Attacking the Body in Mixed Martial Arts: Perspectives, Opinions and Perceptions of the Full Contact Combat Sport of Ultimate Fighting


  • Magnus Tobias Stenius Department of Culture and Media Studies, Umeå University and visiting scholar Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University USA: Durham and North Carolina. Umeå Center for Gender Studies.



MMA, media, medical humanities, new materialism, posthumanism.


This article explores the sensuous experience of full contact fighting through ethnographic research in mixed martial arts clubs. Presenting its first card in 1993 in Denver, Colorado, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stunned martial artists while thrilling and frightening spectators. Mixed martial arts (MMA) is an evolving combat sport pitting elite athletes trained in a variety of combat arts against each other in the “Octagon”. Contestants are permitted to kick, punch, elbow and knee as well as use grappling submission techniques to defeat opponents. Despite criticism, supporters claim that the efficiency of non-violent grappling techniques has made MMA much safer than boxing, where fighters absorb repeated blows to the head. As the sport developed, fighters adjusted their bodies in order to better utilize the positional, tactical techniques that proved more successful than brute force. The mediated representation of fighting revealed that despite of being in a state of rage, MMA was a technically challenging sport based on the sublime performance of participant’s bodies. However, MMA remains the subject of debate in popular culture and the media, and medical expertise argues that the sport is dangerous and puts participants in harm´s way. On the other hand, proponents of the sport argue that health risks are overstated and that other, far less safe sports exist. The aim of this article is to scrutinize fighters as well as the opinions of media and the medical humanities in order to achieve an overview of the image of this combat sport. Convinced that the debate needs to be more nuanced, this paper examines how MMA encounters and mitigates scientific discourse and attitudes. The results also show that MMA is an ambiguous sport, taking responsibility for the well being of its fighters while encouraging spectacle in the arena.

Author Biography

  • Magnus Tobias Stenius, Department of Culture and Media Studies, Umeå University and visiting scholar Department of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University USA: Durham and North Carolina. Umeå Center for Gender Studies.

    PhD Candidate Cultural Anthropology 

    MA Socialanthropology Stockholm University Sweden and Sydney University Australia.



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