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Ask the Doc: Dr. Benjamin on MMA, concussions and mental illness
In the wake up the recent deaths of MMA fighters Evan Tanner, Justin Levens and Justin Eilers, many fans are struggling to find a correlation.
While there may be none, some people, including researcher Chris Nowinski, see combat sports (and concussions) going hand-in-hand with depression and mental illness in later life.
In his latest “Ask the Doc” column, combat-sports specialist Dr. Johnny Benjamin discusses the topic, specifically as it relates to MMA, and why there’s so little relevant information available on it. He also gives two reasons why there’s so much controversy about trying to connect the two.
Q. Dave Meltzer recently wrote an article discussing three unrelated deaths of former UFC fighters; two of the fallen fighters were known to suffer from depression. Metzler notes Chris Nowinski’s studies correlating boxing to mental illness later in life. Many fans and fighters feel MMA is safer than boxing. MMA fighters are more likely to suffer a few concussive blows (i.e. knockouts) as opposed to a myriad of “padded” shots as in boxing. Many fights end without any substantial head shots. Is it fair to assume the same long-term consequences in MMA? Steve in Los Angeles
A. Steve, you are asking the million-dollar question.
Also, my hat is off to Dave Meltzer for even attempting to intelligently discuss this difficult subject. This and apparently many other topics are difficult for the MMA faithful to discuss reasonably without deteriorating into emotional outbursts, personal attacks and worse. Good articles are written to make intelligent readers think not to defame anyone or anything.
Do repeated blows to the head make MMA participants more likely to suffer with depression or other forms of mental illness later in life? It’s a great question and one that needs to be investigated and researched now rather than adopting a wait-and-see approach.
The current form of MMA is relatively early in its life cycle. We are talking less than 20 years. As major sports go, MMA is still in its infancy. Therefore, I would assume nothing with respect to the potential long-term health consequences. But as you’ve implied, I would learn a few things from the collective experience of other, more mature (older) contact and combat sports. It is also prudent to be proactive when it comes to fighter safety, since it is very difficult, if not impossible, to fully restore competitors’ mental health once it has traumatically been taken from them.
Retrospective (looking back after the deed is done) studies of professional athletes involved in boxing, football, soccer, hockey and rugby seem to suggest a link between repetitive blows to the head, concussions (MTBI, which is minor traumatic brain injury) and depression or dementia. This is a very controversial statement for at least two major reasons.
First, it is very difficult to prove a direct causal relationship. Did the accumulation of blows to the head directly cause permanent brain injury that led to depression or dementia? Or are the athletes that participate in these sports on the professional level more prone to depression to begin with? Do their inherent, aggressive, possibly somewhat antisocial personality traits allow them to achieve in these sports at a high level? Simply put, they may be a little crazy or unstable to begin with. That’s why they do so well in these contact and combat sports. (Absolutely no disrespect is intended to those that suffer with mental illness.)
Second, the powers that govern these major sports fear the cost associated with acknowledging a relationship between participation in these sports and subsequent dementia and/or depression. Simply put, if the sport caused it, somebody is going to have to pay for it. Forget lawsuits and punitive damages (which will most certainly come); just the cost of long-term care would be staggering. No one is prepared to pay that without a serious fight.
Professional MMA fighters should assume nothing and be prepared for everything. When your favorite fighters’ careers are over and no one is any longer screaming their names, paying them sponsorship fees and buying their pay-per-view appearances, who is going to pay their medical expenses and provide assistance to their often forgotten caregivers? Your heroes have families too.
Again, Steve, it’s a great question but not one anyone can answer definitively at this time.
Dr. Johnny Benjamin is MMAjunkie.com’s medical columnist and consultant and a noted combat-sports specialist. He was also recently appointed to the ABC’s medical advisory team and will help review and refine the unified rules of MMA. Dr. Benjamin writes an “Ask the Doc” column every two weeks for MMAjunkie.com. To submit a question for a future column, email him at askthedoc [AT] mmajunkie.com, or share your questions and thoughts in the comments section below. You can find Dr. Benjamin online at www.drjohnnybenjamin.com, and you can read his other sports-related articles at blog.drjohnnybenjamin.com.
Check out more UFC News at MMAjunkie.com. This story originally appeared on MMAjunkie.com and is syndicated on Yahoo! Sports as part of a content-partnership deal between the two sites.
Referee Steve Mazzagatti insists all is well despite recent criticism
Judging by the fall-out from December's "UFC 92: The Ultimate 2008," longtime referee Steve Mazzagatti did not have his best performance.
