returned for a brain scan annually for four years after that. At each juncture, the researchers tested their verbal memory, processing speed, fine motor skills, and reaction times as a general assessment of brainpower. Next, the researchers calculated for each athlete a Fight Exposure Score, or FES, which combines duration and intensity of fight career...

Fighters with an FES score of four were found to be 8.8 percent slower in processing speed than those with an FES score of 0. Add to that, the higher the score, the smaller the brain volume, particularly in the thalamus and the caudate... The researchers speculate the typical response to a punch — when a fighter’s head rotates slightly — might be the cause of volume loss in the thalamus and caudate.

More generally, smaller brain volumes plus higher Fight Exposure Scores were linked to slower brain processing speeds. In fact, the researchers estimated a 0.19 percent reduction in processing speed per fight and a 2.1 percent reduction for each increase in FES. Irrespective of age, boxers tended to fare worse than martial arts combatants.

Perhaps the most obvious explanation is that boxers get hit in the head more,” the authors note. “MMA fighters can utilize other combat skills such as wrestling and jiu jitsu to win their match by submission without causing a concussion.” In the end, boxers' brain structure volumes were smaller and they were mentally slower than the mixed martial arts fighters. Ever so slightly, then, MMA edges out boxing as the 'better' sport, at least in terms of a fighter's health.
- Head Blows And Brain Injury: Boxing And Mixed Martial Arts Cause A Similar Loss Of Processing Speed In Fighters' Brains

Why are boxing, kickboxing, and MMA more dangerous than non-combat sports?

TL;DR: Because in team sports, blows to the head are an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the game; in combat sports, blows to the head are one of the goals of the game.

American Football, Basketball, and Soccer:

In American football, you're trying to get the ball into the end zone and stop the other team from doing likewise. In basketball, you're trying to throw the ball through the hoop and stop the other team from doing likewise. In soccer, you're trying to kick the ball into the goal and stop the other team from doing likewise. Someone might get hurt in any of these sports, but that's a side effect, not the primary objective.


In boxing, you're trying to punch the other guy until he is unconscious or unable to fight; although body shots sometimes achieve this goal, the surest way to pull it off is to punch your opponent in the face and head as many times as possible, as hard as you can. In other words, you're basically doing everything in your power to give the guy a concussion. What is a concussion? Simple: a concussion is traumatic brain injury. Thus, when two boxers step in the ring, they are essentially trying their hardest to inflict traumatic brain injury on one another.

The fact that boxers are restricted to hitting each other from the belt up increases the rates of brain injury, because you are only allowed to hit opponents on the end of the body where the head happens to be.

Aside from brain trauma, the most common injuries in boxing are broken bones (usually in the head and face - noses, eye sockets, cheekbones, jaws - but sometimes in other places - especially the ribs and hands), eye damage, and swelling. These are relatively minor, relative to brain injury, and easy to overcome.


In kickboxing, as in boxing, the goal is to hit your opponent until he is unconscious or incapable of fighting; however, you're allowed to strike with more of your body (hands, feet, shins, knees, and elbows, as opposed to just your hands), and you're allowed to hit the opponent in more places on his body (basically, everything except the testicles, throat, and eyes, as opposed to only the face, sides of the head, and front and sides of the torso).

This simultaneously reduces the percentage of shots that will be delivered to the head (because more areas are fair game) and increases the kinds of shots that will be delivered to the head (because you're kicking AND punching, and because punches can strike with other parts of your hand, not just your knuckles). It also helps that you can block incoming attacks with your legs as well as your hands and arms.

All in all, kickboxing is slightly less likely to cause brain damage than boxing is, for all the reasons mentioned above, but the difference is negligible.

However, other injuries are far more common in kickboxing than in boxing, mainly broken bones in the arms, legs, feet, hands, ribs, and face. And obviously, there's plenty of bruising, and some damage to ligaments and tendons.


If kickboxing can be described (via a slight oversimplification) as "boxing plus kicking", then MMA might be described as "kickboxing plus grappling". All of the factors I mentioned in relation to kickboxing apply here, but there is the added component of the grappling: whereas boxers and kickboxers are limited to striking, MMA fighters have other options. They can grab, hold, throw, wrestle, etc.

Obviously, the grappling angle of MMA means that even less time is spent trading shots to the face and head than is the case in kickboxing; as a result, traumatic brain injury is probably slightly less common in MMA than kickboxing, and even less common than it is in boxing. Again, though, the difference is relatively small.

On the other hand, some researchers believe that MMA might be a bigger risk for brain injury, although their findings were based on reviewing fight tapes rather than examining fighters or their medical records. They speculate that one reason for MMA being more dangerous is related to the fact that MMA bouts often end with the dominant fighter delivering a flurry of head shots to his opponent, while the opponent is pinned on the ground and incapable of defending himself.

Non-brain-related injuries are probably more common in MMA than in kickboxing or boxing, and in addition to broken bones, bruising, and torn ligaments/tendons, dislocations are more common because of grappling and submission holds.

If you're still not convinced, you might want to look at the Manuel Velazquez Boxing Fatality Collection, which lists all the known, recorded cases in which boxers died due to injuries sustained in the ring. At present, the raw data lists 2,045 such cases between September 1724 and December 2015; there are 1,324 boxing deaths listed between December 1915 and December 2015.

There is no such resource for kickboxing or MMA, and I'm not aware of any similar resources for any team sports.


While black eyes and minor bruises or the occasional broke nose are quite common in boxing, i think the devastating injuries like cruciate-ruptures are rare.

From my non-representative experience i'd say that runners, soccer-players and the like usually spend more time with doctors because of knee-injuries or broken ankles than (thai) boxers.

Boxing happens in a very controlled environment, there is only one opponent to pay attention to and the attacks and defenses are well-established. While there is a big strategic component, there is not much creativity going into making up moves on the fly.

Soccer for example seems much less predictable to me. While running at full speed an focusing on the ball one may have to deal with being tackled at any moment.

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