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Wheelchair MMA hits the U.K. to mixed reaction

Wheelchair fight between Mark Zupan and Jason Ellis (duct taped to his chair). Photo courtesy of MsTracyLee.com

First and foremost, I cannot articulate enough just how much I support anyone and everyone who feels that MMA is the sport for them. It’s no secret that it takes a special kind of person to willingly put themselves in a position where bodily harm is not only a possibility, but an expectation.

That being said, there is a fine line between inclusivity and logic, and a finer line even still between extension of opportunity and capitalizing on spectacle.

The announced partnership between the U.K.’s Wheeled Warriors and the Ultimate Cage Fighting Championships, which will make wheelchair mixed martial arts a reality this year, is one that very pointedly brings such boundaries into the spotlight.

The upcoming card, slated to take place in South Yorkshire, England will feature a series of bouts between fighters who will utilize sport-specific wheelchairs similar to those found in wheelchair basketball or football.

The theory behind the concept is undeniably an admirable one– make the sport accessible to any and all comers regardless of physical limitations. However, it has yet to be seen whether or not interest in this new format will truly be driven by a push toward inclusivity, or a product of its controversial nature.

Athletes with physical disabilities are by no means unheard of in MMA; most notably Nick Newell, who competes with only one fully functional arm, has made waves in the XFC with a perfect 8-0 record against entirely able-bodied competition. But wheelchairs have yet to make their way into the cage, and with amputee MMA already as successful as it is, there seems little reason to start now.

I recognize that, as an individual without a disability, my perspective on the issue may not be the most complete or informed, and I welcome hearing from anyone who believes the contrary, yet the inclusion of wheelchairs in an MMA contest seems unnecessary at best– dangerous at worst.

Adding the wheelchair contributes nothing positive to the physical dynamics of the sport and exposes athletes to a large object with moving parts when engaged in any form of ground game (assuming the grappling element of MMA is to be fully incorporated).

I will undoubtedly keep an open mind to the concept, and I’m curious to say the least, but, unless a serious argument can be made as to how wheelchair MMA advances accessibility of the sport any more than legitimate amputee competition already has, is it any wonder fight fans are skeptical as to whether or not this is a publicity stunt or a legitimate revolution in combat sports for the physically disabled?

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