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Understanding and Regulating the Sport of Mixed Martial Arts

43 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2009 Last revised: 13 Nov 2011

Brendan S. Maher

University of Connecticut School of Law

Date Written: October 29, 2009


The past fifteen years have seen the emergence of a new sport in America and around the world: mixed martial arts (“MMA”). MMA is an interdisciplinary combat sport whose participants engage in and combine a variety of fighting disciplines (e.g., kickboxing, wrestling, karate, jiu-jitsu, and so on) within one match.

In this Article, I examine and analyze the sport’s evolution, articulate a theory of sporting legitimacy, supply a conceptual taxonomy of regulation, and highlight potential reform. More specifically, my foundational treatment proceeds as follows. I first explain the modern history and development of MMA, tracing it from its shaggy, brutish beginnings to its current incarnation. I next offer a pragmatic justification for the legitimacy and propriety of MMA, consider objections, and compare it to other sports and entertainment accepted as part of modern American life. I then review the state-based and administrative nature of MMA regulation, and identify the three conceptual categories of existing MMA regulation that are most useful in understanding the connection between legitimacy and regulatory oversight. I conclude by briefly highlighting two reform possibilities - federalization and unionization - that are of interest to industry players, reformers, and scholars.

Suggested Citation

Maher, Brendan S., Understanding and Regulating the Sport of Mixed Martial Arts (October 29, 2009). Hastings Communication & Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 33, p. 209, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Brendan S. Maher (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States


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