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The Nature of MMA and the Very Real Risk of Death in the Cage

Photo by Esther Lin via <a href="">Showtime Sports</a>
Photo by Esther Lin via Showtime Sports

Jordan Breen talking about the nature of MMA (via Fight Opinion):

The problem is people seem to convince themselves that because MMA isn't the most violent sport that it's not violent at all or that it shouldn't ever be violent. It's a prize fight, it's violent by nature. Don't convince yourself that this is flag football. Bad, nasty grizzly stuff is going to happen from time to time. 

Since we just had a terrible tragedy happen in MMA, I thought I'd aggregate some of the best discussion of the Cyborg vs Finney fight. I'm traveling today and don't have time to post much but thought this merited more discussion here on BE. Personally I'm not sure what I think about the Cyborg fight. At the time I was cringing, but on rewatching I think it was a good performance by Referee Kim Winslow.

As for Michael Kirkham, I don't know enough about what happened to comment. I just want to say rest in peace and my condolences to your loved ones. And echo Jordan Breen's point. Given the nature of the sport, we can expect tragedy if there are enough fights held. Even if everyone does everything right. Even if we have an adequate rule set.

That may not have been the case in S.C., but until there is an investigation, let us not assume that someone was criminally negligent or that Kirkham shouldn't have been cleared or that we need to change the rules. If there was malfeasance, let's prosecute. If we need rules changes, let's make them. But don't assume that this is a problem that can be fixed. 

Like many other sports -- boxing, football, auto racing -- MMA is inherently violent and dangerous and people will be hurt, people will die participating in it. But they made the choice to accept that risk as adults and we need to respect their human autonomy in that. We choose to risk our lives every time we get behind the wheel of a car. Risk is a part of life. It's a part of MMA.

RIP Michael Kirkham. 


From Luke Thomas on Twitter:

Kim Winslow is a sadist.

From the Bloody Elbow comments:

I was in a room filled with drunken, blood thirsty savages, who, to a man, were screaming at the TV for this fight to be stopped after :30. How this bout was allowed by the CSAC is beyond me. Vegas had Finney at something like +2200.

by beery_pbr 


A couple of buddies and I were watching these fights. We were drunk and looking for blood. We wanted this match to end after the 2nd knockdown. After that it became extremely uncomfortable.

by 49er16 

Cris Cyborg Santos:

"I was really surprised the fight wasn't stopped in the first round,'' Cyborg said. "I know she was trying hard, but I could tell I was hurting her, especially when she was down and covering up like she was. But it is my job to keep fighting until the fight is over.''

HT Zak Woods

From Michael David Smith:

And then there's Winslow, who was questioned by play-by-play man Gus Johnson during the fight, and by many fans and members of the media after it, for not stopping the fight sooner. Winslow actually did a great job in this fight, both with the timing of the stoppage and with the decision to first warn Cyborg, and then take a point away, when Cyborg repeatedly hit Finney in the back of the head.

Early in the second round, with Cyborg on top of Finney and hitting her repeatedly, Johnson said, "This is brutal. Kim Winslow has to stop this fight."

Johnson was wrong. Just as Johnson was saying that, Winslow told Finney, "Fight back, Jan." That -- not stopping the fight -- was the correct course of action. Although Cyborg was beating her badly, Finney was conscious and alert, doing her best to defend herself, and able to hear a referee's instructions. In fact, Finney even attempted a knee bar 30 seconds after Johnson said the fight should have been stopped.

It wasn't until more than two minutes later, when Cyborg landed a knee to Finney's ribs and caused Finney to crumple to the ground and grab her side, leaving her head exposed, that Winslow made the correct decision to stop the fight. Finney earned those two extra minutes in the cage with Cyborg, and it would have been wrong for Winslow to take those two minutes away from her, just because Johnson didn't like the mismatch he was seeing.

