Georges St. Pierre pummeled his opponent Matt Serra, who lay crumpled in a near-fetal position as the knees arrived with frightening impact. It didn’t take long for the referee to stop the punishment.
But how much punishment is too much, especially with blows to the head?
When a professional mixed martial arts fighter hits another person, it’s with a combination of speed, accuracy and power that equates a normal person using a block of wood to beat another. That’s deadly force.
Last weekend’s victory by St. Pierre to regain the UFC welterweight title was a brutal example of the sport of MMA and other combat sports. The force used by pro fighters is staggering.
How much force can a fighter take?
“It’s part of the sport,” said Frank Mir after his last win that involved absorbing some hellacious blows from the massive Brock Lesnar.
Mir is a superb MMA fighter. But what could happen to your average MMA Joe who gets socked by a bruiser like Lesnar?
A concussion is what can happen, says one neurological expert.
Tony Strickland, director of the Sports Concussion Institute and an associate professor at UCLA, says concussions could lead to Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease along with other debilitating lifelong effects.
Many pro athletes from varied sports such as football, soccer, hockey and baseball have suffered from concussions and until recently, little was known about the long-term effects.
“There’s no greater risk than boxing or MMA,” said Strickland who’s been studying the result of concussions for more than a decade. “With the emergence of MMA the concussive event is even greater.”
In other words, MMA fighters are beating the heck out of each other.
Knockouts are common in MMA with every fight card resulting with at least one fighter stopped as a result of kicks, elbows or punches. It’s a rough sport and not for pansies.
A year ago, when St. Pierre was on the receiving end of some vicious punches delivered by New York’s Serra, the Canadian didn’t just crawl away and hide under a rock. He returned with renewed vigor and more deadly focus. Thus, a knockout victory over his former conqueror was the result.
But concussions are not to be taken lightly.
Strickland says if a fighter suffers a concussion and returns before he or she is physically ready, “there’s a greater risk for a subsequent injury and for the occurrence of greater injuries.”
A particular study by Barry Jordan at Cornell showed that boxers with certain blood samples who suffered concussions had a greater risk of Alzheimers.
“There’s a genetic component,” said Strickland who was part of a 15-year study ordered by the National Football League. “Individuals that get knocked out frequently are at greater risk and more likely to have slow speech.”
Super agent Leigh Steinberg, who has represented pro athletes in almost all contact sports, said from the 1970s to the 1990s few understood that a concussion doesn’t necessarily mean a person is unconscious.
“An official concussion is when somebody is knocked out,” said Steinberg. “But I once asked Steve Young (San Francisco quarterback) how many times he’d suffered a concussion and he replied ‘you mean the official ones or when I’m just dazed?’ So many times he was hit badly and didn’t lose consciousness.”
MMA fighters incur these kind of blows all of the time, Steinberg said.
“When we had a concussion summit recently, one of the reports that came out said that three or more head injuries makes that person six times more likely to have Alzheimers or Parkinson’s. They also have elevated rates of depression and migraine headaches,” Steinberg said. “The reaction time is slowed down and they are more apt to get hit. They don’t know their reaction time is slowed.”
Though no concentrated studies of MMA athletes have been concluded, boxing studies have been a source of what can happen when two pro fighters are beating on each other.
“If you look at boxing in terms of MMA, these are extraordinary athletes,” said Strickland who works with USA Boxing. “If you can’t get out of the way, you get hit. They had extraordinary reaction time, coordination and related functions superior to other groups.”
Basically, professional MMA fighters at the top rung hardly get hit with the bulldozer punches. Or else they leave the sport.
However, sometimes the best are tested in a blood and guts punch-fest that causes even the extraordinary fighter to get wrecked.
“These great fights with eyes bloodied and shut and the guys still standing,” said Strickland. “These are the hard fights, just brutal encounters. I see that a lot in mixed martial arts.”
Think Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
Both Strickland and Steinberg realize the nature of the sport inherently involves pain. What they’d like to see is better testing to find those at risk of long-term injury and disease. They recommend MRI’s and CAT scans to detect damage before a fighter engages on a national level. Free neurological screenings are advised.
They also understand that MMA is about beating each other up.
“The point of MMA is to induce unconsciousness,” Strickland said. “It’s never been safer for combat sports, but you have to have the right protocols in place.”
Some would argue the point of his former sentence; none would argue the latter.
IFL championship fights
On Saturday April 26, Fox Sports Net will show the IFL championship fights that took place last year and begins a weekly Fight Night series. It will be shown at midnight. The first show features Jay Hieron, Delson Heleno, Alex Schoenauer, Roy Nelson and others.
Viewers can confirm times by clicking here.
Top prospect signs with EliteXC
Hector “Shango” Lombard, a middleweight champion in the Australian-based Cage Fighting Championship, signed with EliteXC, president Gary Shaw recently announced.
“He is an elite athlete, no doubt about that, and he was very sought after, so for us, this is a very strong acquisition,” stated Shaw. “Hector is one of the most talented and explosive fighters I’ve ever seen.”
Lombard (15-2-1) is a Cuban expatriate who migrated to Australia where he became a citizen. The former judo Olympian is capable of fighting in both the 170- and 185-pound weight classes.
At one time, Lombard was expected to sign with the UFC and was rumored to be fighting against Karo Parisyan, but visa issues reportedly sidetracked the fight.
Fights coming up
Fri. April 25 – XFO 23 at Lakemoor Banquet Facility in Lakemoor, Illinois. (563) 332-2075.
Sat. April 26 – Max Fights 3 at Fargo Civic Auditorium in Fargo, North Dakota. (701) 241-1482.
Sat. April 26 – Total Combat at 4th and B Hall in San Diego, California (619) 227-3809.
Sat. April 26 – UWC Invasion at George Mason Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia. (703) 993-3000.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Cavalcante didn't want fight to stop
After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
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