Nate Marquardt's situation has shed light on the ugly loophole surrounding Testosterone Replacement Therapy. But in the wake of Wanderlei Silva's knockout loss to Chris Leben, his 4th knockout loss in his last 8 fights, another medical issue has been brewing: the topic of brain trauma.
Zach Arnold has a fantastic piece up at boxing.com over the oncoming train wreck in combat sports, much of which is concentrated on Jermain Taylor being given a license to continue boxing, despite the fact that his last opponent, Arthur Abraham, beat him up so bad, he caused Taylor's brain to bleed. This was Taylor's 3rd stoppage loss in his last 5, and second time in a row he has been stopped in the 12th and final round.
The assumption about the safety of MMA more or less holds true: if any contact sport, particularly one regarded by critics as especially brutal, is safe from some sort of health crisis, it's MMA. But 'safer' does not mean 'safe', and we have seen some obvious declines in some of its athletes: Chuck Liddell, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Wanderlei Silva. With Zuffa fighting the good fight trying to legalize MMA in New York, I propose the institution of the ImPACT Test, but not as mere clients.
ImPACT is the standard for measuring basic cognitive functioning. The test offers modules that highlight memory and focus with concentration on verbal recognition memory, visual recognition memory, and visual processing speed. In the beginning, the idea was to measure an athlete's baseline score, and then test them after suffering a concussion. But the facts are in, and the science has spoken: concussions are not a prerequisite for brain injury (consider this 'David Epstein week'). An MMA fighter in a three round war is at just as much at risk as a fighter who gets knocked out in the first round. ImPACT provides a cost-efficient solution to expressing legitimate concern over fighter safety, and all that's needed is a computer, and a qualified supervisor.
The UFC has always been forward thinking: they've been ahead of the game in terms of marketing, and in many other areas. With ImPACT is another chance to prove to the sports world that Zuffa blazes its own progressive path. Instead of the typical regulations of years past (the WWE, for example, requires an annual ImPACT test) the UFC could require ImPACT for its athletes twice a year, and on the annual exam, require testing while underneath an fMRI machine. This was the scientific breakthrough Purdue researchers uncovered in studying Jefferson High School Football players with the use of accelerometers placed inside their helmets: that with ImPACT underneath an fMRI, one could document in the absence of a concussion, how brain trauma, no matter how seemingly minor, could negatively affect brain function such as visual memory. With this knowledge, additional measures, such as reduced striking sparring in the event of "low scores", can be taken to ensure fighter safety.
Because of MMA's unique position in the contact sports world, there are real opportunities to be proactive without turning the sport upside down. The NFL is in a precarious position because advanced helmet technology, like the rubber Pro Cap, aren't helping, and so the suggestions for better solutions, like changing the linemen stance, and forcing automatic fair catches on special teams aren't likely to be popular with fans. Zuffa doesn't have to observe with their hands tied behind their back here. Perhaps the logistics of performing their own study, such as fitting fighters headgear in with accelerometers in order to measure the typical g-force encountered by a fighter during training, is entirely practical. Being able to answer such questions, questions about the amount of force different strikes generate, would be useful not just for fighter safety, but for pure research. And perhaps with a positive impact in the cage.
One of the more upbeat lessons learned by athletes in the Purdue study was being able to play smarter, and more aware: concentrating on proper tackling technique, for example. In the same way, a fighter knowing what type of strike generates the most force could sharpen technique. If you knew what type of strike generated the most force, might this specific strike be something you'd be as wary of as you'd be proficient with (my guess is that the flying knee sits high up on that list, and who wouldn't want to see more of those?)? Paradoxically, a clean, quick knockout, is safer than a raw, prolonged beatdown. In addressing the situation, Zuffa can raise awareness, and the type of brutal training Chute Boxe is known for, can be discouraged, just as youth football is getting rid of unnecessarily brutish drills in football practice.
Health insurance, while spectacular, should not be seen as the last step. With Zuffa's progressive sensibilities, this appears to be an area where they can once again be seen as pioneers while at the same time continuing to polish the sport they've nurtured for a full decade. And then you, Dana White, with the relish you typically savor over a slain opponent like a Pinkberry dessert, can tell Bob Reilly to put that in his uneducated pipe, and smoke it.