Jake Rossen:

Finney defended well, covering her face and deflecting most of the major blows on the ground. But a fighter getting repeatedly knocked down is a fairly obvious indication of scrambled brain function: even a sport as cruel as boxing often prohibits a fighter from continuing after three knockdowns in a round. While Finney may have seemed game, what amounted to a 9-7 round (Santos was deducted a point for a foul) should've been cause for Winslow to step in. If not, her corner should have. Taking a beating is admirable, but it's one seriously misguided compliment.

Tomas Rios:

Anyone interested in what a 10-7 round in MMA looks like should watch the first round of the so-called "fight" between Strikeforce women's 145-pound champion Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos and Jan Finney. While a point deduction kept it from being an actual 10-7 in my book, it was still a visceral beating that seemed to tap into a universal sort of compassion from MMA fans and analysts.

Finney gamely came out for the second round, and the beating resumed without an ounce of restraint from Santos. Referee Kim Winslow finally called off the match at 2:56 into the second round and in doing so showed a tremendous ability to ignore the blows Santos was landing and focus on the fact that Finney was still intelligently defending herself.

Many have labeled Winslow's performance incompetent. I say it was one of the best examples of refereeing in a sport desperately in need of quality cage generals.

Jordan Breen (via Fight Opinion):

(Cyborg does not have) a whole lot of intense power to polish people off and that's' one reasons that I thought Kim Winslow acted appropriately. She stood there, she watched the hammer fists, she was acute enough the first time around to realize that the punches were going to Jan Finney's, the back of her head, and therefore call for and took the point away from Cris Cyborg. Thought she probably should have been warned as opposed to having the point taken away at first but nonetheless she was watching the strikes closely.

"So what's the ref supposed to do? That's much better. Is that not better than someone getting dropped, the guy comes and just flurries insanely while a guy covers up for three seconds and it gets stopped? Like to me that's the most annoying thing in MMA. A guy gets hit with a punch, goes down, he's in guard or on hs back and he puts his hands over his face, which is fine because the guy's going to come punch you. The guy gets on top and just throws six punches in a second, all of them are blocked, and that's a stoppage? It's not an intelligent defense to put your hands over your head if someone's trying to punch you in the head?"

"Here I was thinking that was the best defense because as far as I've seen, people do that on the feet. I've been watching boxing and MMA. When I see people get punched on the feet, one thing they often happen to do is put their hands over their head. Believe it's called BLOCKING. Seen it once or twice. And so to act as though that's illegitimate on the ground simply because your horizontal instead of vertical is asinine. I mean, there's no way around the fact that the fight was violent."

"It was a beatdown. ... Definitely a violent fight. The problem is people seem to convince themselves that because MMA isn't the most violent sport that it's not violent at all or that it shouldn't ever be violent and it's a prize fight, it's violent by nature. Don't convince yourself that this is flag football. Bad, nasty grizzly stuff is going to happen from time to time. The question is, is the person who's having that done to them, are they still in a position to fight? And Jan Finney clearly was up until the knee collided with her sternum and that was it. I've had absolutely no beef with Kim Winslow's decision on the stoppage. In fact, as I mentioned, the only thing that I'm questionable in her adjudicating the fight is why she took the point immediately, I would have rather a warning at that point in time considering it was the first offense there. Even if she [hit] twice in quick succession, that's such a heat-of-the-moment thing that I think a warning is more appropriate the first time around. But, don't cry because oooooh, Jan Finney got beat up. She's a big girl. She knows what she's getting into. There's nothing in that fight that makes me think Kim Winslow acted irresponsibility and if anything I would like more referees to when someone goes down and gets hurt, take a good hard look. Are they getting punched in the arms? What kind of punches are actually coming at them?

"When people talk about oooh an intelligent defense is necessary. Intelligent defense is necessary to defend considerable offense and unless punches are getting through and doing some real damage as opposed to just perfunctory hammer fists after being dropped while someone's taking them on the forearms and elbows? That's not cutting it."