By Seth Falvo
MMA fighters are supposed to be tough. They’re supposed to Face the Pain, Never Back Down, Go Out on Their Shields, and embody every Gatorade commercial cliche you can think of. They’re supposed to believe that they’re indestructible, partly because they’ve been told their entire lives that they’re damn near invincible.
Which is all to say that most of us weren’t surprised when flyweight Junior Maranhao — despite falling off of his stool between the fourth and fifth rounds of his title fight at RFA 14 and needing his coaches to revive him — made the decision to answer the bell for round five. Professional fighters are rarely the best judges of their own mortality, making objective parties such as coaches, referees and cageside physicians all the more necessary to save a fighter from excessive damage; this makes it all the more disturbing when these parties are as reckless as they were at RFA 14, and when the Wyoming State Board of MMA refused to acknowledge that there even was anything wrong with the way that this match was handled (much to the shock of the Association of Boxing Commissions).
There have already been countless articles scorning the coaches, the referee and the cageside physicians who allowed Junior Maranhao to continue fighting. There have also been just as many articles scorning the Wyoming State Board of MMA for encouraging the exact things that athletic commissions are supposed to protect our sport from. But lost in our collective outrage is perhaps the biggest tragedy to come from this incident: that Junior Maranhao is still willfully ignorant to the fact that he was in any danger at all during RFA 14. In fact, Maranhao has gone as far as to defend the very people who failed him that night.
During the aftermath of the fight, Maranhao offered his version of the events to MMAFighting.com. He chalked the entire situation up to fans overreacting to him clumsily missing his stool when he attempted to sit down; never mind that the video clearly shows he was already sitting down when he collapsed. Maranhao then goes on to offer these quotes:
“I think that the doctors made the right call. I think I would have gone crazy if they had stopped the fight.”
“I saw that some people are trying to blame the commission, the promoters or even my coaches, so I’m really upset about it,” he continued. “I want to make clear that nothing happened. It’s a mistake (to blame them), and it can hurt us.”
Before we go any further, let me be clear that I wasn’t expecting Maranhao to call for anyone’s license to be revoked. But to outright refuse to acknowledge that anything dangerous took place that night?
With all due respect to Maranhao, of course he would have been upset by a stoppage. That’s the entire point of having a doctor at cageside: to protect the fighter from taking excessive damage just because the fighter wants to keep competing. The fighters are trained to play Superman when they’re hurt, the doctors are trained to know the dangers of Second Impact Syndrome. Maranhao may have dodged a bullet on Friday night, but the reframing necessary to say that the situation was handled correctly is incredibly unsettling.
As for the argument that his coaches don’t deserve ridicule? If Maranhao insists on believing that his coaches would never put him in harm’s way for their own personal gain, perhaps he should look up “That Part of Muhammad Ali’s Career We Never Talk About.” You know which one: the one when Ali suffered lopsided beat-downs at the hands of Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick — Holmes wound up beating Ali so badly that he actually cried after the fight for Ali – simply because his coaches knew they could still profit off of Ali’s legacy. For what it’s worth, Pat Healy also disagrees with Maranhao on this.
We can — and should — continue to talk about how the failures of leadership on display at RFA 14 could have gotten a fighter killed. But equally important is that the fighters involved at least acknowledge that situations like these are dangerous. We’re all in agreement that the system currently in place in Wyoming is broken, but we can’t actually fix it until the fighters the system is supposed to protect start advocating for themselves.