Gary Goodridge: an icon with a tragic but familiar story.
It's a strange place to be; an MMA fan cognizant of what many have dubbed a 'health crisis' when it comes to concussions, and brain injuries. We all hate the stories of athletes not remembering how they got from their room and into their hallway, or how dementia set in and destroyed the life of one man and his family.
But we love watching Dan Henderson crash a right hand into Michael Bisping's face, and there's nothing more exhilarating than watching Anderson Silva gracefully, and violently stop an opponent. But it's not a paradox. So long as we don't ignore the safety of the fighters.
Unfortunately, as we saw with the story covered by Michael David Smith, this is sometimes the reality of the situation. And the world of MMA is dealing with its first high profile case with Gary Goodridge.
Goodridge, like Don Frye, is considered a kind of pioneer of the sport. Bursting onto the scene with his legendary stoppage of Paul Herrera in an impossibly mismatched bout, he would go on to spread his wings (and fists, and feet) on the K-1 circuit. Unfortunately this also took a toll on his body, and brain.
As Brent Brookhouse noted, the tail end of his career is precisely the kind of journey that becomes a cautionary tale. From 2006 until 2010, his K-1 record was 0-12-1 (6 by TKO or KO stoppage). On the MMA front, between 2008 and 2010, he went 0-7. The last three losses were by TKO.
How he maintained a career up to that point is anyone's guess, but in speaking with Dr. Sherry Wulkan, Brent highlights the familiar issue of understaffed, and irresponsible athletic commissions and a lack of regulation that correspond with these tragic narratives.
But the damage is already done, and Goodridge understands this explicitly: "my brain doesn't remember much these days", he says an interview for TheStar. A candid, honest man who was open about the Yakuza's influence on the outcome of matches in Pride in a fantastic piece last year by Sherdog's Jake Rossen, it's unfortunate to see Goodridge reduced to a potential dementia patient.
Goodridge is not alone in the world of contact sports. Last week, former NFL player Benjamin Utecht, retired but only 30 years old, revealed problems (such as acute memory loss) stemming from his days playing football. A problem that bares itself out in the numbers when you consider that former NFL players aged 30 to 49 have a rate 19 times the national average of developing Alzheimer's. The sport needs to think about this issue, and it gains when the sport's writers address it. As for Goodridge, Brookhouse summarizes his role:
The legacy of Gary Goodridge was always never going to be the guy who closed out his career rarely finding success. To those who long have enjoyed his exploits in the cage and ring he would be remembered as "Big Daddy." The intimidating force in early UFC and PRIDE competitions. We can now remember him as one of the first mixed martial artists to be open and honest about the toll that fighting can take. That's a legacy he can be proud of.