MMA is a form of entertainment. I have enjoyed watching this sport as a hobby, a passion and as work. Entertainment takes people away from the struggles of their daily lives, their obstacles and their hardships. When I watch an MMA event, I don't think about work, bills, rent, relationships or the impact of the sport on society and a fighter's livelihood.
The only thing I care about is being entertained.
I want my favorite fighters to win, I want to see incredible comeback finishes, I want to see the underdog defy expectations and I want to see exciting and brutal knockouts. I want to be entertained.
Once the event is over, it's back to reality.
For a lot of fighters, the reality is a trip to the hospital to receive a diagnosis. A broken nose, broken fingers and a deep cut will all heal over time. For every fighter that is on the receiving end of a knockout blow, the diagnosis is one that is more grim, more complicated, less understood and almost taboo to speak about.
A fighter on the receiving end of a knockout has been concussed. A concussion will have a negative long term effect on a person's health, yet we so often hear of a fighter being "okay" after being knocked out. UFC President Dana White spoke to Joe Rogan about Ronda Rousey being knocked out by Holly Holm. (Via JRE #723)
Joe Rogan: Does Ronda have a broken jaw?
Dana White: No, no that's bulls**t. There's nothing wrong with Ronda.
Rogan: Well there's definitely something wrong with her.
White: Well, no...
Rogan: I mean, she's concussed, she's hurt.
Rousey received a 6 month medical suspension after the fight, pending a negative head CT scan. To say that there is nothing wrong with Ronda shows a lack of acknowledgement towards the seriousness of brain injuries.
It's not surprising that Joe Rogan brought up the seriousness of the injury. Rogan has been very vocal about the effects of combat sports on the brain. He quit competitive combat sports at 21 years old, noting changes in his own behavior after suffering a concussion while kickboxing. While talking to semi-retired UFC Heavyweight Brendan Shaub, Rogan spoke openly about the conflict.
"I always wonder how long I'm going to do [commentary] anyways. The one thing I'm always conflicted about. The one thing, as I get older, and the more I understand the damage that people take. I still love the sport, I still love watching it... the discipline and focus that's required to reach a true excellent state. But it disturbs the shit out of me." - Joe Rogan (Fighter and the Kid)
One of the most disturbing cases of brain damage from combat sports comes from veteran MMA fighter Gary Goodridge. In this interview with Inside MMA, Gary talks about living with CTE, how he has contemplated suicide and how his condition gets worse with each passing day. It's a heartbreaking look at the realities of brain damage.
These types of stories may become more common as time goes on. MMA is still in its infancy and its most senior fighters like Mark Coleman, Randy Couture, Dan Severn and Ken Shamrock are only in their 50's. In the next twenty years, we will see an entire generation of fighters turn into senior citizens. This is when the effects that fighting has on the brain might become more apparent.
As a fan of the sport, it hurts to see legends of the sport begin to lose their mental capabilities. It's hard to see anyone with problems associated with the brain. My girlfriend's grandmother has dementia, and after knowing her for two years I still have to introduce myself to her. One of my close family members had a seizure a week or so after receiving a "light" concussion. Goodridge lives in the same city as I do, and I know many people who are close to his family and have seen the toll his mental health has taken on him.
When the entertainment turns into reality, it makes for a tough pill to swallow. Should I feel guilty, or does the fact that these are adults making their own decisions lessen the impact? Is it a guilt that all fight fans need to have, or does that blame fall solely on the promoters, the trainers and the fighters? Can rule changes be made to lessen the effects on the brain, or would these changes destroy the fundamental idea of combat sports?
It may not matter, because the next time a big event is on, I'll be watching. I won't be thinking about fighter health, concussions or Goodridge. I won't be thinking at all. I'll just be entertained, trying to distract myself from reality.