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Second MMA-Related Death Should Bolster the Case for Sanctioning, Not Hinder It

(Despite being held in a cage, MMA is safer than high school football)

With today’s news that 30-year-old fighter Michael Kirkham died as a result of injuries sustained in a sanctioned MMA bout Saturday night in South Carolina, many fans and pundits are worried that the implications will mean U.S. states like New York and Canadian provinces like Ontario could refuse to sanction the sport as a result of the latest tragedy.

Although Kirkham’s death, which came as a result of a brain hemorrhage — the same fatal injury that took the life of the only other fighter on record to have died from fight-related injuries, Houston’s Sam Vasquez in 2007, it is still unclear whether or not if he brought any pre-existing neurological disorders or injuries into the cage with him on Saturday night.

A proper pre-fight medical, like the ones most athletic commissions require, that include regular CT scans, blood work and MRIs could have caught any abnormalities like the one doctors discovered in Thiago Alves prior to his UFC 111 fight with Jon Fitch.

Since the commission in South Carolina  only requires competitors to undergo a physical,  an opthalmological exam and provide a copy of up-to-date blood tests which must prove a combatant is negative for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, even if Kirkham has an aneurysm or lesion on his brain, he likely would have been cleared to fight anyway since the affliction would be undetectable by those means.

So then, how can this terrible tragedy help bolster the case for sanctioning?

There are two ways:

1. Both UFC president Dana White and vice president of regulatory affairs, Marc Ratner have stated on several occasions, that besides having a universal set of rules used worldwide to govern the sport of MMA, their goal has always been to help implement across-the-board pre-fight medical testing requirements like the ones enforced by governing bodies like the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) and the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board. Better requisite testing procedures would greatly lessen the chances of a fighter with a pre-existing condition slipping through the cracks.

2. By not sanctioning the sport, the respective jurisdictions that are against regulation would effectively wash its hands of responsibility, pushing the sport in those states and provinces to the underground or native reservations where an incident like Kirkham’s will undoubtedly rear its ugly head again.

From all accounts, the fight was no more brutal than any other bout and those in attendance who have spoken about the fight have stated that the referee who stopped the bout did so in a timely matter. So the fault, if it is proven by a coroner’s autopsy tomorrow that Kirkham’s demise could have been prevented, SC likely will pull out of the MMA sanctioning game after less than a year in the business.

As Kevin Iole from Yahoo! Sports pointed out in a piece he wrote on the NY sanctioning issue that goes to another vote today in the state’s assembly, high school football and professional boxing each log more deaths per year than MMA from its inception, yet no one is decrying either of those sports, or calling for their ban. And rightly so.

Cagepotato Comments

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tommy5060- July 22, 2012 at 1:11 am
ReX13- June 29, 2010 at 10:30 am
Coma>> Gotcha. I was at ECU for about five minutes back in the mid nineties. Always good to hear from folks back at the homeplace.
ComaPlata- June 29, 2010 at 4:34 am

mthomas- June 29, 2010 at 12:00 am
Nope, I saw this on BE and it was really 6'9" and 155 lbs. The dude was a LIGHTWEIGHT, not a LIGHTHEAVYWEIGHT. Does that sound healthy to anyone else??
fatbellyfrank- June 28, 2010 at 10:25 pm
Yeah, it just like she seemed to be getting a beating way past what was required to finish the fight, In the first round I was like yo Cuddles go girl, get in there, but second round was like, fuck, someone stop this, what was her corner doing allowing her to get the piss beat out of her like that?
On a side note, I'd say Jan Finney would give Yager the father of all hidings just based on heart and competitive spirit
ccman- June 28, 2010 at 10:06 pm
Exactly frank, when has a ref ever asked a dominating fighter where they want the fight? Not saying finney wins on the ground, saying she took WAY more damage standing. Yet kept getting quickly pulled there.

Really was a bad fight top to bottom.

Should never have been made.
Threat from management prior to start.
Ref giving to one fighters obvious advantage.
Ref allowing to go way past point of decided.
Announcers who were biased even called for stoppage.
Point taken with no warning, though allowed 9 hits before said a word.

Seriously. First time I worried for a fighters health ever. Not because of cyborgs "mystique" but because it felt orchastrated and everyone knew but the woman fighting for her career. Seriously felt like a movie scene minus the miraculous comeback. Gina would have had a second round if given half this consideration, she took 1\3 the damage and was defending.
fatbellyfrank- June 28, 2010 at 8:11 pm
@ CCman, yeah, I thought that was a bit funny, she just kept asking Cyborg if she wanted her up, looked like the last thing Finney wanted (or needed) was to keep getting stood up.
ccman- June 28, 2010 at 8:01 pm
I am rewatching the cyborg fight now and counted 6x this should have been stopped. Nevermind how often the ref quickly put finnley back into cyborgs strengths quickly. I think fedor thru his but I seriously think ref had some serious instructions to make this masacre. Sf is struggling and weird shit is starting to happen in this organization.
Keyser Soze- June 28, 2010 at 6:41 pm
6'9" and 150 lbs??? That is so ridiculous it's almost unbelievable. Even if it's a typo and the author meant LHW, that's still only 205 lbs for someone nearing 7 feet tall.

