UFC: Barbaric or Manly?

It was controversial when it first arrived on the scene back in 1993. John McCain spoke out vehemently against Ultimate Fighting, calling it “human cockfighting.” The sport was pushed into the main-stream under the flag of violence, the original producers behind the sport believing that its violence was its most attractive feature. Since Dana White took over, however, the sport has developed rules and caters more toward the technical side of the sport.

Of course, no matter how you pitch it you can’t get around the fact that Ultimate Fighting is incredibly violent. The question I have had to contemplate as a of late, since I have become a fan of the UFC, is whether or not it is wrong, as a Christian, to enjoy this “sport.” Is the UFC barbaric, or something else?

There is something very disturbing about the enjoyment I get out of watching two dudes beat the tar out of one another. Is there something sick and twisted in me that leads me to take pleasure in the pain of others? Perhaps there is, but that same tendency is in all of us. We all laugh when the man on America’s Funniest Home Videos takes a baseball bat to the crotch. Many “normal” men will express their love for films like Gladiator, 300, and other bloody, battle oriented movies. So is there something more vile about Ultimate Fighting Championship? I don’t think so, but I do think there is something unique about this sport.

MMA (mixed martial arts) is the number one sport, currently, among young males between the ages of 18-35. Why? I think the answer has to do with the desire, among young men, for real masculine role models. I can appreciate that there is a great deal of debate these days about whether or not men are more or less masculine (and more to the point whether or not that is a good or bad thing). But I am inclined to say that men are far less masculine these days than they have been in past centuries and that such is a bad thing.

The Times had an article a few years back that explored a generation of young boys who were growing up “wimpy,” according to their reporter. R. Albert Mohler Jr. – President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – continually documents the dissolution of manliness. This disappearance, so to speak, of manliness is bad in that it has made men less interested in what the Bible has documented as their responsibilities: protecting, providing, and leading (see 1 Kings 2 where David gives Solomon these commands, commands that go beyond kingship to the role of Solomon’s masculinity; i.e. “show yourself a man”).

In response to this disappearance of masculinity UFC stands out as a group of strong men who have the technical skill, muscular strength, discipline, and fortitude to fight like the men of David’s army, the great men of the Old Testament. They may not serve as the great spiritual role models that the Bible also has in mind for men to be, but they do represent masculinity in a day when the other options for role models couldn’t, wouldn’t, and don’t want to fight. Now I am not intending to simply commend fighting, though it may seem that way, but there are occasions where fighting should be expected of godly men (regardless of ability or strength), but far too many Christian men lack the fortitude to do it! To such men I say, “Read the Old Testament, friends”….and perhaps watch a few UFC matches too!

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  • Ah, masculinity. This is one of the currently popular hobby horses of American pop-Christianity: the so-called feminization of our culture. This comes up all the time. So I suppose it’s fitting to be discussed here.


    The proposition forwarded by so many in the pop-Christian realm is that there is an ideal level of masculinity toward which men in society should strive and an ideal level of femininity toward which women in society should strive. And further, that many of the problems evident in our current culture are seen to be a result of a reversal of this standard—where men are increasingly feminized and women are becoming more and more masculine.

    This is, I think, not a good idea.

    To start with, we’ll have to presume both that there is such a thing as masculinity and femininity and that there is a prescribed level of each to which the sexes should aim, neither exceeding nor falling short of such marks. But wait! Why should we presume such things? Let’s start apart from the presuppositions and only then come to evaluate the argument from the realm of pure hypotheticals.

