(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.