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Today in Head Trauma: Gray Maynard Signs 8-Fight Extension, Jens Pulver Unretires AGAIN + More

(Woah, hold on a second, Nate. We both see those tiny Christina Aguilera monsters scurrying around on the canvas, right? Photo via Getty.) 

Thanks in part to Joe Rogan’s heartfelt and brutally honest call for UFC heavyweight and close friend Brendan Schaub to retire, head trauma has once again been thrust into the limelight of the MMA blogosphere (along with, you know, that multimillion dollar lawsuit thingy). And honestly, it’s a difficult discussion to have when the people calling for so-and-so’s retirement are the very same who have a good chuckle every time some dude gets felled like a oak tree. If we tune in each weekend with the expectation (and dare I say it, hope) of seeing a fighter get his lights turned off, then who are we to tell them when *we’ve* grown tired of seeing it happen?

Look no further than the case of Gray Maynard, for instance. Just a few years ago, Maynard was considered to be one of the toughest fighters in the lightweight division — a man who was just barely edged by Frankie Edgar after inflicting some trauma of his own on the former champ. In the time since, “The Bully” has dropped four out of his past five contests, with every last one of those losses coming via an increasingly difficult to watch form of TKO.

The cries for Maynard to simply give up on his dream and retire have grown louder with each skull-shattering loss, but the TUF 5 alum has refused to hear them. In a move that is sure to draw the same cringeworthy reaction from those critics, Maynard recently signed an eight fight extension with the UFC that will most certainly account for a couple more black spots on his brain in the not-so-distant future.

But according to the former #1 contender, he’s had all the necessary MRI’s and stuff, so we should all just stop worrying! As he told Bloody Elbow:

I wanted to take a little time off. My last three fights were all TKOs, so I took time off after each bout, just in case. There’s been lots of talk about traumatic head injuries, so I wanted time to heal up. Every time I would talk to Dana, he would have me go get checked out, head to toe with MRIs and all kinds of stuff. I realize that this career won’t last forever. I have a daughter now, too. I have to take care of myself.

Those last two statements, you guys. I just can’t.

Speaking of head trauma, there aren’t many fighters who have suffered more of it in the past 4 years than Jens Pulver, who has retired and unretired no less than 16 times in that span. With his career record ever-nearing the .500 mark, Pulver most recently came out of his retirement over the weekend, announcing that he would be facing the currently unbeaten Fransino Tirta at ONE FC 26 in February. It is a questionable move for the 40-year-old, to put it lightly, but one that fits into the former UFC champion’s “take no prisoners” lifestyle.

While being a smart enough guy to both acknowledge and address our concerns for his health, Pulver told MMAJunkie that, “Life isn’t guaranteed, but you ride that son of a bi-ch until the wheels fall off.”

“That’s the way I look at it,” Pulver continued, “Now, let me find out that I have dementia and then come back and talk to me. Let’s see if I say the same thing then.”

There’s really not much you can say about a man who simply refuses to heed the words of his naysayers, so let’s just hope that it doesn’t take a horrific mental disease in order to finally get Pulver to do so. It seems to be headed that way, though.

Also mentioned in Old Dad’s riveting/depressing latest read was Pat Barry, the former UFC fighter and current kickboxer who has been viciously knocked out in his past 3 performances across both platforms. His most recent bout against Zack Mwekassa at Glory 16 was a particularly tough loss to watch, and was followed by the usual cries for him to retire. Chief among them was Barry’s former training partner Brock Lesnar, who had been calling for Barry to hang up his gloves dating back to his final fights in the UFC.

But “HD” simply isn’t hearing it.

“People tell you, ‘Come on man, you’ve got to stop,’” said Barry to MMAJunkie. “But what do you care? Don’t you want to see people get bludgeoned out there? Don’t you want to see people get high-kicked unconscious? Isn’t that what you’re watching these highlights and stuff for? And yeah, they do want to see that. So why do you suddenly care about me now?”

It takes me back to my opening point, and one we have discussed countless times before. As fans of combat sports, we are inherently drawn to the spectacle of seeing someone get dropped with a head kick, or submitted with a leg lock (unless the person doing the submitting is Rousimar Palhares), etc. It’s why we tune in week after week — to see the most dangerous athletes in the world battle in the ultimate test of technique, heart, or some combination of the two — and simultaneously why we so passionately object when we feel a fighter is being misappropriated, often by their own doing.

But to quote Saccaro, “In an age when athletes are shooting themselves in the chest to preserve their battered brains for study, we have to ask ourselves what combat sports (and even contact sports in general) are worth.”

-J. Jones

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