Study: MMA Fighters May Suffer Brain Injury in Nearly 1/3 of Bouts

Anyone who has ever seen a mixed martial arts fight, more commonly known as MMA, know it is BRUTAL. These fights includes elements of wrestling, judo, boxing and kickboxing. Oh, and no one is wearing headgear. Or boxing gloves. In other words, there’s nothing — and we mean NOTHING — to protect the fighters. And while this may make for tons of Pay-Per-View purchases, it is a serious problem for those in the ring. According to a new study, nearly a third of all MMA fights end in a knockout or technical knockout (TKO). That means MMA has a higher incidence of brain trauma than traditional martial arts or even boxing. It also outpaces hockey AND football. Not great.

You might be thinking, well, a knockout or TKO doesn’t automatically mean brain injury. According to the researchers, it is probable that when someone is knocked out, they have suffered a concussion or a more severe brain injury. TKOs, which occur when the referee deems it is no longer safe for the fight to continue, involve repeated strikes to the head (read on for those disturbing details). This also strongly suggests a brain injury.

Here’s the most disturbing part of the study. Researchers found “an increasing number of repetitive strikes to the head” during the last seconds of a match — on average, there were 17 blows to the head in the last 30 seconds of a TKO. They even found that fighters take a “surprising” number of hits to the head even after they have been knocked out cold.

So what can be done? The researchers suggested MMA adopt boxing’s 10-second count rule, in which a fighter gets 10 seconds and an evaluation after a knockdown. They also proposed more training for referees, so they can better identify when a fighter is in serious trouble and stop fights more quickly.

But here’s the cold, hard truth: amateur MMA fighting is growing in popularity, and safety rules adopted by the professional organization will not likely trickle down immediately. Until more stringent safeguards are made, more and more players will continue to suffer injuries that will have an impact far beyond the ring.

For more information, check out these great summaries on ESPN and the National Post.

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