(The Mir-Overeem preview segment from ‘Countdown to UFC 169′. Props: YouTube.com/UFC)
This weekend’s UFC 169 card looks to be an entertaining night for MMA fans, featuring Renan Barao defending his now-official bantamweight championship against Urijah Faber, and a chance to (possibly) see Jose Aldo get a decent stand-up test against Ricardo Lamas. It is the next match up — Frank Mir vs Alistair Overeem — that makes me cringe.
Why do I cringe? Because I fear what the future holds for both of these men. Mir is coming off of three losses, including two by violent TKOs. Overeem is in a similar boat, having been put to sleep in his last two fights. When you look further back, even more red flags can be found. Out of the eight losses that appear on Frank Mir’s MMA record, seven have been by some form of knockout. It gets even worse for Alistair, who has lost by KO or TKO 11 times between his MMA and kickboxing careers.
Based on what we now know about head trauma in MMA, it’s safe to assume that both fighters have suffered at least some level of brain injury, which means they could be in for an incredibly wide array of consequences. Depending on the area of trauma and severity, either fighter could suffer cognitive, physiological, emotional, psychological, and behavioral changes. Basic physical functions like hand-eye coordination can also be affected, making those devastating strikes even harder to avoid. And the damage does not end there.
Traumatic Brain Injuries have also been linked to a disruption in the ability to create normal levels of hormones like testosterone, and growth hormone. In some cases TBI patients are treated with hormone replacement therapy, and experience positive results. Perhaps this is a factor in both Mir and Overeem having a therapeutic exemption for TRT.
If this were the reason for Mir and Overeem’s hormonal issues — which hasn’t been verified, but is certainly possible — should either of these men be fighting, let alone each other? I am not a professional fighter nor a doctor, but it doesn’t take an expert to understand that if your brain is unable to produce the proper amount of chemicals for you to function normally, due to past damage, you should not be taking part in the same activity that caused the trauma in the first place.
So when do you draw the line, and how many knockout losses is too many? There’s no definite answer, and since every athlete is different, any hard-and-fast rule would seem arbitrary. Should athletic commissions give closer attention and testing to a combatant who has been knocked out five times? If knockouts persist, perhaps a long-term suspension should be handed out. It can’t be safe to keep competing as a fighter after you’ve had your lights turned off ten times — and yet Alistair Overeem is appearing on a UFC pay-per-view this weekend carrying that alarming history.
Certainly someone like Overeem, who suffered his second knockout loss in six months when he was KO’d by Travis Browne in August, would benefit from a long-term suspension. Frank Mir, whose brain had just over a year of rest between his TKO losses to Josh Barnett and Junior Dos Santos, seems to be cutting it close as well.
Brain injuries are not fully understood, but we know that they do not heal like a broken bone, or a torn muscle. Such injuries can take several months or years to heal, in some cases they never do, and in the case of some 50,000 people, they result in death. I just don’t want to see either of these men end up like Muhammad Ali, Freddie Roach, countless NFL players, or Chris Benoit.
In the end, two men who have been knocked out a combined 18 times will attempt to devastatingly punch, kick, knee and elbow each other in the head until the other can no longer take it — two men so unhealthy that they need TRT to function. Will I watch? Sure, with the hope that athletic commissions will begin looking more closely at the effects of brain trauma, and that neurological science continues to reveal how much head trauma is too much.