ByAmy Kaplan, writer at
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Amy Kaplan

This week, footage was aired in Chechnya of an MMA promotion hosting fights with kids aged 8, 9 and 10. In fact, even Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov was seen coaching his two sons cage side.

The event, the Grand Prix Akhmat 2016, was headlined by adult fighters and the children's contests were named as "exhibition fights."

The footage shows the youngsters fighting shirtless, without protective gear and in what appears to be four ounce gloves, and were even awarded belts.

According to official rules of the MMA Union (which were approved by Russian government), all athletes under the age of 21 must wear helmets and special ankle protection while participating in MMA, and children under 17 cannot perform shirtless. And according to Russian MMA star Fedor Emelianenko children under 12 are not even allowed to attend MMA events.

“What happened at the tournament in Grozny is unacceptable and, moreover, cannot be justified," Emelianenko wrote on his Facebook page. “I am outraged by the fact that the head of Chechnya was watching over it."

As a parent of a 10-year-old son, I tend to agree. Martial arts as a whole is for everyone, but an MMA fight, without protection is something else. My son takes jiu-jitsu and has accompanied me to MMA fights. I allow this because I understand the importance of the skills he will learn in his classes. I understand that his coaches are trained professionals who have his safety and best interest at heart, in no way is he ever in serious danger.

I also allow him to hit pads, heavy bags and practice takedowns and submissions. All of this is done with safety gear and in low doses.

Some safer alternatives to MMA are:

  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu
  • Wrestling
  • Karate
  • Tae kwon do
  • Judo

All of the sports above teach the same principles that adults seek from MMA, such as teamwork, respect, fitness and positive thinking. Often times, fighters say that the aggression they feel can easily be transferred to the right venue when competing in MMA, thus saving them from being disruptive in life. The same can be said for all of the disciplines above. There is no benefit to having a child cagefight when the same principles can be just as easily achieved in a low impact, non-aggressive martial art.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum had a differing opinion and said he supports children of all ages fighting in events like these.

I believe if a child is set on a career in MMA, they should not be doing heavy sparring until at least 16, and shouldn't enter any professional MMA competitions until 18 years old.

"By all means train at whatever age, but I don't think they should be doing full combat in a cage until 17 or 18 years old," said Jonathan Santa Maria, a professional MMA fighter, owner of the 10th Planet Youth Center and kids BJJ coach.

Santa Maria says that safety is his number one concern and that even as a pro fighter he rarely spars without the proper safety gear, something that the children were not wearing.

"What exactly are they learning by fighting at that age with no gear on?" he asked.

What's your opinion on this story?

lead image courtesy of YouTube


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