Correction: Bloody Elbow has been informed that photos previously published in conjunction with this article were not, in fact, of the deceased. On behalf of Bloody Elbow I would like to apologize to the family of the deceased and to those men who were misidentified. - Zane Simon
Athletic competition is dangerous, a fact that is often glossed over by fans, athletes, promoters, and journalists. Many injuries come with the territory. Bumps, cuts and bruises are easily dismissed, and broken bones, unapparent to the casual observer. Incidents that bring to bear these dangers are thankfully rare, but no less tragic for their infrequency.
At about 9:30 PM on Saturday night 35-year-old Felix Pablo Elochukwu collapsed. He had just lost his fight at AFC's Unleash the Beast in Port Huron's American Legion. Medical personnel were unable to revive him, and an autopsy, performed Monday, was unable to determine cause of death. Police Lt. Duane Hoxton released the following statment to the Lansing State Journal:
Loxton said the fight was ended by a judge’s ruling in the third round. The man had lost the fight, but he and his opponent were believed to be evenly matched. After the decision, the man told a trainer that he wasn’t feeling well and later collapsed. A paramedic at the American Legion administered aid before emergency crews arrived.
On the surface it's easy to say that the most reasonable precautions were taken. A paramedic was on site, there was general agreement that the fighters were evenly matched, and emergency crews were called immediately. If nothing else the event should be lauded for making sure that these precautions were in place and that appropriate steps were followed, but this misses the heart of the issue.
Michigan is one of about 12 states in the country in which amateur MMA is legal, but entirely unregulated. In the months prior to this event the lack of regulation has been highlighted. Alanna Derkin explained in her article for the Associated press:
The lack of regulation means Michigan amateurs sometimes can't be protected from themselves. While the Association of Boxing Commissions keeps a database of fighters who have been suspended due to injury, a recent knockout or bad blood work, Michigan promoters aren't required to report to it.
"I know a guy who has been knocked out five times in the last year," said Gardner, the promoter. Someone getting knocked out that often "is a serious liability for the entire sport."
Essentially, fighters are competing with practically no medical oversight prior to their fights. Although this may not have protected the man who died Saturday, his death will no doubt highlight the incredible risks that such a lack of regulation allows. Even still, there is no positive to be gained from such a tragedy; the best we as fans, fighters, and media can ask is that Michigan and other states realize the danger that these athletes face without commission oversight.
Yet I don't want this to be a rail against dangers of MMA because such dangers lurk in all sports. Athletes become seriously injured while competing in any number of sports at every level of competition. Athletes, enthusiasts, and hobbyists participate in these activities out of passion and desire. Screening, rules, and regulatory processes are needed to protect them from risks that they may not even be aware they're taking. At such a juncture, pointing to these passions as the source of injury does little to prevent future incidents; the responsibility lies in proper governance.
The focus on Elochukwu and his participation in MMA should be remembrance of passions and loves, both in and out of sport. And his loss should give us pause to think about those things which we love and give our time to; even, potentially, our lives, in the hopes that we will grow and gain from our experiences.
UPDATE: Joe Ferraro provided the following details from the event in his article for SportsNet:
Sometime in the third round, Elochukwu was mounted and was not intelligently defending what were deemed to be soft hammer fists. The referee made the decision to halt the bout, potentially believing that Pablo was not going to be able to improve the position he was in.
Elochukwu appeared to be fine during the announcement of the final decision and walked away on his own accord, albeit, with some assistance to ensure the fatigued fighter could make it to a seat.
When he did sit down, those around him noticed something was wrong and offered him some orange juice, believing his blood sugar may have dropped significantly. He then fell off the chair, where paramedics were called in to assist.
They showed up within minutes and apparently revived him, but took him away to be safe, likely to the nearest hospital. Shortly thereafter, Elochukwu passed away, and it is currently unknown if he did so en route to the hospital, or at the medical facility.