Putting the Recent MMA Brain Injury Study In Context

Late last week I reported on a study that claims almost a third of all professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fights result in a concussion for at least one of the fighters involved.

Source: Giovanni Lobello

Source: Giovanni Lobello

I remain skeptical of the study, and with good reason. The researchers were never allowed actual access to the fighters, so their study was entirely based upon reviewing footage and accessible scorecards, which indicate whether the fight ended in a knockout or technical knockout.

But, it is important to put questionable studies such as the one published last week in the context of recent events.

Not long before the study was published, professional MMA fighter Booto Guylain passed away from a brain injury sustained during a fight in South Africa on Feb. 27. Guylain was only 29 at the time, and though he didn’t have a promising record Guylain’s death made headlines around the world.

According to a statement from the Extreme Fighting Championship Africa, who conducted the February fight, Guylain sustained a head injury from his opponent’s elbows at the end of the third round and he was taken to emergency treatment immediately following the fight.

“Immediately after the bout he was stabilized by the on-site medical team and transported to hospital where he was treated for swelling and bleeding on the brain,” the statement read.

There has yet to be a death directly resulting from injuries during competitions sanctioned by the largest MMA promoter, Ultimate Fighting Championship. But, Guylain is the third pro MMA fighter to die as a direct result of injuries during professional competition.

Professional fighters Michael Kirkham (30) and Sam Vasquez (35) were killed by cerebral hemorrhages during fights in 2010 and 2007 respectively.

The study making headlines around the world right now rests on unsteady ground. It was conducted from such a distance and with such little data that the results are easily refutable. However, the study and deaths such as Guylain’s show how important it is that researchers are allowed access to the fighters so that they can see just how dangerous the sport is.

The professional fighters in the UFC may claim to know the risk they are taking, but it is pertinent that young children and would-be fighters know if the risk extends beyond broken bones. If fatal or permanent brain injury is possible, we should know before more fighters join the ranks.

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