    In the first place, while there are certain characteristics that we tend to assign to the descriptions masculine and feminine, I tend to think that those descriptors have no connection more necessary to the sex with which we’ve tied them than pof and hil do (that is, masculinity and femininity might as well be random terms for all they relate to the sexes). The typically admirable traits associated with masculinity (courage, honour, bravery, strength, charisma, leadership, decisiveness) are as lauded in females as they are males—and probably no less present. Contrawise, the negative traits associated with masculinity (anger, violence, laziness, heartlessness, aggression) are as loathed in females as they are in males—and probably no less present.* Similarly, the typically admirable traits commonly associated with femininity (compassion, sensitivity, romance, nurture, domestic prowess) are lauded in men while the negative traits (cattiness, over-sensitivity, moodiness, menstruation) are loathed in men as well as they are in women.**

    Masculinity and maleness are two entirely separate descriptions and intersect about as frequently as masculinity and femaleness.*** Question: Are men brave or are women brave? Answer: Men and women are brave. Fact: Both men and women are capable of bravery and prone to cowardice. Question: Are women compassionate or are men compassionate? Answer: Women and men are compassionate. Fact: Both women and men are capable of compassion and both are prone to callousness.

    And then what if there was some testable difference between men and women? What if it wasn’t merely anecdotal? What if 60% of men were brave and only 20% of women were? What if 75% of women showed compassion while only 13% of men bore the trait? How would it be that we could tell whether the distinction was something natural to the sexes or whether it was merely just the cultural hegemony showing its colours and influences.

    And with how fuzzy our understanding is of whether femininity and masculinity even exist, how on earth can we responsibly make it a moral thing? How can we say that men should aim to be, quote-unquote, masculine (with all that entails) and women should be, quote-unquote, feminine (with all that entails)? How can we honestly do that? Answer: because people are clowns. We are. We’re ridiculous and we like to make rules to govern things whether those rules are at all realistic.

    So wait, let’s go back. Let’s pretend that there really is some such thing as this Platonic form of masculinity and another of femininity. Let’s pretend that there really is this objective standard. And let’s further pretend that we, as men and women, are supposed to strive toward our respective gendered standards. Let’s pretend that I and all American men should be striving for True Masculinity. And even more, let’s pretend that if we don’t, as a society, meet that standard (and that the women don’t meet theirs)—let’s pretend that if we are truly negligent here that society will get all screwed up. That all sorts of horrible things will happen. That kids will stop learning well. That we won’t have prayer in schools. That incidents of homosexuality will rise. That Bush will attack Iran and kill more people who are not white enough to care about. That teenage boys will start wearing women’s pants that are too small for women their size. That the rest of society will follow suit, crumbling around our ankles.

    Let’s pretend all that will happen if we don’t get the masculinity/femininity thing right.

    OMG we ares doomulnated!!! No really. If the health of society rests at all upon us getting the masculinity/femininity distinction correct, we are without hope. We are so doomed that even the doomed will feel safe, happy, and well-cared for by comparison. And why is this?

    Because we have no standard to look to!

    Not even a hint.

    There is nothing we can reliably look at, point to, and say, “Behold! Femininity!” There is no example of what true masculinity might look like if it were to actually exist. Even if there is this fabled objective standard, we, the people of earth, have no possible way of discerning it. Well, unless God decides that it’s important enough for us to know that he sends a third testament to explain it. Maybe it’s in the Book of Mormon, I don’t know. What I do know for a certainty is that such a standard is very much not found in the Bible as delivered to the saints in ages past.

    No, everything we know to be masculinity and femininity is made up. Which is part of the reason we see such vast differences in the so-called gendered traits from culture to culture. So knock it off already.

    *I believe a case can be made that the presence of testosterone in males can cause heightened and sustained aggression, surpassing that normally found in females. This would be a part of the male chemical environment.

    **I only included menstruation to see if you were paying attention.

    ***The rate of intersection differs based upon cultural influences.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • Rocky

    I can’t think of any entertainment currently enjoyed by Americans that would conflict more with my sensibilities as a Christian than UFC.

  • Yeah. Rocky only uses his fists. None of this fancy foot-to-face nonsense.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • David Dunham

    Any particular reason that the sport has such conflict with your Christian sensibilities, Rocky?

  • UFC has evolved to be governed by a set of rules protecting the fighters. In this way, UFC is similar to boxing with the exception that some additional martial arts moves are allowed. For this reason, it would be inconsistent to oppose UFC as too violent but consider boxing to be acceptable.

