In ancient Rome, the Flavian Amphitheatre was a regular site for violence and bloodshed. If you aren't familiar with the Flavian Amphitheatre, that's probably because today it's commonly referred to as The Colosseum. Gladiators(Latin for swordsmen) would fight to the death against deadly animals, condemned criminals, and other gladiators. Crowds of over 50,000 would scream and cheer as these men fought to the death. In some cases, the men fought with nothing to gain. In others they fought for their freedom from slavery or war imprisonment. 

It was rare for a gladiator to compete more than ten times and walk away with his life. In some cases, fearsome warriors would defy death more than a hundred times for nothing but notoriety. 

Modern society would like to think we have become much more civilized since then. If you asked the average person what they thought of killing for entertainment, most would consider it barbaric. Regardless of our conscious morals, we still indulge in entertainment provided at the expense of other humans well-being. 

Punch Blood
Credit: Photo by Flickr Kassy Carson

Gladiators Of Today

While the Roman Colosseum is just a shadow of its former glory, the spirit of its gladiators has lived on. Men with years of fight training battle each other to incapacitation for our viewing pleasure. We sell tickets to these events, profiting at the expense of the bloodied participants. Are we really that much more civilized than the Ancient Romans?

The biggest and most recognized fighting league in the world is the Ultimate Fighting Championship, also know as the UFC. It holds matches all over the world, pitting the best fighters in the world against each other in an eight-sided caged enclosure affectionately named "The Octagon". Unlike the gladiators of old, fighters in the UFC do receive compensation for their efforts. The UFC is the most organized and profitable fighting entertainment business in the mixed martial arts industry, which means they have the most money to offer martial artists who want to fight for a living. Since they can offer more money per fight, the UFC has most of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world. 

Even though the Ultimate Fighting Championship pays more than all other mixed martial arts leagues in the world, the fighters earn very little. The median yearly pay for a UFC fighter is around $30,000 U.S. dollars, which is less than a typical U.S. plumbers yearly income. Some of the lesser-known fighters are lucky to break even at an event after incurring training and travelling expenses. Only the top fifteen or so mixed martial artists are able to make a comfortable living fighting. They are underpaid by the UFC, but compensate with various endorsement and sponsorship deals. 

Bloody UFC
Credit: Flickr Kassy Carson

Blood Sport

The first Ultimate Fighting Championship event was held in Denver, Colorado in the early 1990's. The idea was to pit skilled fighters in each fighting style against each other to determine which ones were superior. As the event continued, fighters began to adopt techniques from other fighting styles to become a better all around fighter. By combining aspects of multiple fighting styles, the UFC created a new hybrid fighting styled referred to as Mixed Martial Arts.

Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, combines the deadliest and most effective techniques of all fighting styles into one. UFC fighters must be adept at all aspects of fighting in order to compete. A boxer would not be able to compete in the UFC unless first spending many months training kicking, throwing, and grappling techniques. The basic guidelines of a standard UFC match are as follows:

  1. Two combatants of similar weight fight each other in an 8-sided ring surrounded by metal chain-link walls. 
  2. A referee is present to ensure fighters follow all rules and start/end the match.
  3. Three judges score the rounds, rewarding fighters for aggression, knockdowns, and landing blows
  4. Fights are scheduled for up 3-5 rounds of 3 minutes.
  5. Fighters must wear tight fitting shorts, two 4-6 oz. padded gloves, and a protective cup. No shirts, pants, or shoes are permitted.
  6. Punches, kicks, slams, throws, and submission grappling are allowed.
  7. A combatant can win the fight multiple ways:
  • Knockout- A fighter is knocked unconscious.
  • Technical Knockout- The referee or fighters doctor determines that a fighter cannot continue.
  • Submission- A fighter taps out to signal submission by tapping the ground or his opponent. A fighter may also verbally submit. A referee may use his discretion to call the fight if a submission looks to be close to breaking the fighters bone.
  • Judges Decision- If a fight reaches the time limit, the three judges scores determine who won the fight.
  • Disqualification- A judge can disqualify a fighter if he repeatedly breaks UFC standard rules


When UFC was first introduced, they advertised that "There Are No Rules". Today, there are rules in place to try to prevent major bodily injury or paralyzation in The Octagon. The following maneuvers are illegal and can result in the loss of judge points or disqualification.

  • Blows to the groin
  • Eye Gouging
  • Pulling of hair
  • Scratching, pinching, or twisting the skin
  • Biting
  • Headbutting
  • Strikes to the neck or throat
  • Kicks or knees to the head of a downed opponent
  • Stomping a downed opponent
  • Grabbing the clavicle(collarbone)
  • Spitting
  • Grabbing the fence
  • Faking injury or otherwise stalling the fight
  • Disregarding referee instructions
  • Anything the referee deems as an attempt to undermine the other rules

The Future of UFC and MMA

The evolution of the Ultimate Fighter Championship has led to more rules and regulations to protect the lives of fighters who step into The Octagon. UFC owner Dana White has done everything he can to push for fighter safety to calm the voices who wish to see professional cagefighting banned. 

Despite the improved regulations for MMA fights, death and serious injury continues to be a part of the sport. The first American to die from a sanctioned MMA fight was Douglas Dedge in 1998. The match was held in Ukraine. Douglas Dedge was incapacitated and lost the fight. He was taken to the hospital to care for his injuries, but he never recovered and died two days later.

The UFC is no stranger to major injury but for the most part death has not been a part of their brand. Unfortunately, not all MMA leagues have the same strict rules and regulations as the UFC. Fighters who wish to be in the UFC must first prove their worth by winning fights and titles in other leagues to garner attention and consideration from the UFC. These unsanctioned fights are much more dangerous and the odds of serious injury or death are more than tripled.

The future of the sport in unclear. The UFC is a successful business, but opponents of the brutal sport are becoming more active as time goes on. Fighters continue to get bigger, stronger, and better at hurting people. As the UFC grows, so does the sport of fighting and mixed martial arts. More and more people are pursuing fighting as a profession, which means there will be more unsanctioned matches and more danger. As long as there are thousands of people willing to pay good money to watch two men hurt each other, the UFC will continue to thrive. The real question is one of morality. Can we continue to allow these men to destroy their bodies for our entertainment? Until we answer that question, MMA fighters will continue to play their role of modern day gladiators. 

If you want to see some of the best UFC fighters pound each others faces in, the fight of the year is scheduled for December 28th for the UFC Middleweight Title. Anderson Silva, considered the best pound for pound fighter on the planet, attempts to reclaim the title against Chris Weidman. Silva holds the UFC record for most title defenses and longest winning streak. Earlier this year Weidman knocked Silva out to hand him his first loss in over six years and claim the title. Silva attempts to retake the title just a few days after Christmas, and you can watch the fight via Pay-Per-View programming.