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.
Naked man arrested at Wal-mart looking for a MMA fight
Officers with the Covington Police Department arrested a nude man looking for a fight Sunday at the Wal-Mart on Industrial Boulevard.
According to the incident report, Jeffrey Pickett said he wanted to be a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and was looking for someone to battle. Pickett, who undressed in parking lot, said he knew he could find someone to fight with if he were nude.
The ’09 Wish List
Pre-“Ultimate Fighter,” pre-Affliction, pre-state sanctioning, fans will remember the UFC’s modest promotional resolution for 1999: run nine shows. (The campaign was dubbed “9 in ’99,” which is what happens when you can’t afford a marketing department.)
A sad testament to the state of the sport at the time: They could only manage six.
Ten years on, and the UFC is likely to meet or exceed the 20 programs it ran in ’08. Wishes have become largely extraneous, since most requested matches wind up happening sooner or later. The sport’s devotees have everything they could possibly ask for -- free shows, top talent, capable management.
This space, though, works tirelessly to find something to complain about. Some hoped-for events for the New Year:
Video Game News: UFC 2009 Undisputed Hands-on
December 19, 2008 - Last night we got our hands on UFC 2009 Undisputed for the first time, and, while the game's still far from complete and its control scheme has yet to be finalized, we can safely say that this game has all the makings of a future champ.
Former TUF Competitor Traded
Trades are not uncommon in sports, although MMA seemed to be the exception...until now. So it was quite a surprise when former TUF competitor Noah Thomas heard that he was traded from the TKO promotion to the XMMA promotion.
Justin Levens and his wife found dead
No one else has broken this news story yet so I hope its not true.
"TMZ has learned former UFC fighter Justin Levens and his wife were found dead from gunshot wounds in a home in Laguna Niguel, Calif. earlier today.
Sources say cops are investigating their deaths as a possible murder/suicide.
Levens had a career record of 9-8 and fought in several different MMA leagues, including the IFL, WEC and UFC."
Vote For GSP As 2008 Canadian Athlete Of The Year!!!
He regained his UFC welterweight championship from Matt Serra and further established himself as the best 170-pounder on the planet with his five round win over Jon Fitch. Now it's time for you to vote for Montreal's Georges St-Pierre as Sportsnet.ca's 2008 Canadian Athlete of The Year.
Instant Replay Used For First Time In MMA
Instant replay has become an institution for most major sporting events all over the world, and last year the sport of mixed martial arts stepped into that arena when the New Jersey Athletic Control Board instituted the policy, and now it has been instituted in practice as well.
CSAC to Re-Institute MMA Drug Testing
The California State Athletic Commission is one week away from rolling out a new program to streamline and strengthen the drug testing process in one of the country’s biggest hotbeds for MMA. Newly minted Assistant Executive Officer Bill Douglas finalized the program on Tuesday, and said it will take effect at two upcoming California events, a Roy Englebrecht-promoted boxing card and King of the Cage event scheduled for Dec. 11. The CSAC will now conduct steroid testing with one of two World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) labs in the country at the University of California, Los Angeles. In early November, the CSAC became its exclusive client for combat sports testing. Among other clients, the UCLA lab currently handles steroid testing for the NFL, NCAA, and the U.S. Olympic Team.
CSAC threatened with accusations abuse (NEF lawsuit)
New Era Fighting Lawsuit Threat Pressures CSAC Head's Garcia Resignation
IRVINE, California (December 1, 2008) – The recent resignation of embattled California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) Executive Director Armando Garcia apparently came from pressure applied after it was announced a year ago that New Era Fighting (NEF) was filing a $500,000,000 lawsuit against Garcia, alleging a pattern and practice by the California State Athletic Commission of intentionally, willfully and viciously interfering with a licensed and approved event, which effected and injured New Era Fighting in the same or similar fashion as other mixed martial arts promoters, managers and fighters
One Round Too Many - An in depth look at rematches
The holidays are full of repetition. Turkey on Thanksgiving, turkey on Christmas; socks from mom, socks from grandma; Charlie Brown learning, for the 53rd consecutive time, that he needs a more supportive group of friends.
Increasingly, things aren’t looking too different in the cage. After beefing up its roster with international talent and surprisingly adept “Ultimate Fighter”-bred participants, the UFC has returned to the photocopy machine, signing or reportedly considering matches that have already been definitively decided on multiple occasions.