    Minnesota Attorneys last blog post..Trademark Attorney in Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • David Dunham

    That’s very true, friend, and I should add that there are some who speculate that MMA is safer than boxing because fighters take less blows directly to the head, since there is also wrestling and martial arts involved in the sport. I don’t know if that’s true, but it is argued.

  • Rocky

    I was referring to the fact that we are commanded by Christ to resist violence, even when it seems counterintuitive. Violence for violence’s sake is antithetical to that, whether you’re hitting someone in the head or kicking someone in the head.

  • David Dunham

    Rocky, You got a particular verse in mind when you say “we are commanded by Christ to resist violence, even when it seems counterintuitive”?

  • Jim

    I like your finish: but far too many Christian men lack the fortitude to do it! To such men I say, “Read the Old Testament, friends”….and perhaps watch a few UFC matches too!

    I would think that Christ was very, very knowledgeable about the Old Testament. That’s why he had a better idea.

    Physical courage and stamina is important. Not so much as so you can whip your weight in spidermen, but as a foundation for real courage: For example: protecting your family by putting them first, or standing up to a Government which has enacted insane laws and accepting the consequences.

    Jims last blog post..How To Quit Smoking Once And For All!

  • I think whatever value you see in UFC, David, is a bit out of touch with reality. Whatever technical expertise one might observe (and possibly even learn) from professional fighters, I remain unpersuaded that this will convey even a fragment of God’s design for the male gender. I’m not quite as skeptical as Seth, here, about the reality of gender roles – I think they exist – but I’m fairly certain that, while there are a number of places in Scripture where men are commended for might and physical prowess, at no point are we guided to believe that these are universal virtues to be pursued by all men. “Being a pansy” was prohibited neither in the ten commandments, nor in the sermon on the mount.

    And since he’s come up recently, this reminds me of the things I least appreciate about Mark Driscoll: link, link.

    Scotts last blog post..Jesus and Tabernacle in the Gospel of John

  • I did like that Macho Man Randy Savage song.

    @Scott – I’m open to the idea that there exist gender roles that are naturally and intentionally tied to the sexes by God. I’m just not sure how we could identify those. Marital roles are much easier, because the Bible talks about them. As far as masculinity and femininity go, not so much, I think. (Of course, I could be wrong here—I’m just not aware of anything really scriptural that treats the subject.)

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • J. Burtner

    I haven’t put a lot of thought into gender roles in Christianity, but I can offer some insight into Mixed Martial Arts. As a trainer, competitor, and coach at the amateur level, I can tell you that although it’s the punches and kicks that get the most attention, what people don’t seem to realize is that there is rarely any malice in the hearts of these fighters. They touch gloves at the beginning of a match and often embrace and congratulate one another at the end of the match. I’ve always told my guys to behave with class, although it really hasn’t needed to be said. They often end up forming bonds of friendship with their fellow competitors. These aren’t two men who are angry at one another for getting a promotion over them or stealing somebody’s girlfriend. They’re just there to play a game. Sure, it’s a rough game, but so is football, soccer, gymnastics, and cheerleading… all of which produce a higher percentage of injuries than MMA, for what it’s worth.

    I can’t speak for why everyone watches it. I watch it as a source of education, to see how Lyoto Machida sets up his foot sweeps, to see the submission counters Rich Franklin uses, to see the master game-planning of Randy Couture, to see the dynamic striking of Spencer Fisher. These are lessons that I can take back to the gym to help train my guys. Of course I’ve formed emotional attatchments to some of the fighters and would prefer to see them win, but mostly I’m there to see displays of martial arts skills and use it as an inspiration to become a better martial artist myself.

