Death In MMA: Will The Dustin Jenson Tragedy Teach Us Something?

Dustin Jenson (right - black shorts) was badly knocked out in a fight in February 2012. He fought twice more in less than 3 months, with his May fight being his last.

This editorial was originally written by Stephen Koepfer, founder of the Coalition to Legalize Mixed Martial Arts in New York and a Sambo and MMA coach himself, and posted on his blog, under the title "Will the Dustin Jenson Tragedy Teach Us Something?". It has been cross-posted on Bloody Elbow with his permission - KJ

For those who are not aware, a young man named Dustin Jenson died this week subsequent to a 5/18 unregulated amateur MMA bout in South Dakota in which he tapped to a triangle choke. Shortly after, he had a seizure, was hospitalized, had surgery to address cerebral edema, and sadly died 12 days later. This is such a sad story on many levels. My thoughts and prayers go out to Dustin's family, friends and training partners. Also to the coaches and promoter. Nobody wishes this to happen on their watch.

I do want to share some thoughts as I believe this sad event highlights our sport's dark shadow... the amateur ranks. I had a few conversations with Steven Marrocco and Nick Lembo of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board about this tragedy. Here is a compilation of thoughts I shared with them. I am sharing them with you because I feel this is a discussion that needs to be taking place within our sport.

Dustin Jenson fought in Ring Wars four times since January 27; that's 4 fights in less than 4 months.

As per Ring Wars' Facebook (they don't even have a website that I can find) Jenson fought on:

Ring Wars 74 on May 18, 2012 (the one after which he died)

Ring Wars 73 on April 21, 2012 (he won via submission, can't find a video)

Ring Wars 71 on Feb 24, 2012 (he got badly KO'd, Less than 3 months prior to the bout after which he died). In a state with regulation of amateurs, he would have most likely been suspended for 90 days. It was a real bad KO. Not being permitted to fight again until a Doctor's OK to assess the state of the post KO concussion. Meaning, he would never have been able to fight on April 21 or May 18.


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Tracking records and prior injuries of fighters in these unsanctioned / unregulated amateur events is very difficult. I face this all the time when trying to assess the background of my own fighters' opponents. I can't locate Jenson's supposed 5th fight. But, I have to say that this is such a sad story on several levels. Especially when one considers that were the bouts regulated (which they may not have been as amateur bouts are often not regulated by state athletic commissions or any kind of national sanctioning body), Jenson may not have been allowed to fight on the show that killed him.

It shows questionable judgment on the part of Jenson's coach (who as it turns out is also the promoter of Ring Wars). This kid should not have been fighting...regardless of regulation. Yet, can we blame coaches and promoters who don't know any better? No we can't. This unfortunate tragedy highlights problems, not only with unregulated fights (pro and amateur), but also untrained coaches and promoters who may have had the best of intentions.

Continue reading after the jump.

When the fighter's coach is also the event promoter, that is an added problem. As an aside, I used to promote events and as a rule never put my own guys on the fight cards. The only thing worse than actual bias from a promoter is the appearance of bias from a promoter.

Standards for pro regulation are not ubiquitous among state and tribal commissions, but amateurs are much worse...or none in many cases. This sad story is an example of why unified regulation standards - of pro and amateur MMA - is so important. It shows why coaching education is critical as well. Many coaches in these small local shows have no idea what they are doing, how to assess for medical concerns, how to prepare fighters for a bout, etc.

In fact, to get a pro second's license for MMA it is essentially a matter of paying a fee and filling out some papers. This is an area of serious need for improvement in our sport. There is no baseline education required.

Unlike amateur boxing, in which there is a national standard that includes coaching education long before coaches take fighters into the pro ranks, MMA has nothing. The fact that MMA started as a pro sport and is trying to re-engineer the amateur sport after the fact is a serious problem.

When you take the foundation USA Boxing Level 1 Coach Training (required for any coach that has a fighter in any USA Boxing event - there are 4 levels of training in total), you learn that after a head blow stoppage USA Boxing standards are: 30 day immediate suspension, 90 days if fighter is unresponsive for under 2 min, 180 days if fighter is unresponsive for over 2 minutes. Dr. clearance to fight again.

In the KO Jenson suffered on February 24 he was out for the last 1:10 of the video...who knows how long after. I am only pointing this out in within the context of amateur boxing where there is a standard to go by. There are no national amateur MMA standards to compare to. While MMA pros can generally expect an immediate 60 day suspension after a KO (or longer), what is standard in pro MMA does not apply as this was not a pro fight, nor was it regulated.

Having said all this, regulation, pre-fight medicals, etc, may have not saved Jenson (let's not forget that the two other US MMA deaths were on regulated shows). But, I think we all would have preferred the requirement and opportunity. And, I feel in my gut that if this kid had been suspended after the KO on Feb 24, he would be alive today.
Our sport needs to learn from this horrible event. Let's take care of our amateurs.

Stephen Koepfer
Founder, Coalition to Legalize MMA in NY

Luke Thomas's story from MMA Fighting:
May 30, 2012 - Dustin Jenson, Amateur MMA Fighter, Dies After Unregulated South Dakota Event

Read Steven Marrocco's coverage on the Dustin Jenson tragedy here at MMA Junkie:
May 31, 2012 - Lots of unanswered questions in the death of South Dakota MMA fighter Dustin Jenson


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