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According to Cambridge Dictionary, "include" means

to contain something as a part of something else, or to make something part of something else

while "contain" means

to have something inside or include something as a part

According to an ELL post

The distinction between 'includes' and 'contains' is a bit more subtle. 'Contains' is used when there is something else that is doing the containing. The box is a container, and contains the hats. You would not, generally, say that the box includes the hats. Inside the box is a set of objects, and that set (which 'contents' refers to) includes (and consists of) the hats.

From Wikipedia

Common combat sports include mixed martial arts, boxing ...

Is it still natural if I substitute "contain" for "include"?

Common combat sports contain mixed martial arts, boxing ...

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“Includes” actually works much better. “Contains” almost makes it seem as if they are saying combat sports are a mixture of the different specific disciplines it mentions. “Includes” is more clearly showing that “combat sports” is a category and that boxing, wrestling, kick boxing, etc. are examples of sports in that category.

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  • Contains is definitely not appropriate, for the reason given in the quoted paragraph. The sports listed are not inside anything. – Kate Bunting Aug 2 at 7:26

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