The mixed martial arts world has gone from wondering how Michael Bisping would deal with the wrestling of Mark Munoz to wondering if Michael Bisping will ever fight again. Such are the concerns when a fighter suffers from an eye injury.
Bisping recently withdrew from his UFC Fight Night 30 bout against Munoz due to a detached retina. Bisping appeared on a recent edition of The MMA Hour, detailing the timeline of what led him to opt out of the October 26 fight:
Early on in the year I found out I had a detached retina. Actually, I had my previous two fights with the injury, and my peripheral vision had got very, very bad. Fortunately I already had my medical requirements in place, so they never checked my eyes, which is something the UFC do on an annual basis. For the Alan Belcher and Vitor Belfort fights I didn't have to check my eyes.
Bisping then acknowledged that he didn't see doctors out of fear that he would learn what he expected, that he had a detached retina. Eventually, the symptoms became too bad to ignore, and after a Google search he moved on to seeing an actual doctor. That doctor confirmed Bisping's internet diagnosis. Surgery followed in spring of this year, and it was initially deemed a success.
Unfortunately for Bisping the retina re-detached. The result was a second surgery on his right eye. The second surgery occurred in late September and forced him from the Munoz fight.
Bisping's claims that he competed in two fights with a detached retina and that no one checked his vision is a curious one. It becomes more peculiar considering the licensing requirements for MMA fighters in the state of New Jersey, where he faced Belcher at UFC 159. According to the New Jersey professional boxer/kickboxer/mixed martial arts license application, a fighter must submit an original eye examination by an ophthalmologist with ophthalmological dilation. That exam must be dated within six months of licensure or the event.
Bloody Elbow reached out to Nick Lembo, counsel for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board to see if he could offer some clarification. Lembo's response was that:
Mr. Bisping was required to submit a completed dilated eye examination report completed by a licensed ophthalmologist on an athletic commission form, which specifically asks about detached retinas and whether the eye doctor is clearing the fighter for unarmed combat.
Mr. Bisping was cleared and no mention was made of any retinal issues by his chosen ophthalmologist.
The fighter application clearly asks the following questions of the ophthalmologist performing the exam:
"Has patient had blurred vision?" and "Has applicant ever had a retinal tear, retinal detachment, glaucoma, aphakia, or dislocated lens?"
Perhaps the issue of why Bisping's detached retina was not detected during the submitted exam can be explained by timing. If Bisping had a clear eye exam for the UFC, as he indicates above, and that exam fell within the six-month limit indicated by the New Jersey application he could have submitted that exam and received the all clear from the control board.
If that is the case, maybe it's time for an overhaul of the medical testing that fighters undergo prior to and after each contest. An eye exam after the Belfort fight would have revealed the detached retina, and would have forced Bisping to deal with the issue much sooner than he did.
It's no secret that if a fighter is able to walk to the cage on fight night he is going to do so. However a bruised rib or a cut that is not fully healed is a far cry from competing with a detached retina and risking permanent blindness.
The prognosis for Bisping's future remains unclear. The perennial top ten middleweight could be back in the cage at some point, or he could be another combat sports participant that is forced to retire or risk permanent injury.
Bloody Elbow reached out to Bisping's management team on the above, but they had not replied prior to publication of this story. The UFC was also asked if it wanted to comment on medical testing the UFC performs pre-fight and post-fight. The promotion respectfully declined to comment.
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