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When a fighter dies

Now that the battle of MMA vs. Boxing is in full gear, it's time to realize something about the UFC: they better hope a fighter doesn't die in a sanctioned MMA match anytime soon.  Sounds obvious, and it is, but it's worth addressing the two ways such an event could unfold and the possible repercussions we could see.

First, if a fighter dies outside of the UFC in a smaller promotion, they will likely still be held liable.  For better or worse, the UFC is the face of North American MMA.  If a fighter were to die in, say, King of the Cage, the UFC would be blamed on two grounds: popularity and promises.  Just as more notable rap stars (or rap in general) get accused of promoting violence even in situations where they or their work are not directly involved, so too will the UFC be attacked in the event that something as serious as death in a MMA fight transpires.  In terms of "promises", the UFC has made a talking point about how much safer the sport is than boxing.  They're going state to state trying to get it regulated telling everyone the contest is dangerous, but the necessary precautions are in place to prevent serious injury.  I agree with them, but those efforts are likely going to haunt them should a fighter actually die - with one caveat.  Read on.

Second, if a fighter dies inside their octagon, they're in very deep trouble.  Boxing may lose five of its fighters a year, but almost never does an elite fighter at the top of the sport's food chain suffer such a fate.  The UFC is supposed to be the cream of the crop, so for an elite fighter in an elite organization to die during the contest would likely cause serious alarm about the sport itself.  Journeymen in boxing can usher in their own demise and no one bats an eye.  Yes, the sport is dangerous, but to die from it one must take a continual beating in violation of the prescribed norms of responsible career management. If the UFC were to lose a fighter, that event would lend credibility to the argument that the mixed martial art fight itself is dangerous.

Now the caveat: if enough time expires between now and the first North American MMA death (in a sanctioned, regulated contest), they might be ok.  If sufficient time elapses, they're promise of safety will carry enough wait to make that single event an outlier.  If it happens next year, however, they could be in far more serious trouble.