Amateur Fighter Dustin Jenson Dies Following Unregulated MMA Event in South Dakota

Dustin Jenson

(Dustin Jenson, shown with his daughter Amora and wife Rebecca. Photo courtesy of his family’s GoFundMe page.)

A 26-year-old amateur MMA fighter named Dustin Jenson died last Thursday, after suffering a seizure following a triangle-choke loss to Hayden Hensrud at a Ring Wars event, May 18th in Rapid City, South Dakota. Jenson was participating in his fifth fight, and had begun competing in the sport less than a year ago. Funeral services were scheduled today at First Wesleyan Church in Sturgis. Rapid City Journal has more details:

Dustin Jenson, 26, was participating in full-contact fights at a RingWars event May 18 when he tapped out — a signal to end the fight. According to his mother-in-law, Violet Schieman, Jensen then watched the next two fights before going to the locker room area, where he suffered a seizure.

“He laid down to do his stretches, and another fighter heard a moan,” Schieman said. “He went over and saw Dustin having a seizure. They called an EMT, which took him to Rapid City Regional Hospital.”

Schieman said medical personnel determined that Jenson had increased pressure on his brain and put him in a medically induced coma before surgery was performed to relieve pressure. He was declared dead May 24 and was taken off life support the next day, Schieman said.

“He did not wake up after the surgery and was declared brain dead at 10:23 a.m.,” she said. “He remained on life support until his organs were donated.”

Schieman, who was not at the fight, said her daughter, Jenson’s wife Rebecca Jenson, and several others told her the violence in the fight was “nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Doctors have watched the video and said it shouldn’t have happened,” Schieman said. “They said the fight may have triggered a brain aneurysm, but it was not overly violent.”

Civic center general manager Brian Maliske said Tuesday that he knew that one of the fighters had become ill after tapping out of his fight, but that was the extent of his knowledge of what happened.

Maliske said he was unsure how or if the death would affect the scheduling of future MMA events at the civic center.

“Obviously, if it is connected to the injury here, then we will have to look at and see how it would affect us and what we want to do into the future,” he said…

Maliske said the event was promoted by Matt DeWolfe, who did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment. RingWars formerly was a regular event at the civic center but has become less frequent in recent years.

“Matt used to be here on a monthly basis several years ago, and right now, he does approximately one to two RingWars events here a year,” Maliske said. “This is the first time he has been in in nine or 10 months. The sport itself is not as popular as it used to be.”

South Dakota has no governing body to oversee or regulate the sport, unlike other states, according to Josh Usera, the lead MMA trainer at Dynamic Martial Arts in Rapid City.

“In most states there is usually some kind of governing body, like the athletic commission or the boxing commission for that state, and what I understand is its job is to oversee the operations of the event from the ground all the way up,” said Usera, who has trained MMA fighters. “Safety of the fighter is the No. 1 concern, so most states that have some kind of governing body require some kind of blood work or something that shows the individual is healthy.”

Jenson is the third fighter to die following MMA competition in the United States, after Sam Vasquez and Michael Kirkham. It’s hard to say if regulation would have made a difference in this particular case, but observations like Usera’s are important — at the very least, regulation should be in place for basic medical screening including blood tests, and to make sure unhealthy fighters aren’t competing when their lives could be at risk.

The sport’s political opponents in South Dakota will probably seize on this story as proof that their opinion of MMA was right all along. In reality, incidents like this are the strongest arguments for regulation that we have. R.I.P., Dustin. If you’d like to send a donation to his family, go here.