A.J. Perez writes what will probably be the definitive piece on the tragedy. This is most important revelation is that Kirkham had just completed a 30 day medical suspension two days before the fatal bout. In his second to last bout, Kirkham had sustained repeated blows to the back of his head:
"The guy beat the heck out of the back of Michael's head to the point where it was beet red," Kirkham told FanHouse. "The other fighter was warned two or three times by the referee."
Two days after the suspension ended, Kirkham -- known to his friends here in the Carolinas as "Tree" due to his 6-foot-9, 155-pound frame -- suffered a brain hemorrhage in his pro debut at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center on June 26. He died two days later at the age of 30.
"This could have been second-impact syndrome," said Dr. Joe Estwanik, former medical advisor to the North Carolina Boxing Authority and author of "Sports Medicine for the Combat Artists." "From a few days to three-to-four weeks after somebody suffers a significant blow to the head, a second blow can trigger an overwhelming response by the body that we still don't really understand. Even a minor blow could result in massive swelling of the brain and there's up to a 50 percent chance of dying."
Dr. Robert C. Cantu, a leading researcher on second-impact syndrome, said a brain scan done after the first fight may have been able to detect a brain injury, but such tests run well north of $1,000. That was certainly out of reach for Kirkham, who owed thousands in child support and hadn't held a steady job in years.
JOHN PERRETTI: So, everything that we've been saying that's going to happen, going to happen, going to happen, well it's happening! You know, in fact, it's happening six hours after we talk about it. So, I just got off the phone with Bob Meyrowitz for a half hour and we talked about how tragic this is becoming and I don't care how much the UFC is making and how much money there is in this sport. Someone's got to have some regulation here or else there's going to be dead people and damaged people and injured people everywhere and it's just unnecessary."
EDDIE GOLDMAN: "You mention regulation. If you go to the web site of the Association of Boxing Commissions which the South Carolina commission is part of, they linked to the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians which list the medical requirements for fighters in there, they're identical for boxing and MMA and this is supposed to be updated. For the state of South Carolina, an EKG which is for your heart - not required. EEG for your brain, not required. They do require a dilated eye exam, but the dilatation can be a problem for the eyes but that's another issue. CT scan, not required. MRI, not required. You are required to have something called a neurological exam by a neurologist, I guess you're asked what day of the week it is or something."
JOHN PERRETTI: "And they see if you have reflexes in your elbows and wrists and your knees."
EDDIE GOLDMAN: "Right, but there's not examination of the brain and this guy died apparently of brain injuries."
JOHN PERRETTI: "You know, I want to stop you for just a second. I'm infuriated. 12 years ago, Extreme Fighting, we had mandatory CT scans, mandatory blood tests... We had so much stuff going on, we were so far ahead of the time and that's 12 years ago and maybe longer actually and I just don't understand how this can go all retroactive and go back in time. Even if it is in The Deep South, sort of speak, you know I Just think it's really offensive to not give these guys a fair shake."
I see it in more nuanced terms than Peretti. With state governments struggling to keep schools open and MMA barely making a dime in most states, it's not very realistic to expect state commissions or struggling promoters to pay for CT scans.
But Perretti has a point that we need stricter licensing requirements for professional fighters. Right now the barrier to entry is too low and the results are potentially disastrous.
MMA Junkie has information on making donations to a fund to benefit Kirkham's family.
More Michael Kirkham coverage from Bloody Elbow: