Extremely violent sports, such as MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) are greatly increasing in popularity. Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, struggle with whether or not to support and enjoy these and other sports that involve extreme fighting. Some wonder if it would be allowable for a Christian to participate in sports that involve that amount of violence. What guidelines does the Bible give?
In an athletic analogy, in 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, the apostle Paul possibly uses terms related to what was essentially "boxing" in that time period, but it was a far cry from today’s extreme fighting styles. The Bible nowhere explicitly condemns sports that involve violence. Does this mean that enjoying/participating in extremely violent sports can be biblically allowable and/or God-honoring? Not necessarily. Just as the Bible nowhere explicitly condemns violent sports, neither does it condone violent sports.
Nearly all sports contain a measure of violence. Most competitive sports involve one person or team exerting physical superiority over another person or team. So, while boxing, MMA, and UFC are more violent than other sports, they are not the only sports that contain or involve violence. Gridiron football, for example, can be very violent. At the same time, there is an important difference. While other sports can exhibit violence at times, boxing, MMA, and UFC are, in their essence, focused on violence. Violence itself—extreme fighting—is the sport. It’s not just a matter of the sport sometimes being violent; the violence is necessary—fighting is part and parcel of the event—and the more extreme the better.
While many would place boxing on a different level than MMA and UFC, the general concept of the sports is the same. In extreme fighting the goal is to physically harm the other person to the point that he/she is knocked unconscious or in some other way incapacitated. There is nothing in the Bible that would condone the intentional inflicting of injury on another person in the name of sport. It is hard to see how extreme fighting can in any way be glorifying to God (see 1 Corinthians 10:31).
There have been many Christians who have participated in boxing. Surely, there are also genuine Christians who are involved in MMA, UFC, kickboxing, and other types of extreme fighting. Biblically speaking, though, this should not be. In no sense can intentionally pummeling and injuring an opponent in an athletic competition glorify God. The “what would Jesus do?” saying is overused and sometimes misapplied, but in this case it might really be useful. Can I really picture Jesus participating in extreme fighting? That question must be answered before we decide the question of whether a Christian should participate in or enjoy extreme fighting.