Monday, June 28, 2010

Sensationalism surrounds MMA fatality

MMA Lightweight Michael Kirkham died Monday after his professional Mixed Martial Arts debut. Story can be found here. http://www.sherdog.com/news/news/Fighter-Dies-in-South-Carolina-After-First-Pro-Bout-25374

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/mma/post/2010/06/second-man-dies-in-us-from-injuries-sustained-in-a-mma-fight/1?csp=34


It's a shame, and tragic, that a fighter with an amateur career between 1-3 and 3-3 (depending on the source) thought that the time was right to go pro. Also very strange is a fighter who stood 6'9" fought as a lightweight (155lbs). As a guy who stands 5'5" and 165, I'm amazed he could maintain function after cutting to make weight. Based on how most people view cutting weight, and the consensus is that it sucks something fierce, Kirkham must have been miserable, along with dehydrated.

Certainly the small promotions that are so insistent on giving fighters a shot must bear some blame for these tragedies. Faulty officiating, lax medical screening, and over-zealous promoters are still plaguing the burgeoning mixed martial arts community. It's also possible that Kirkham had a latent aneurysm that burst during the fight.

That being said, sensationalism toward this story is already rife on the internet. Look at the photo accompanying the story on Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/28/michael-kirkham-dead-mma-_n_628532.html

Blood splatters and a discarded mouthpiece, with no indication of whether it was from this event or not. Occasionally it's mentioned that this is the second death at a MMA professional event in 3 years in North America, but ignored is the fact that this is only the second since MMA came to the United States in 1993.

Is MMA safer than boxing? The jury is still out, by and large. Certainly, Chuck Liddell's recent woes are being used by opponents of MMA to prove that the sport is much more dangerous than boxing. The difference, argues proponents of MMA, is that blows to the head and body are not the only way to end a fight. Saturday night's StrikeForce headlining bout between Fabricio Werdum and Fedor Emelianenko ending with a nary a heavy punch thrown, instead with a brilliantly executed Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu triangle choke. MMA contests, especially those that take place in cages, are more and more often turning into highly technical wrestling matches, rather than the all-out slugfests of MMA's early days.

Certainly the entirety of the young MMA community, fighters, fans, coaches and promoters alike, have turned a wary and worried eye to the results of Mr. Kirkham's autopsy. One can only hope that any results are not ignored, whether mandating further pre-contest examinations to root out latent head injuries or aneurysms, mandatory hydration testing to reduce insane weight cutting, or insistence on proper fight officiating to prevent excess injury to defeated fighters. Kirkham's death was and is a tragedy. Failure to heed what can be gleaned from his death would only compound that tragedy.

UPDATE: I know this isn't much of an update, as it's mostly to say that Michael Kirkham died of a brain hemorrhage due to blows received during the bout. No indication of given as to whether previous injuries or concussions had an impact on the health of his brain at the time of the fight, or if dehydration due to cutting weight was a factor. The trainer for Kirkham's opponent said that it did not appear that Kirkham put on much weight between the weigh-in and the bout. Whether that's the result of Kirkham (who stood 6'9") naturally walking around at or near lightweight (155lbs), or Kirkham being prevented by some other circumstance from bouncing back to a more normal weight, has not yet been published. Kirkham received a medical examination prior to the fight and was declared fit.
Further autopsy results such as toxicology are still pending.