Combat sports are, as the name suggests, sports that involve some form of combat. So sports like boxing, MMA, and martial arts all come under the banner of combat sports. And October of this year has been stacked for fans of these sports. 14th October saw the infamous Misfits & DAZN boxing Series 10 with YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI going against professional fighters Dillon Danis and Tommy Fury. The event reportedly sold over 1.3 million pay-per-view buys. 21st October saw the much-awaited UFC 294 rematch, which controversially saw two out of their four main event fighters drop out and get replaced. Despite these changes, the event reportedly saw over a million viewers in total. 28th October saw the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Tyson Fury take on UFC rising star Francis Ngannou in an event that also had nearly a million people watching. Not only that, but famous movie stars, singers, and celebrities in general. The sports are certainly popular. The question is worth asking, then, what attracts us to these sports, in terms of watching and participating in them?
There is no doubt that these sports are violent. The whole objective is to get into a ring with another person and inflict as much damage as possible. While people playing more conventional sports like football, basketball, and cricket, can get injured and in very serious ways, combat sports seem to have injury and pain as a prerequisite to playing them. Very often one hears cases of legends of the ring suffering later in life due to injuries sustained while taking part in their sport.
However, interest in combat sports is not a novel thing. Throughout human history, each civilization has had a variation of combat that was used for entertainment. Evidence of ancient combat sports has been found in Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, India, Japan, China, Greece, and Rome. In the ancient Olympic Games, wrestling held a significant place in the pentathlon. Even within ancient fiction, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, challenges of strength were a common way of showing off power. However, if there is one thing that modern combat sports echo, it is the memory of gladiator battles. While modern combat sports are not nearly as lethal, the confined, brutal, bloody fighting of sports like the UFC and professional boxing certainly brings back the collective memory of two gladiators in an arena fighting to the death. Even then, gladiator games drew huge crowds and involved a lot of food and drink among the spectators who often became rowdy and wild while cheering for their favourite competitors.
The most simple reason to explain why combat sports are so popular is that they are a safe way for people to express themselves and their frustrations physically. Most people work fairly ordinary jobs that require them to sit at desks for long hours. They can get frustrated living and competing in the same rat race which makes their life monotonous. Watching combat sports allows them the catharsis that they do not get in their daily lives. It also gives them the thrill that their daily lives lack. This also explains why a lot of people would take part in these sports. They involve two consenting adults who are allowed to let go of the conventions of society that bind them to certain rules, forcing them to behave a certain way. This is not to say that they would go around violently assaulting people in their daily lives, only that combat sports allow them a safe space to do so.
Another reason for this is as simple as the fact that it helps people stay in shape, much like going to the gym. Like going to the gym, practicing these sports involves quite rigorous training, strict routines, and a healthy diet. One can play sports like football, basketball, or cricket casually, without the intensive training the athletes go through, but for these sports, a certain level of physical training is required. There is no combat sport in the world that exists without an ab routine or pushups as a part of the daily training regiment, even for those who partake in it casually. Many people even mix these in with their gym schedules. They are also more dynamic than a regular gym workout. People can get bored of going to the gym to repeat the same workouts over and over again, so sports like boxing and MMA can spice their routines up. So combat sports help people keep in shape.
Another reason is that combat sports are great for mental health. Martial arts like Karate focus greatly not only on the physical health of a person but also on mental health. A large part of Karate involves simply sitting and focusing on your breathing, much like meditation. It can be an incredibly calming experience, especially after a hectic day at work or school. Even for sports like boxing or MMA, which do not have a specific discipline or tradition, mental health is a major factor as to why the athletes do it. Being in the ring allows them to focus their thoughts and their mind, and makes their mind work in unison with their body. Apart from that, it is simply also a great way to make new friends. There's nothing like discussing how one can improve their technique after a round of sparring.
Violence is not the solution to any problem. However, evolutionarily speaking, a certain level of violent tendencies needed to be present in us for the species to have survived. As we evolved into civilisation, the need for this violence died. Combat sports are simply these evolutionary tendencies coming out in a healthy and socially acceptable manner. They are great for your physical and mental health and are incredibly invigorating to watch. While the increased amount of violence and bloodshed might be off-putting to some viewers, those who love the sport, love it with a passion. Combat sports are in our history, their violence can be liberating, and we like them because they allow us to be free in ways that we cannot be in society.