I know most people are sick of discussing Fallon Fox, but for the few masochists who aren't, something's been bothering me. In the umpteen threads on Fox's bid to fight women, I've noticed a common reaction. Many commenters call for more research and conclusive evidence that Fox does not pose a safety risk to other female competitors. Patience is warranted because we should "err on the side of caution". This topic is so murky, and so much is unknown. And when fighter safety is on the line, we can never be too cautious. Safety first. Until then, these commenters say, athletic commissions should not license Fox to fight women. Does that opinion sound familiar?
This view is seductive: what kind of heartless jerk doesn't care about fighter safety? It's also true that nobody knows for certain whether Fox has unfair advantages over her opponents who were born as women, and what, if any, additional health risks she may pose.
Though this view is popular, I think it's flawed. Worse still, I think it imposes an unfair evidentiary standard on Fox.
Consider the following: Is there ample research at this point on the long-term risks of concussions in MMA? Do we know how many concussions a fighter can sustain before he/she is at serious risk for developing CTE or other conditions associated with brain trauma? What about the number of sub-concussive blows a fighter can safely endure in a given time period?
I don't know if we have all the answers yet to those questions, and I imagine most MMA fans don't know either. Certainly, from what I've gleaned, there's a lot we still don't know about the long-term effects of brain trauma. But how many people are clamoring for us to "err on the side of caution" and shut down the entire sport of MMA until we have conclusive evidence or all the knowledge we need on the long-term health of fighters? Anyone? Bueller? I didn't think so.
And yet, when Fallon Fox wants to fight a woman, it's just not safe enough until we have all the answers...
Here's a view I believe is fairer: Fighters take serious health risks whenever they step in the cage. What makes the health risks Fallon Fox poses to a female opponent so excessive that commissions shouldn't allow other WMMA fighters to decide if they want to fight her?
Right now, I think the answer is nothing.
While I'm not a doctor, there are plenty of instances that seemingly pose far greater health risks for fighters than Fox ever could. For example, presumably heavyweight men punch with far greater force than 145 pound Fallon Fox. Heavyweights can therefore inflict and suffer far greater damage than anything Fox could dish out. There are also specific cases where certain fighters are placing themselves at increased risk. To cite one example, Brendan Schaub was knocked out cold by Big Nog and Ben Rothwell. For his next fight, he signed on to fight Lavar Johnson, one of the heaviest hitters in the UFC's HW division. Again, I'm no doctor, but a potential third straight devastating knockout could have brought serious health ramifications for Schaub. Why is it acceptable for a commission to allow Schaub to fight Johnson, given the former's history of concussions, but Fox fighting women is out of the question?
The bottom line is that placing the burden of proof squarely on Fox is not the standard MMA fans typically apply in matters of health and safety. If caution is always best in matters of fighter safety, the existence of MMA would be in jeopardy. There also isn't anything to suggest that Fox poses so much risk to her opponents that commissions should treat her as an exception to the rule. Actually, commissions regularly permit fighters to take health risks that are likely greater than anything Fox's opponents would be taking. Maybe there are reasons to deny Fox a license, but a lack of evidence regarding the safety of her opponents isn't one of them.