The Hidden Cost Paid by Professional Mixed Martial Artists

How many mma fighters will end up living out their own private version of "The Wrestler"?


Jake Rossen of Sherdog has a powerful piece on the real costs of trying to make a career out of MMA:

J.R. Minkel, a Scientific American contributor, recently wrote an article for Real Fighter exploring the brain matter of combat athletes -- not the abuse suffered, but the neural pathways created or damaged by both their choice of profession and daily intake of it. He quoted a sports psychologist from the University of Florida as having taken an informal poll of prizefighters and grapplers. Out of the 400 who responded to his petition to take an online questionnaire, nearly a quarter exhibited symptoms of depression.

Is this surprising to anyone? Think about the odds of performing to parity on the 15 or 25 minutes when it counts the most. Does anyone's income ever normally come down to less than a half-hour two or three times a year? Even jobs that require some kind of stellar public presentation or faultless performance often forgive a misstep. But in fighting, you need to trip only once.

The emotional pressure is overwhelming; physical punishment piles it on. Concussions have been inexorably linked to depression -- as many as 40 percent of head injuries could result in neurological disruption leading to behavioral changes or mood suffocation, according to a study at Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University. Count concussions suffered in training and you're smart to buy stock in Pfizer.

There are real troubles on the horizon for the majority of athletes in this sport who lose as often as they win, who hobble their way through their 30s and who never experience the lucrative financial or emotional rewards of being a champion. They're already hurting themselves, and others -- and the sport has barely gotten started. Boxing, home to a longer legacy of punishing the people that love it, can point you to 60 suicides committed by its participants in the past decades.

We've seen the terrible toll exacted by the MMA lifestyle already. It's not just Junie Browning. It's Justin Eilers. It's Evan Tanner. It's Justin Levens.

I know many of you are going to object that MMA had nothing to do with the Eilers tragedy. Maybe not, but alcohol certainly did. And Eiler's profession was repeatedly brought up at his killers' trial as relevant evidence.

And yes, Evan Tanner might very well have come to a sad end without MMA, but there is no doubt that his peripatetic career played a role in his struggles with alcoholism and depression.

And I know that most only care to condem Levens' final horrible acts and prefer to pretend that he was just an isolated bad apple and that MMA had no role in his drug abuse, depression and personal acts of violence.

I assume everyone's seen The Wrestler with Mickey Rourke. How would you like to be starring in the version that is Pat Smith's real life these days?

And we haven't even touched on the long-term impact of head trauma on the fighters.

Attempting to competing in this sport at a high level comes at a very high price and that's why we owe it to the fighters to treat them with respect and to work to expose the failings of the officials and promoters who control their fates. Jordan Breen gave our own Luke Thomas a very nice shout out yesterday and I want everyone here to see it:

In the wake of the Mike Easton-Chase Beebe debacle last week, it was shown that thoughtful and pointed criticism can force the sport's regulators to accept responsibility. Instead of letting that fight go down as a random regional main event in which a rightful victor was robbed, BloodyElbow.com’s Luke Thomas -- who I'm now even prouder to call a contemporary -- was able to take the Virginia Professional Boxing and Wrestling Program to task for its inadequacy, and other concerned parties followed his lead. Resultantly, an investigation into the bout's outcome has been launched, and justice may reign yet.

It is a testament to the adage that "sunshine disinfects," and proof of why it's time we let the light flood in and let no malfeasance go unpunished.

MMA is too dangerous to leave it to corrupt and/or incompetent state officials and promoters who are focused, by necessity, on the financial bottom line.

Another thing that would help is the creation of a fighter's union, but that's something they'll have to take the lead on for themselves.

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