On Tuesday, the mixed martial arts community saw the death of the third professional MMA fighter (one in amateur competition) in history, when a South African fighter died from head injuries after a TKO loss on Feb. 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Booto Guylain (0-2) was immediately stabilized after his fight with Keron Davies (1-0) in the Extreme Fighting Championship Africa promotion and treated for swelling and bleeding on the brain, but neurosurgical doctors were unable to save him.
But this raises the question: How safe is mixed martial arts?
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MMA has come a long ways since it was called “barbaric,” or “glorified gladiators,” and when it was banned in many states. Even to this day, the state of New York has still not sanctioned any MMA fights, and many still think the sport is dangerous.
Well walking can be dangerous — you can twist and sprain your ankle, or trip over something and fall. Ever ride a bike? If so, I can guarantee you’ve fallen a time or two, and watch out for those cars, because hitting a bicyclist is like 10 points to them.
I’m sure you detect a hint of sarcasm, but let’s look at how other sports compare to MMA.
- Boxing, one of the oldest sports, had an official count of 938 fatalities as of July 2000 and 1,465 in the latest update Nov. 2007. (Journal of Combative Sport)
- In football, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research found an average of 12 high school and college deaths per year. That’s not including professional football leagues like the NFL, CFL, Arena League and other sub-professional leagues.
Basketball, baseball, soccer — all these sports have seen their share of fatalities, but in the one full-combat sport, the number is relatively low (4), how can this be?
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In boxing, fighters take a lot of head damage, with blows after blows to the head and even when knocked down, boxers get ten seconds to recover and get punished again; over and over, round after round. All that head trauma adds up quickly and the brain wasn’t made to take that kind of punishment.
In football, players run as fast as they can trying to get away or tackle a guy head on. The best way to get applauded and looked at, is when someone is blasting a player and knocking them down viciously. Then players huddle up to go do it again and again and again, in hours long practice and games.
MMA is different. Punishment is not taken by a fighter round after round. If a fighter is hurt, the opponent goes in to wait for the referee to stop, or submit their opponent and then the fight is over.
MMA fighters aren’t able to get time to recover from blows, and once the fight is over, they can immediately start to rest and heal, rather than having to go into a game or another round or practice the next day. Some fights, fighters take little to no damage when two ground fighters are fighting a technical ground fight, utilizing jiu jitsu and wrestling.
That being said, does writing an article about how MMA is safer than most contact sports make it any better when someone actually lost their life from competing? No, of course not, that would be absurd. But when people go into competition, play in a game, go into a fight, even take a walk outside — there is always that chance that something could go wrong.
David Kano is lead writer for MMA Show News and co-host of The Hollywood MMA Show. You can follow him on Twitter @TheDKano.
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