  • I like prince lol. However, there was once where he fell from a stage. Michael Jackson and James Brown was there too ;D

  • Billy Barabas

    In response to David Dunham’s request for Scripture speaking out against the violence in Ultimate Fighting, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:9 come to mind, “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (MESSAGE)

  • David Dunham

    @ Billy, Thanks for your response. I am always interested in dealing with what the text of Scripture actually says when we are discussing what God approves of or doesn’t approve of. Two things: (1) Matthew 5:9 actually says “blessed are the peacemakers…” So we would need to define what peacemakers means. The translators of The Message have interpreted it to mean don’t fight. That might be fine, but it’s not the only interpretation. Are there ways to “make peace” that involve force or violence? Jesus himself drove people out with a whip, was he failing to be a peacemaker then?

    (2) We want to take the whole picture of Scripture, not just a few proof texts. So if you think that Jesus denies the place for proper violence or force you have to deal with passages all over Scripture where God calls his people to fight or war (See just about all of the historical books of the Old Testament).

    Beyond those comments let’s just put it this way: is the violence in sports like UFC, Boxing, Wrestling, Football, etc. are they the same as violence among enemies who wish to kill each other?

  • Pete

    I think everyone here is putting entirely too much thought into this. This is a sport, yes it is a violent sport, but these are highly trained, and in most cases very smart athletes. It is an arena with set rules. There is no one forcing any one into that octagon, they are there of their own will. So if your stomach cant take watching a man get punched in the face, why don’t you just call it what it is, your a wuss. Turn off the television and go read womens health.


    I think it’s barbaric and a destruction of God’s creation- We as Christians are called to “tame” the beast within us and this sport does the very opposite of that. Also, the battles/wars in fought with so much passion/zeal etc in the old testament always had an objective…Good verses evil. You cannot compare this sport with the battles in the bible because in all reality the ones in the bible were almost always depicting a spiritual battle- UFC has nothing to do with having spiritual victory- As a matter of fact it is gloryifying the undesciplined flesh…Those are my thoughts and opinions and what I have learned after seeking the answer to this topic…

  • David Dunham

    cHRISTIAN, thanks for your comments. I think much of what you’ve said is true. I wonder, however, what leads you to believe that UFC is “glorifying the undisciplined flesh”? Furthermore, I wonder if you would make a distinction between ultimate fighting and other sports, or are they all equally as “evil”? Just some friendly pushback to encourage further thinking.



    Hello and thanks for the reply. I believe that UFC glorifies the undisciplined flesh by provoking the nature that is opposite to God to surface and when this happens, people go wild and cheer this very nature on!

    If we were able to see in the spirit realm during one of these matches and big events I wonder if we would see GOD’S ANGELS GLORIFYING GOD for what goes on at a UFC event or would we see DEMONS FEASING? This very idea is what elightened me. Although we are in this world, we aren’t of it and we aren’t supposed to be looking at it thru the lens of the world but through the lens of the spirit because we are called to walk according to the Spirit.

    Let me start by saying that I was a supporter of UFC before- But God started to do a work in my heart. I dealt with rage/anger/lust and this very sport provoked those very things to surface within me when watching it. I would also add that I have this perception of any sport that provokes these negative qualities to be displayed, not just UFC. I believe that just like anything that people are passionate about, it will always be hard to find the wrong in it or it will always be hard to admit the wrong it it. These fighters confess the anger/violence/rage in their heart even during the pre fight interviews and then its spiled over in the actual fights. Their very nature is full of wrath and rage! Easily provoked and quick to act on their anger.To me, watching these guys act on these emotions is just like me giving in to watching a porn. I wouldn’t be fornicating but i’ll be watching others do it. and this doesn’t build up my spirit man. I have heard people say “but there are Christian fighters in UFC~ To me, that matters not! These fighters are not walking the specific calling God has called me to walk.<——speaking of this- the love of God causes us to want to build our brother up and not tear them down like this sport does. The word of God states that a hot tempered man commits many sins. It also urges us not to sin in our anger/not to give into fits of rage and also tells us to get rid of brawling…Whether we all want to admit it or not, this is what goes on in these fights-

    I will also state again like I did in my previous post that in the bible it states that God's people were involved in wars, battles ect and I'm sure they were full of passion/anger/rage ect- But lets remember the whole objective of these battles which was to gain spiritual victory over the enemy.

