Two Sober Reminders of the Reality of Head Trauma in Combat Sports

There is no escaping the reality of the threat of head trauma for combat sport combatants.  Both acute injuries and prolonged sub-concussive exposure can lead to harsh consequences.  This week there are two stark reminders of this reality from the combat sports world.

In tragic news South African middleweight Booto Guylain passed away after sustaining serious injuries in a third round TKO defeat at EFC 27 last week.  The EFC reports that Guylain suffered a serious head injury during his Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bout at EFC AFRICA 27 last Thursday. Immediately after the bout he was stabilised by the on-site medical team and transported to hospital where he was treated for swelling and bleeding on the brain. ”

While deaths following MMA bouts have been rare, the reality of profound head trauma always remains a risk for participants. reports this is the ninth known death in MMA since 1993 and puts these numbers into context.

In a more common illustration of the toll of head trauma on professional combatants, long time MMA veteran Mac Danzig authored a thoughtful post announcing his retirement after many years in the sport.  While no regrets are expressed in the well written post it is clear that a driving factor behind Danzig’s retirement are the consequences of a career’s worth of head trauma.  He provides the following sensible comments and advice:

Really, the only physical cue for me to step back from competition came last year, when I began to suffer repeated concussions in training, leading up to what would end up being my first ever actual knockout loss, in July.  After that, my ability to take hard strikes in training without losing consciousness began to deteriorate rapidly.   After 14 years of training and taking shots like a champ, my brain was finally telling me to chill out.  I was never the type of fighter to “train stupid”, but sparring was always something I partook in at full throttle. I truly feel that the damage was done in the gym over the past decade, and hundreds of hard sparring sessions have accumulated, leading me to the situation I find myself in now. Certainly, some of my performances throughout the years in which I had fallen short can be directly attributed to the idea that I “left it all in the gym.”   

 I would like to serve as an example for the up and coming fighters of the world and hopefully encourage smarter training practices that include less sustained trauma in training camp, leading to a longer, healthier career and better performances in the ring.

 As a parent, I must take into consideration how important my sustained brain function is and how tragic it would be to have Parkinsons, Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc. Nobody ever forced me, I chose to be a fighter and I have no regrets about what has already transpired thus far, but I must make the right decision for the future. This was never a concern for me until I became a father. And fighting, to me, had never seemed even the slightest bit dangerous until the past year. That is a good sign for me to bow out. As a hardcore fan, I have seen far too many people in the sports of MMA and boxing let themselves stay in far too long.   Legacies get tarnished and the body pays for it as well. Part of me wants to fight forever, but I feel I am making the right decision.

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