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.
UFC 92 "Crushes" UFC 91 in PPV Buys
It may be the new record holder...
In a recent interview with ESPN, Dana White was asked what happens in the aftermath of St. Pierre vs. Penn, he responded "I'm not worried about that; I'm worried about the fight itself. I think it's going to be the biggest fight we've ever done. The last Lesnar pay-per-view did really well, and then our Dec. 27 show crushed it." But the boss didn't stop there. He went on to say "I don't want to get into numbers too much—that's our policy. But it crushed it. I'll say this: The Christmas show crushed the Lesnar fight by 150,000-175,000 buys."
If true, that is an incredible feat. UFC 91 is estimated to have accumulated about 1,010,000 PPV buys, which would have put it as the second biggest PPV buy the UFC has ever done. Then UFC 92 comes along out of nowhere and does 150,000-175,000 more than UFC 91. That would put the number at just under 1.2 million, which would put it over UFC 66 as the most bought UFC PPV. Also with this is the revelation that the UFC is the new record holder for PPV revenue in a single year by a company, beating out WWE (then WWF) in 2001. On top of that, Dana thinks that UFC 94 will be the biggest show they've ever done.
UFC Quick Quote: Big fights are for people who sell tickets, not losers
“A lot of it is pay-per-view (PPV) buys. If you sell a lot of tickets, you get fights. And Lesnar is one of the biggest ticket sellers we have in our sport right now. You can’t argue that, it’s just a facet of the game and instead of complaining about it I need to make sure I can sell a lot of tickets too. I don’t like that mentality when guys are like ‘Oh well it should be this way and it should be that way’ and I’m like ‘Dude, you’re a loser’.”
– UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir (12-3) tells host Larry Pepe in Part II of their interview on MMAmania.com’s exclusive presentation of Pro MMA Radio that current UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar earned his title shot against Randy Couture at UFC 91 - and against anyone else the UFC sees fit because of his ability to sell tickets and PPV’s. Mir and Lesnar are expected to unify the belts in a rematch sometime in late Spring of 2009. Will history repeat itself or will Lesnar score revenge in Act II?
Roach predicts Arlovski to KO Fedor
There’s a slight sense of amusement coming from Freddie Roach when he breaks down student Andre Arlovski’s fight with Fedor Emelianenko. Roach is a man who's has spent his entire life looking at the hands as weapons, along with the subtle and not-so-subtle elements that make boxing a science. But he's been thrown into the world of MMA through Arlovski, and he's doing his best to take it in stride. His vocabulary is limited; when he looks at Arlovski’s chances, it’s really just a best guess. When the topic of Emelianenko’s armbar comes up, a smile creeps onto his face.
“He looks pretty effective on the ground from what I can see,” Roach says. “He’s really good at the armbar, I guess it’s called. How he gets those guys in the position for an armbar is pretty clever.”
Still, Roach knows what his student is up against. Facing Emelianenko is as much about his legend as his fighting ability.
“If I saw him in the street, I wouldn’t be scared of him,” he says with another smile. “But I’d be wrong.”
Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva fight license to be subject of CSAC meeting Feb. 10
In July, following a dominating Elite XC heavyweight championship victory over Justin Eilers, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (12-1) tested positive for the steroid Boldenone and was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) for a full year and fined $2,500.
Claiming his innocence, Silva took matters into his own hands and appealed the ruling in October. However, these things have more of a guilty until proven innocent theme to them instead of the other way around.
And the commission’s final decision was to uphold the suspension when Silva’s defense did not appear to sway the initial finding.
With his fight career being his family’s main source of income, sitting out for a full year was not an option for the Brazilian. He decided to disregard the punishment and take a fight in Japan where the CSAC’s suspension would not be recognized.
The big man’s manager Alex Davis released this statement in early December regarding his client’s decision to fight in Japan in spite of the CSAC’s suspension:
“Antonio has decided to fight, he really has no option. He’s innocent, he’s tried to prove it and it fell on unwilling ears, and he has financial commitments that to not meet would have serious consequences for him. In light of these, he has decided to continue his career in Japan until when and if his situation with the CSAC is resolved.”
Speaking engagement in Gresham, OR
just figured out about it but thought people in the Northwest would want to know. But from what I heard Ken Shamrock, Prangley and Lindland and MARK Hughes will be speaking including many other fighters will most likely attend.
"Babalu" Sobral: "I'm probably going to submit" Sokoudjou on Jan. 24
Less than a year ago, Rameau Thierry Sokodjou (5-3) was widely regarded as one of the most dangerous light-heavyweights in MMA.
But after a less-than-impressive stint in the UFC led to Skoudjou's recent dismissal from the organization, Renato "Babalu" Sobral (31-7) thinks "The African Assassin" presents little in the way of special challenges.
"I have to prepare a little bit for Sokoudjou's strikes, and I have to respect his judo skills of course," Sobral said in a recent media call. "I respect all his skills, but I know what I have to do to win this fight. And I don't have anything special prepared for Sokoudjou."
The two former UFC fighters will meet on the main card of "Affliction: Day of Reckoning," scheduled for Jan. 24 in Anaheim, Calif. The bout will be Sokoudjou's first since an October TKO loss to Luis Cane prompted his release from the UFC.