    I know I may have stepped on some toes here because trust me, I COMPLETELY understand the passion for the sport- But Remember:this is my perception and personal convictions of the sport-I dealt with issues in my life growing up that caused me to deal with certain things like Anger/Rage/Lust- So I have decided that I'll flee from things that provoke these characteristics in me.(Even though at times I don't really want to) God has called me to do a work in His kingdom and I am willing to live at a standard that pleases HIM more than me and my likes/desires.I know that not everyone is willing to see things this way but I also believe it has alot to do with what level of sacrifice/obedience/holiness you are willing to walk with to please God. Of course it may be impossible to please God 100% but honestly as His children, our calling is to try to do this! God bless you all and if you truely want God to speak to you make sure that the only idol in your life is God and not that very things you need clarification for because you may just end up hearing your voice talk and convince you rather than Gods.

    These are the scriptures that have spoken to me reguarding this topic:

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, BRAWLING and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:29-32).

    Let your gentleness be evident to all (Philippians 4:5).

    But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips (Colossians 3:8).

    My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:19-20).

    It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3

    A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control (Proverbs 29:11).



    I would also like to add that there isn’t anything sick and twisted in you because you like the sport…I also believe that we would be much more successful in life if we used this tenacity/violence/ passion agains spiritual wickedness. I believe that this is the purpose of that particular drive in us.

  • VincentJohn

    Its totally barbaric and EVIL. The referee allows far too long for the person underneath to be elbowed and hit in the head. People will die and the crowds will cheer. When this becomes boring they will allow weapons as well……the Roman Empire is now here or approaching. Prepare for the end of the world…..” I will come as a thief in the night ” Christ. And when HE comes will he catch us watching people get their brains bashed in ? When WW3 breaks out all that enjoyed seeing the barbarism will be despatched to war if not jail. As a Christian I watched it twice and am sickened by what this sport is about.

  • Charlotte

    I agree it has no value and already contributes to our not only violent but self entitled spolied youth! There’s no value in glamorizing anything violent,seriously this is barbaric! There will always be this sort of thing,kind of like the mindtaffy garbage on t.v that youth and young girls look up to like “:Bad girls club” and all that other trash! This kind of violence and mental insanity on t.v should NOT be validated!

  • Charlotte

    I would hardly call this a sport and I see others making light of this and defending it as a sign of the damage done already and having become decensitized to this kind of violence…it’ pretty scarey to hear people say this kind of smashing eachothers heads in isn’t a big deal. I just hope we have an awakening one day to this. Having lived awhile I have seen the world become increasingly violent!

  • Soultronics

    Excellent article, David!

    I consider myself to be an intelligent, caring, sensitive and peaceful man. I have never been in a fight in my life, and was opposed to mixed martial arts for most of my life. I have since become a die-hard fan, and thought I’d point out a few things about this much-maligned sport to those who don’t understand it.

    Spirituality is absolutely integral to most martial arts. I am unaware of martial arts with an explicitly Christian view, but nearly all place enormous emphasis on respect, passivity and honor. I would say that these values all fall in line with a Christian point of view.

    I believe that MMA continues to get a bad rap for two specific reasons:

    1. The early UFC events were marketed as horribly violent no-rules events, and was designed to appeal to pure blood-lust. This type of event was accurately compared to cock fighting, and really dug a deep hole that new, legitimate mixed martial arts promotions are stil trying to crawl out of.

    2. To this day, the most effective way to market these events is to emphasize the most violent aspects.

    I don’t fault anyone for not being comfortable watching fighting. We’re hard wired to have emotional reactions to fighting, as the world has unquestionably shaped by violence in the form of phenomena like wars and genocide. For me, the most enriching aspects of MMA involve the personalities of the fighters, their commitment to their sport, and the complex technical aspects of their game, rather than the prospect of getting to see a knockout.

