As an MMA fan and lawyer who deals with the consequences of concussive injuries in my professional life I have conflicting feelings when it comes to witnessing a knock out in combat sports. While it is the most exciting way a fight can end there are well understood potentially long term consequences that stem from concussive injury (and also exposure to frequent sub-concussive forces).
I have spent a good deal of time highlighting safety issues on this blog pointing out that regulators and opponents of MMA and combat sports should not get carried away by overstating the dangers of the sport. At the same time, those involved in combat sports should not undermine the risks with statements along the lines of MMA being the “safest sport in the world“.
Ultimately I square my competing views with the principle of informed consent. So long as there is regulation of combat sport with fighter safety at the forefront athletes should be free to choose to compete in MMA. That said, the consent needs to be informed. There is risk of injury and anyone profiting from combat sports would do well to assist fighters in understanding the risks. While some of the risks are quite obvious such as cuts, bruises and broken bones, others are less so. The long term consequences of traumatic brain injury are becoming better understood by the day by the scientific community. These injuries are often invisible and the UFC themselves understands this very well as demonstrated by their support of the “Wounds You Can’t See” Campaign.
With this background in mind, a recent opportunity which could serve as a teachable moment is being missed. As reported at Bloody Elbow, post fight video of Miguell Torres’ knockout loss to Michael McDonald recently surfaced. This showed him clearly suffering from concussive amnesia which is a consequence flowing from brain trauma. The UFC, unfortunately, pulled the video due to a copyright claim. Whether or not the claim has legal merit, it should be revisited by the top brass. This video can instead be used to show those involved and those aspiring to get involved in the world of MMA that their choice to participate does come with risk. A concussive injury does not always end when an athlete regains consciousness. The consequences from brain trauma can linger. Information and education are key and promoters would do well to facilitate meaningful informed consent for their athletes.
Update May 9, 2013 – An informative article discussing the issue of Brain Trauma in MMA was published today at Bleacher Report which is worth reviewing for anyone interested in this topic.
Also, this article was republished with my permission at Top MMA News. Feel free to visit there and join the discussion.