It's the unheralded fighters on the small shows who are bearing the biggest risks in MMA. Photo via Sherdog.com
Dr. David Mayeda has a really thought provoking column:
The conundrum for the UFC and other established MMA organizations is that they need these smaller "minor league" organizations to nurture future competitors who can one day reach the highest level of competition (currently the UFC). Yet, the major and minor MMA organizations lack a formal relationship. None of the major MMA organizations provide smaller, regional ones with the financial backing that would allow for a more robust medical infrastructure and help prevent the most serious ramifications of sporting violence. Thus, up and coming fighters must gain experience in smaller organizations, where the risky consequences of more serious violence and injury rise.
In other sports, even violent, collision-sports, such as football, an infrastructure exists that at least in theory is there to help prevent tragedy at all levels, from the NFL, down through the collegiate, high school, and even Pop Warner levels (true, serious injuries, even deaths, still occur on occasion). Granted, MMA has only been formally institutionalized in the United States now for 17 years. Still, we as a society know the immediate and long-term risks of collision and combat sports (football induced head trauma is now well documented).
Professional and semi-pro mixed martial artists - frequently seduced by the financial gains and popularity that the sport's biggest stars enjoy - should be treated as human beings, not as collateral damage dismissed in the wake of the sport's growth. Neither society's thirst for violence nor a sport's increasing popularity should be cited to justify or excuse athlete safety.
Perhaps this means larger MMA organizations like the UFC and Strikeforce need to consider investing their profits in smaller organizations to help improve an infrastructure that bolsters safety precautions - obviously a major financial undertaking and one unlikely to transpire. However, this would be an investment in the fighters, who at the lower levels receive less reward for more risk. Bottom line - until some structural change is made, sporting violence will continue to harm MMA athletes at the lower levels to a disproportionately large degree.
I have to heartily second Dr. Mayeda's suggestion. The bigger MMA promotions -- UFC and Strikeforce -- should be required to subsidize fighter safety at the lower levels since without those smaller organizations, there would be no fighters for the big orgs to feature.
UPDATE: My initial thought on implementing such a thing would be a small fee added to tickets and PPVs for major events. I'm thinking $1 per ticket or PPV order. This would be earmarked for a national fighter safety fund. Ideally manned by federal officials, but it could also be distributed to state athletic commissions based on how many fights they regulate per year.
Admittedly, this is far from an ideal solution, but something needs to be done to protect fighters at the lower tiers of MMA.