    I find great value in watching mixed martial arts. Watch it long enough and you can’t help but come to the conclusion that hard work and dedication overcome ferocity. Technique and strategy overcome brute strength. To appreciate these aspects of the sport, you have to look beyond the obviously violent nature of the competition.

    For me, the most surprising aspect of mixed martial arts was the passion possesed by the fighters. I expected the combatants to be vile, shallow vicious people, but instead found real athletes. Athletes without malice in their hearts. Athletes with tremendous respect and compassion for each other. Athletes who train every day to improve their technique. Guys like Georges St. Pierre, a humble, respectful, and classy guy.

    The spirit of mixed martial arts is not anger. Its a spirit of competition, and a desire to test ones skills and abilities against a similarly skilled opponent. You’ll see this spirit in the way the fighters embrace when the fight is over and speak highly of their opponent.

    Speaking on the topic of safety, MMA has been declared to be safer than boxing repeatedly, even by medical journals. This isn’t to say that there’s no risk, but the most serious health risks in any sport is repeated concussion. Boxing matches are far more dangerous because boxers are allowed to continue fighting even after suffering concussions during fights, as long as they beat the referee’s count. In MMA the fight is over at the first instance.

  • Jack Dempsey

    Great article…and keep in mind, that when you support football, you are basically saying that padding and a helmet negates violent action. “Let me grab and throw a ball, run around and try to smash the carrier of the ball as violently as possible before they get to the goal line.” That’s what football IS folks. The UFC events aren’t masked behind a “ball” or a “game.” No one has ever been crippled or died in the UFC, in it’s 18 years of existence…can you say that for the NFL or College Football? Do some reasearch. — I guess it’s safe to say that anyone posting a statement (above) against the UFC as a Christian, doesn’t watch football or let their kids participate in football, right? If all violence is evil, then I suppose you shouldn’t tune for the Super Bowl this year…because that’s exactly what you’re going to see.

  • Jack,

    It isn’t the violence that is evil, it is the intent. In UFC, you cannot get away from the intent of brutalizing your opponent. You can in football. I can play football with a brother, even tackle football, without the intention causing him injury. That is not the goal of the sport. In the UFC, the punching and kicking are designed to cause damage to your opponent. There is no getting around that.

    Does that mean that people do not play football with the intent of hurting someone? Surely they do. But you do not have to play with that intent, and that is a major difference. It isn’t the violence, the competition, or frequency of injury that matters. It is the intent.

  • Jack Dempsey

    Well Brad, I train in MMA and I assure you that I’m not an evil person. I’m a Christian, just like you. You think UFC or MMA fighters have “evil” intent, because we AGREE to fight each other? This is not a one sided “he beat me up from behind when I wasn’t looking!” We agree to compete against each other. EVIL is beating someone up that isnt a willing participant. Picking on someone and taking a one sided violent action is EVIL. Every sparring session I’ve ever had ended in a hug…FYI. We respect each other regardless of who gets the better of the other on any given day…tell me how that is evil intent?

  • Soultronics

    Hi Brad:

    First let me say how nice it is reading civil language online! Article comments sometimes attract the lowest forms of humanity.

    I understand your point, but I have to disagree that the inescapable goal of MMA is to brutalize. Many skilled grapplers and submission fighters have won fights without throwing a single strike. Instead, they win with non-injurious (albeit painful) submission holds. Additionally, most fighters understand and respect the value of tapping out to avoid injury.

  • Shantell

    Is this a poll?

    Barbaric, and my husband agrees even though he is a very strong guy.

    Maybe when Mr. David R. Dunham sees a man die up there, in vain, he’ll have another opinion on the subject and stop trying to justify his disgusting actions.

    Also, David R. Dunham, do you really think these men are Godly? “but there are occasions where fighting should be expected of godly men” There is a time to fight, but in a ring for money, I don’t believe is that time.

    Jesus came to earth to CHANGE things. Promote peace and love of humanity. He didn’t say anything about how we should find joy in watching men knock each other out.

    You, Mr. David R. Dunham, are a hypocrite, and it’s people like you that keep me away from Christianity.