I guess the writer from Sherdog seems to think a little different than me when it comes to the opinion that Wandy Rampage, Chuck Randy, and even Faber Pulver would make a good rematch.
Do Heavyweights Need 2 Weight Classes?
That's a question that has been posed to some Athletic Commission heads in the wake of the massive weight differences in the Brock Lesnar-Randy Couture fight, where Brock weighed in 45 pounds heavier than Randy. While the heads of the NSAC and New Jersey Athletic Commission have differeing views, recent research says that, on a regular basis, David is going to beat Goliath more often than the other way around.
10 Fights That Could Have Been
Mixed martial arts remains a very young sport. Despite a short history that dates back less than 20 years, it has produced some remarkable fights -- bouts like Royce Gracie against Dan Severn, Frank Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira against Fedor Emelianenko.
Every longstanding promoter will admit that for every “superfight” made, another fails to materialize because of injury, a contract dispute or promoters failing to cooperate with one another.
Sherdog.com’s Tim Leidecker has compiled a list of the top 10 fights that could have been during the last 15 years.
CSAC Appoints Interim Leaders To Replace Garcia
While the search to find a permanent replacement for fformer executive Armando Garcia goes on, the CSAC today appointed staff analyst Bill Douglas to oversee administrative functions of the state office and assist chief inspector Dean Lohuis, who will now oversee its field operations. A new executive director is to be appointed in March.
Chuck Liddell drops out of USO tour. Rumored to be kicked off.
The abrupt end to Chuck Liddell's participation in an international USO tour to support American troops has raised a few eyebrows.
The former UFC light heavyweight champion was part of a contingent of five celebrities joining a U.S. Marine general on an eight-day, five-country USO tour this week.
Liddell made the first part of the trek on Monday to Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, with rap duo the Ying Yang Twins, model and singer Mayra Veronica and comedians Gabriel Iglesias and Edwin San Juan. However, Liddell pulled out of the tour on Tuesday due to what both the USO and his management team, Zinkin Entertainment, deemed to be an unspecified illness.
However, unconfirmed reports quickly surfaced following Liddell's decision to bow out, including one that he was asked to leave by the USO after members of his entourage were found partying with minors............
Hansen talks DREAM, Alvarez & More!
Joachim Hansen ‘The Hellboy Returns on NYE’
DREAM Lightweight Grand Prix Champion Joachim Hansen took some time out of training to talk with PDG about his tournament victory, Eddie Alvarez, training and fighting on NYE.
PDG: You replaced Eddie Alvarez, who beat you earlier in the GP; how did that affect the way you fought in the finals?
Hansen: Eddie Alvarez and Shinya Aoki are two totally different fighters. I knew a little about Aoki’s style because I fought him in PRIDE in 2006. I knew I had to be very careful with Aoki when on the ground and to not make any big moves that could leave me open to his submission game. If you could clone Alvarez and Aoki into one person you would be close to having the total mixed martial arts fighter!
A Brief Reflection on 15 Years of the UFC
by Jordan Breen (email@example.com)
"Hello ladies and gentlemen. You are about to see something you have never seen before ... the Ultimate Fighting Challenge."
Uttered 15 years ago to this day, the introduction for the promotion that would bring mixed martial arts to the masses wasn't even competent, let alone stirring. More like taking forceps to the eyeball during delivery.
"Hello, I'm Bill Wallace, and welcome to McNichols Ar ... "
The birth moment went from awkwardly inept to outright ignominious as the man dubbed "Superfoot" quite literally belched through the foreword to fighting history. This was not "Call me Ishmael." More like dropping the newborn skull-first on the floor.
A difficult delivery, fortunately, didn't have any bearing on the spectacle of the evening's proceedings. With a thunderous kick to the face in less than 30 seconds, Gerard Gordeau liberated the teeth of hapless sumo Teila Tuli, freeing them to explore the thin Denver air. And that was just a prelude to the skinny Brazilian fellow in his pajamas.
Yes, every ardent MMA fan, whether they were watching live on pay-per-view from day one thanks to a Black Belt magazine subscription or whether they became smitten with the sport one Saturday night on Spike TV, can appreciate the milestone, the magic and the mockability of the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. By now, it is nothing short of cultural fact that Royce Gracie revolutionized fightsport with his early UFC dominance and fully held up his end of the bargain to his big brother Rorion in what began as an infomercial for Gracie jiu-jitsu. Today, the magnitude of that moment is a mandate to the point where it becomes almost drained and dull.