Existing despite institutional opposition: Observing mixed martial arts in its associative dimension.

By Thibault Delfavero, Williams Nuytens, Nicolas Penin

The switch from free fight to mixed martial arts (MMA) resulted in the sport becoming institutionalized in the 2000s through the implementation of a regulatory framework. In France, there is no federation that organizes the sport, which is developing as an amateur practice without being studied in-depth. How are the practices structured and organized within these associations? Who is involved in MMA and what exactly do they do? This article attempts to provide some answers, using a survey that adopts an ethnographic approach, conducted at two French MMA clubs affiliated with associations outside of France. This contribution is not just based on the specificity of the sport. It focuses primarily on putting into perspective the ethnographic data in order to discuss sportization and de-sportization. Situated between conformism to the traditional sporting model and a claim of exceptionality, between a sport built upon the staging of a “violent” confrontation in which fighting is reduced to a congruent portion, and between a discipline whose origins preached the absence of rules but which has now become a tightly controlled practice, the MMA observed here appears to be a “sportized” practice.

  • mixed martial arts
  • sport association
  • ethnography
  • sportization/de-sportization.
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