(“See, when boxers get knocked out, their eyes *close*. I rest my case.”)
By George Shunick
If you’re anything like me, chances are you’ve claimed that MMA is safer than boxing whenever some know-it-all claims that MMA is too dangerous to be legalized. (Well, I live in New York, so maybe I get into this argument more than most people.) But the case seems fairly logical; unlike boxers, a significant part of MMA training does not involve striking. Moreover, the type of striking found in MMA targets the full body of the opponent. Boxing only allows punches above the waist and takes place at a closer range, invariably guaranteeing more blows to the head. So it follows that since boxers are struck more in the head throughout months of training and in their fights than MMA fighters are, MMA is a safer sport for the brains of athletes.
Well, common sense and logic help a lot, but ultimately aren’t quite as authoritative as those pesky things called facts. Recently, Sherdog.com conducted an interview with Dr. Charles Bernick, who is in charge of a study of the brain health of professional fighters titled the “Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.” (Creative, isn’t it?) The study is conducted by the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas and is designed to last for four years. Its purpose is “to detect subtle changes in brain health that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning. If changes can be detected and interpreted early, there may be a way to reverse or soften trauma-induced brain diseases, like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. The study could also point regulators to specific markers in fighters’ brain scans that indicate a problem.”
When pressed if there is a discernible difference between the brain health of boxers and MMA fighters, Dr. Bernick responds: