Media Watch: The Mortal Dangers of MMA
Over the course of my tenure here at Full Contact Fighter, I’ve written numerous times on the dangers inherent in MMA. I’ve chattered, perhaps incessantly, about brain injuries, inept officiating and judging, awful stoppages, and rule changes to enhance fighter safety.
While following my daily routine of perusing the MMA world’s headlines, I found an interesting piece published by Deadspin. The article is entitled “If MMA Doesn’t Change, Someone is Going to Die”. In two excerpts found in the piece, which do well to characterize the tone of the article in general, the author essentially chastises the MMA community for its wanton ignorance, dare I say willful ignorance. The author states,
“Some of this blissful ignorance is due to the relative youth of the sport. We haven’t had to face its true consequences, because we haven’t yet seen what time does to 70-year-old former fighters. In part, the problem is due to the fact that many fans, stuck in a defensive posture, simply refuse to acknowledge the health hazards inherent in full contact fighting. One of them happens to be Dana White, president of the UFC, who runs around shouting things like “It’s the safest sport in the world, fact.”
This isn’t true. Fighters die. A fighter is almost certainly going to die in Dana White’s UFC some day. No one’s ready for it.”
“…And so it’s a matter of time before we see not just a catastrophic injury or death in a high-profile MMA organization like the UFC or Bellator, but one that could have been prevented. In some ways, the worst of it won’t be the thing itself. It will be the knowledge that it didn’t have to happen.”
I get it, MMA is a dangerous sport and something bad is bound to happen. I agree, to an extent. MMA is a contact sport, a combat sport, so a person of sound and reasonable mind cannot possibly deny the dangers present in the sport. Life is a game of probabilities, so yes, something bad will happen in the UFC or Bellator, or some other premier MMA promotion despite the most stringent safety standards.
However, this sort of prediction is to a large degree useless. Sometimes awful things happen even when the greatest conceivable precautions are taken, that’s an unfortunate reality of life. So the real question is, are promotions doing enough to institute the best possible safety protocols? It’s clear that the sport is not where it needs to be overall, but one cannot deny that incredible strides in competitor safety have been made in the sport’s two decade organized history.
We’re seeing increased attention to the potential of brain injuries, in fact as mentioned in a previous piece, the UFC has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to conduct a study on brain injuries in MMA. We have increased sensitivity to fighters in defenseless positions, attempting to mitigate unnecessary blows to the head. We’re seeing a concerted effort to ban performance-enhancing drugs including Testosterone Replacement Therapy. We’ve seen a multi-continent adoption of a unified set of rules. Through rigorous pre-fight medical screening procedures, the UFC has identified life-threatening conditions in its athletes prior to them becoming medical emergencies.
With all of this in mind, it’s difficult for me to believe that the MMA community simply disregards fighter safety, that we don’t anticipate bad things happening. I’d argue that most fighters, fans, and journalists, are all in favor of enhanced fighter safety measures. I can’t remember a single person who thought the horrible stoppage in the Mir vs. Carwin fight was acceptable. There’s a reason referees like “Big” John McCarthy are almost universally loved and the less able crop of officials are often despised.
None of us like lopsided fights, we all hate late stoppages, and nobody wants to see injury befall a fighter. It’s all a matter of how do we maintain the integrity of a sport in the face of what realistically is an unattainable goal? How do we force a corner to throw in the towel, or how do we force a fighter to admit defeat when they’re being outclassed?
I’m not saying I have any of the answers to these questions. Yet, I think that at some point there’s only so much we as a community can do. There is a limit regarding safety level that we as a whole are capable of implementing. Personal accountability cannot be overlooked. The dangers are known, and the competitors choose to accept them. Despite the many safety features and practices in place for automobiles, I am fully aware that each time I get behind the wheel I’m running the risk of being injured or even killed, yet that’s a risk I accept. I suppose what I’m getting at is that a healthy portion of the safety responsibility is on the fighter as well, not just the promoter and the fan.