The horrible part about this incident is that noboby intervened. The promoters, coaches, cornermen, ringside doctor, family, friends, and the fighter himself... no one saw the danger this fighter put himself in?

Even Stefan Struve looks too skinny and gangly at times, and he's a HW.

This really is a tragedy, and the only consequences that will arise out of this are the loss and pain that the Kirkham's will live with.
Juice- June 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm
In regards to the High School football v. MMA reference, there are over 30,000 football games played per week during the fall. While I am a huge proponent for sanctioning MMA in every state, I think it's unfair to compare the two. I mean, if we're lining up statistics what's more dangerous: stepping into a cage or sitting down behind a steering wheel?

bierergoggles- June 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm
Seriously... I like to make jokes as much as the next guy... but someone died. I do not think humor is really appropriate in this regard.
nickyroose- June 28, 2010 at 5:43 pm
I honestly was watching the Finney fight and said aloud, "This ref is gonna have consequences." Not that it was any serious injuries or anything but what the fuck. The fetal position is not intelligently defending oneself. Additionally no fighter is ever going to quit no matter how small the chance of victory. No promotion will back a "quitter". I really blame her corner. Why the fuck didn't they throw in the goddamn towel. If that was two men I'd say the same. I've seen that female ref before not hopping in when it was close but that was egregious. I like women's MMa and don't have a disgust factor seeing a woman get pounded in the face but there was no intelligent defense and it should have been called. If Roy can tap his own gut and then Kimbos head and it gets called that was certainly more punishment from Santos. That will do more against MMa then this death. The death only invites comparisons for others sports in which it fares quite well.

*I don't know why recently I have become a windbag.
ccman- June 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm
Actually there would have been senators in need of female votes faking being horrified pretending to respond to those horrified casual fans.

But close enough.
fatbellyfrank- June 28, 2010 at 5:28 pm
CCman, your absolutely 100% right on that one, I would imagine there would have been casual fans watching the Cyborg/Finney fight who would have been horrified with the beating Jan Finney took.
fatbellyfrank- June 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm
RIP Michael, no simple answer to this one, the sport needs across the board standards as per DW's points, however, unfortunately I beleive there will always be Cowboy promoters out to make the most they can and relegating fighters health and safety to a non -issue.
Whilst it would be a sad day for the sport if the smaller regional shows can no longer operate, there needs to be an across the board set of standards that must be adhered to before a fighter steps in the cage.
ccman- June 28, 2010 at 5:23 pm
We are lucky this was not finney v. Cyborg this weekend.

Overmatched, higher weightclass, promotion saying prior to make a show or look for work.

Chick dies this sport get legislated out FAST
Viva Hate- June 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm
This is a sad story for two reasons. First, it is always sad to hear someone lost their life when it easily could have been prevented. Two, people are going to use this dudes death against the sport he most likely loved when they could use it to actually help make the sport safer.

El Guapo- June 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm
Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight... My point was if these smaller shows don't even have their shit together(case in point, the promoters for Mayorga-Din Thomas)how can they ensure their fighters are medically sound?? I mean, it's great that you're aware of these exemptions, but that doesn't mean Joe Blow the promoter knows about them when all he's thinking about is cash money.
Jim Harbaugh Scramble- June 28, 2010 at 5:04 pm
Thiago Alves prior to his UFC 11 fight with Jon Fitch.

I didn't realize that fight was that long ago.

Didn't UFC 11 have Coleman winning the Tournament by forfeit?
EvilScott- June 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm
RIP. Article said he was 6'9" and 150 lbs - should raise some initial warning signals about health.

In Texas, I can personally vouch that our medical testing is absolutely non-existent. Eye exams and a blood test for HIV and Hep? You're good to go. They recently added an EKG requirement for fighters over 35 but it was pretty much added just for show.
MMAINMYBLOOD- June 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm
@Mike Russell Oh I know it was unsanctioned ...But lets not forget him he died while the sport was still relatively underground here in the US... sad part is If I remember correctly he didnt even get paid.. or in his case his family didnt get paid for his bout. Sanctioned or not its still a death of an american fighter in a sport that really needs to be, Imo.
TheMadness- June 28, 2010 at 4:50 pm
Woo, chalk one up for my glorious state. Stay classy SC.
Mike Russell- June 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm
 In Canada those tests are free and in the U.S. fighters can claim them as an independent contractor work expense.
El Guapo- June 28, 2010 at 4:47 pm
For every UFC event there's probably a hundred regional shows across the States and Canada. Hell, they even have mma shows in Meheeko nowadays. I wouldn't be suprised if less than a third of those events require brain scans. They can barely make ends meet, so how can they afford to pay for those thorough tests?

Lay in Peace, Michael
Mike Russell- June 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm
 Dedge died from injuries incurred in an unsanctioned NHB bout.