A perceived slow response to end both the Cheick Kongo vs. Mostapha al Turk and Rashad Evans vs. Forrest Griffin bouts led UFC President Dana White to say Mazzagatti was "a nice guy, but he's not a referee," at the post-event press conference.
Kill or be killed: Interview With UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon
What a difference massive nationwide exposure on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) can make in the life of a mixed martial arts fighter … just ask season five alum, Joe Lauzon.
“It was ridiculous,” Lauzon explains about the difference before and after the Spike TV reality-based fight program. “You’ll be going out and just get stopped by random people who say, ‘I watch you fight and I saw you fight.’ It’s just kind of weird. It’s kind of unreal.”
Couture declines Nogueira fight
Rehabilitation on a surgically repaired elbow and a leading role in Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables prompted Randy Couture to decline a fight against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (31-5-1, 1 NC) for the first half of 2009, the five-time UFC champion confirmed to SI.com.
TUF Veterans Find Very Different Results At MTX Audio 2
Former TUF veterans Jesse Forbes & Cale Yarbrough both appeared on last night's MTX Audio 2 event in Las Vegas, but to fans' disappointment only Forbes got to fight. For the second time in his short career, Yarbrough was without a fight as the NSAC said his opponent failed medical clearance at the last possible moment.
UFC Newcomer Thiago A Member Of Brazil's Elite Combat Police
UFC newcomer Paulo Thiago is no stranger to working under intense pressure in dangerous situations.
As a member of BOPE, the military-style elite unit of Rio de Janeiro’s police force, Thiago is tasked with tackling drug gangs in the sprawling slums known as favelas.
So when he faces Josh Koscheck at UFC 95 in London next month, it will be just another day fighting in unfamiliar surroundings.
Kampmann Expects The Unexpected At 170
Martin Kampmann will be making his welterweight debut against Alexandre Barros at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland.
Kampmann had a solid run at middleweight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but after a loss to Nathan Marquardt back in September, he decided to give welterweight a shot.
No Countdown Show For UFC 93 (Link to watch it online in this thread)
Dave Meltzer explains it in the Wrestling Obsever update:
There is no Countdown of UFC 93 show. Next week’s UFC on Spike will include two hours of Unleashed on Tuesday night, one hour on Wednesday night, plus the debut of UFC Primetime, a 30 minute three-week series on Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn at 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The only show leading to UFC 93 will be a new All Access show with Rich Franklin that airs at 1 a.m. on Thursday, hardly a time slot many with stumble onto the show and buy the PPV. I sense the recognition after drawing big numbers in November and December, and another big number expected on 1/31, that they aren’t even trying to push 1/17 hard knowing the money is 1/31.
Huerta: I should be coming back to the UFC
With one revelation came many questions.
After popular UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta (20-2-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) revealed to Sherdog.com that he had elected not to re-sign with the organization -- despite previous reports by to the contrary -- many MMA pundits wondered aloud if there were contributing factors to El Matador's decision beyond a newfound passion for acting.
Shawn Tompkins Interview Parts II & III
Shawn Tompkins is one of the foremost authorities in MMA on the art of striking and thanks to Jake Hattan, one of his managers at Denaro Sports Marketing, FiveOuncesOfPain.com was recently granted an opportunity to interview the Xtreme Couture striking specialist.
UFC 98: Matt Hughes vs Matt Serra (*UPDATED* now confirmed by both fighters)
Arch enemies Matt Hughes and Matt Serra will more than likely finally face off in the Octagon to settle their bitter score at UFC 98 in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 23, according to Matt-Hughes.com.
Here’s the snip:
“Just got a call from Joe Silva and as of right now it looks like I’ll be fighting Matt Serra in Vegas on May 23rd. This is not 100% confirmed, but I believe it is going to be on this date.”
Fighters twist while Elite XC dithers
Patience is starting to wear thin among some of the country’s top mixed martial arts fighters, whose futures have remained in limbo since Elite XC closed its doors in late October.
The issue is complicated, as parent company Pro Elite laid off all its employees and has no plans to run future cards. But they have not closed the company, nor have they declared bankruptcy. They have a CEO, Chuck Champion, and an attorney, each still working on methods to sell the company’s assets and perhaps remain as a minority interest partner with new ownership going forward.
Silva: ''If Machida Runs, I Run After Him
Thiago Silva hopes he can draw Lyoto Machida into standing and exchanging when they fight at UFC 94.
But the unbeaten American Top Team light-heavyweight says he is ready to go after his opponent should Machida prove as elusive as usual.
“He does not usually get drawn in to exchanging, but if he does [with me], I give thanks to God,” Silva told Tatame magazine today.