Years and years of defending the sport of mixed martial arts from the "human cockfighting" crowd have seemed to lower the realization by many that this is still a violent sport, and violent sports carry some serious risks. But many fighters have not forgotten the risks involved with a sport that involves pretty consistent trauma to the head.
Joe Lauzon has become one of the UFC's most consistently entertaining fighters, his bout this past weekend at UFC 155 against Jim Miller being the latest example. But exciting also usually means "in a lot of wars" which, in turn, means a lot of getting punched and kicked in the head.
Miller certainly put a beating on Lauzon and it seems to have made Lauzon think a little bit when it comes to his career going forward.
"I don't feel I've taken any real abuse or punishment," Lauzon said. "But the thing is I don't want to. I don't want to have wars if that means I'm going to forget my own name. If it got to that point, I would reassess everything and take a step back.
"I went to school for computer science. I can still remember all the classes and everything I learned."
"I wish it could have been a 'Submission of the Night,'" Lauzon said. "I've got to hope that this next fight isn't super exciting and I get one over."
Obviously I'm not Lauzon, I can't speak for how much damage he feels he has taken. But I think we've all seen him get banged around pretty impressively throughout his career, and it's important to remember that it's not the big knockout punches that are the only concern in the sport, it's the repetition of smaller shots in sparring and in the fights themselves.
This concern is what led to Nick Denis' retirement late in 2012:
As a graduate student at the university of Ottawa, I had access to all peer reviewed scientific journals. No surprise to find that concussions = bad. However, I found something that had never occurred to me. Sub-concussive trauma. Basically, a blow to the head that doesn’t lead to a concussion. When it happens, you feel fine, and continue on. Maybe you feel like you just had a little brain scramble, nothing big. Those who spar, know what I am talking about. However these add up. They accumulate, from training session to training session, year after year. The research papers found that men who never had an actual concussion, rather only sub-concussive trauma, (they used football/hockey players) when brain scans were administered to them (can’t remember if it was mri or ct), their brain morphology was decayed like that of individuals with later stages of neurodegenerative disorders.
For reference, here is some of the info from the now famous Purdue study that changed the thinking on sub-concussive trauma in football:
The Purdue research changes all that. Many brain injuries suffered by football players do not produce the "shell-shock" symptoms we associate with concussions. The damage caused by these hits is just as evident when you study players in brain scanners or give them tests that measure sophisticated aspects of brain functioning, but are not picked up by trainers on the sidelines.
The finding about a new group of brain injuries came about, like many discoveries, by accident. Purdue biomedical engineering professor Eric Nauman and his colleagues were studying garden-variety concussions among high-schoolers—hits similar to this one and this one and this one during NFL games.
Nauman and his colleagues wanted to compare changes in the brains of football players who had suffered concussions with the "normal" brains of football players who were concussion-free. But when they scanned the concussion-free players a few weeks into the season and compared these pictures to the same players' preseason scans, they found that many had long-lasting brain changes.
And similar results were found in a recent hockey study:
Only 3 of the 17 players had sustained diagnosed concussions during the season, and two of those three showed the most pronounced white-matter changes in the study. But most of the 14 non-concussed players displayed a lesser degree of the same kind of changes – and that was what surprised Shenton.
"To see changes in such a short period of time, I was surprised," she said. "I was betting, quite frankly, that we wouldn’t see any changes between pre- and postseason."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for Lauzon or anyone else to retire. I just think it's worth remembering that once a guy starts thinking about the damage he takes, he should think about the full extent of it, and not just those single huge shots he has taken in his career.