It appears “pee wee” MMA has arrived.
Raising America, a television show airing on the HLN network, aims at reporting news stories for parents. The show featured a segment last Monday reporting on children participating in MMA. The show's host, Kyra Phillips, interviewed Bernadette Thome and her 8-year-old son Aidan Thome about why she allows him to train and compete in the sport.
Aidan is currently getting ready for his biggest fight yet. On February 23 he will step into a cage in Yucaipa, California with the goal of becoming the number one MMA fighter in the country for his age and weight class. Aidan is currently ranked number one for his bracket in California.
Thome said most of Aidan's free time is spent training. They live just 15 minutes from the gym he attends and he goes there almost every day after school. Though MMA is a major time commitment for the young boy, his parents have nothing but support for his passion.
“MMA is an activity he really enjoys,” Thome told reporter Allison Gilbert. “Aidan’s been doing it since he was 6 years old. He does shows and tournaments now, and he wins a lot. His dad and I support it.”
For Aidan, there is no confusion about what transpires in the cage. He knows he is in their to hurt his opponent.
“Once my opponent cried because I hit him so hard,” Aidan said. “It’s all part of the game."
With interest in MMA increasing, so have concerns for the safety of fighters. Dr. Frederick Mueller, director of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, believes fighters are at risk of damage to the neck, spine, even paralysis and should be banned at all age levels.
“I cannot understand how people call this a sport," he stated. "It’s like the Greeks and Romans with gladiators fighting the lions.”
The organization in which Aidan fights, The United States Fight League, began eleven years ago with a small number of competitors. Today, it is the largest youth MMA organization in the U.S., holding over a dozen events a year. The rules at USFL events are slightly increased from traditional MMA competition in that fighters under the age of 16 are prohibited from hitting their opponents in the head.
USFL President Jon Frank believes he understands the risks more than anyone. The organization keeps medical records of every tournament.
“The most common injuries are twisted ankles and hyper-extended elbows,” Frank said. "Only two or three times have kids gone to the hospital and those cases were precautionary to rule out neck injuries. The worst-case scenario would be that a kid lands on his head and gets a concussion.”
According to Dr. Rebecca Carl, a specialist in pediatric sports medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, the way a head injury happens is not always the way parents expect.
“Kids don’t need to be hit in the head to get a concussion," Carl explained. "The force of being thrown to the ground is enough to injure the brain. We see this a lot in hockey. If a kid gets checked too hard, his head can shoot back really fast and that whiplash motion can cause significant damage. Youth MMA is very worrisome.”
To Frank, the character building rewards the children receive from MMA far outweigh the risks.
“MMA teaches kids self-control. Our athletes know they can cause real harm to their opponents, and we teach them to hold back. We provide great lessons in empathy.”
Should children be allowed to compete in MMA? Does martial arts aid or hinder our nation’s youth? How young is too young to fight? Is this good or bad for the sport of MMA? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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