Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a rapidly growing combat sport with unique development procedures unlike most traditional sports. In this study the development processes at an exemplar MMA gym were examined. Institutional work theory was used to understand how and why the sport is being developed in this setting. The results provide a microlevel account of the processes and operation of the sport as it develops, and indicate that traditional sport development models may not adequately represent all sports. Subcultural values reflecting what it takes to be a fighter along with a fighter’s duty to the gym influence recruitment, retention, and transition strategies of athletes. Two forms of institutional work, refinement and barrier work, were identified as simultaneously aiding and hindering the development of the sport. Along with furthering institutional theory research, this study contributes to the discourse on alternative ways of sport development for MMA and emergent sports.
Woolf is with the Department of Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education and Sport Management, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY. Berg is with the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN. Newland is with the Department of Hospitality Business Management, University of Delaware, Newark, DE. Green is with the Department of Recreation, Sport & Tourism, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL.