Opinion: MMA and Brain Injuries
Once again, brain injuries have been brought to the forefront of the MMA news cycle. Researchers hailing from the University of Toronto recently completed, and subsequently released, a study that investigated MMA and its connection, or rather, the prevalence of brain injuries in its competitors. This is yet another development that highlights what may very well be one of, if not the most important issue in MMA.
The researchers’ study, which was published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, found that the increased incidence of knockouts and technical knockouts in MMA indicates that its competitors as a whole, suffer an increased frequency of brain injuries. In an excerpt published by ESPN, the researchers stated,
“Given that participation at amateur levels of the sport is growing rapidly, we expect to see high rates of traumatic brain injuries at more junior levels of amateur competition. These points strongly argue for banning the sport in youth and for preventive strategies to reduce the burden of traumatic brain injuries in professional MMA fighters who elect to fight.”
“I think everybody would agree the objective is to be very sensitive and do everything possible with preventing trauma to the head. I don’t think in any way that should prevent the sport.”
The researchers were particularly concerned about successive blows following a knockdown, something obviously not seen in other combat sports like boxing. Now this borders on the age-old debate of whether the accumulation of blows from say boxing are any worse than those witnessed in MMA. As stated in other pieces regarding this critical issue, I’m not a physician, nor am I a medical researcher. Therefore, I’ll take this discussion in a different direction, and let the UFC/Cleveland Clinic’s forthcoming brain injury study ostensibly argue the claims made by the University of Toronto-based study.
The question is, what can we do about brain injuries, how can we prevent them? Will banning youth and amateur MMA solve the problem, I’m not inclined to think so. I see no moves to ban youth football, hockey, boxing, kickboxing, even karate, all sports with a high propensity to cause brain injuries. So why then make such an example out of MMA? The researchers applaud the value of boxing’s 10-count regarding the prevention of brain injuries. I’m not entirely persuaded on that issue either, on its face it strikes me as an unnatural way of prolonging the punishment a competitor’s brain takes during a given fight.
This is certainly a difficult issue to address. How do we limit the risks of brain injury to fighters in a sport that carries with it the risks inherent in all combat sports?