Sobral, a 10-year veteran with 30 more professional bouts than his adversary, believes that the difference in experience will not play a major role in the fight.
"The truth is that it doesn't matter," Sobral said. "If you have 100 fights in the bag or one fight, minutes before the fight everybody pretty much does the same. That's where you have to control more emotions over there, like minutes before the fight. But this really doesn't matter very much because some kids just coming up right now, they already know how to control (their pre-fight) emotions."
Josh Neer management team issues statement after arrest
“We are still looking into the matter as a lot of the facts are still unclear. We back Josh 100% in resolving this issue as quickly as possible and putting this matter behind us and moving forward. I know Josh on a personal and business level and he is a great person, fighter and loving father. We apologize to Josh’s , fans, family, friends and the UFC while we have to deal with this incident. We are very grateful that the UFC has supported Josh throughout his career and has given him the opportunity to be a co–main event. In no way do we ever want to bring any negativity towards the UFC as they have been nothing but great to Josh. Josh is already looking forward to put this incident behind him and is focusing on his fight with Mac Danzig. We would hope everyone would reserve judgment until all the facts are known in a court of law instead of just going off of here say. No further comments will be made until after the court hearing. Josh wants to thank his friends, fans, family ,training partners, UFC and everyone that stands behind him for supporting him through his career.”
Frank Shamrock - New Interview!
Frank Shamrock ‘Moving on to 2009’
Former Undefeated UFC Champion and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Frank Shamrock talked with PDG about the Fall of EliteXC, the Rise of Strikeforce, fighting Tito Ortiz, his brother Ken, a rematch with Cung Le and More!
PDG: Really, so the fight is still scheduled for around April?
Shamrock: I have arena dates booked and a pay-per-view date all set up. Ken is just being Ken though and we really haven't finalized his commitment to the fight. I have worked way too hard to make this fight happen but man it has been an uphill battle all the way.
PDG: Overall, what are your lasting impressions of how the whole EliteXC-CBS Saturday Night program ended and the ultimate demise of the company?
Shamrock: Sadly, I believe that the ending was almost inevitable. The way they had their business model laid out, they were not equipped to handle any bad press. You had a bunch of guys that didn't know what they were doing making the decisions for the company. As far as Kimbo Slice getting knocked out, I thought it was great MMA. That is what the whole sport is about; two fighters get in there and go at it and the situation created a great opportunity for Seth Petruzelli. That moment was pure MMA and its unfortunate that it caused the demise of the company.
Read the Rest:
Cantwell Explains Controversial Comment
Following Steve Cantwell’s impressive submission victory over Razak Al Hassan at last week’s UFC Fight for the Troops, the victor gave a post fight interview that included some comment that many have felt were inappropriate. Cantwell won the fight via armbar in which his opponent’s elbow dislocated due to the pressure applied. While being interviewed by Joe Rogan, Cantwell said that he had “always wanted to do that” and seemingly was very pleased when he watched the replay and saw the joint dislocate.
...like I said in other threads...he's not a bad guy, he just got caught up in the moment.
Wanderlei Says "No Problem" To Fight Forrest
The growth of MMA has also led to the growth of major gyms and teams around the world, but eventually teammates sometimes have to fight and that may be the case down the road for Wanderlei Silva and training partner Forrest Griffin if they both should win on Dec. 27.
Griffin spoke out on the subject recently, telling MMAWeekly.com, "It's going to happen one day. He knows that and he's cool with it; I'm cool with it."
Silva spoke to MMAWeekly Radio about his friend and training partner and the likelihood of them fighting in the future.
"I'm a professional, he's a professional. He's an amazing guy," the Brazilian said about Griffin. "I train with him so hard, this guy he's really upped his boxing. He's got very good ground, very good wrestling, and I think he's a very, very tough opponent."
Friendship aside, Silva wants a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title and if that road goes through Forrest Griffin, the two competitors will square off in the Octagon and then shake hands when it's all over.
"I know and he knows that this is a business and if I win and he wins, I'd fight him no problem," Silva stated. "He's my good friend, but business is business. This is professional."
With both fighters on the upcoming UFC 93 card in Las Vegas, Silva and Griffin have been sparring and training together non-stop in preparation for each of their respective bouts, Silva against former UFC champ Quinton Jackson and Griffin defending his belt from fellow Ultimate Fighter winner Rashad Evans.
"I train with him more because I’m going to fight the same day," commented Silva. "It's good to have him because he's tall, he's stronger, has good punches, good takedowns, and he does very good training."
Silva is confident that it is Forrest Griffin who will come out on top in his title defense, which could ultimately lead to a showdown of teammate vs. teammate.
Do or die: Josh Koscheck UFC Fight Night 16 interview exclusive with MMAmania.com
What’s up Josh? Thanks for taking the time once again to speak with MMAmania.com.
Josh Koscheck: You got these questions for me or what? We going to do this? I’m ready to talk some shit! (Laughs).
MMAmania.com: So how have you been since we last spoke … are you ready for Wednesday night?
Josh Koscheck: I’m good. I feel good. Training went great — I could not have asked for a better training camp. I’m in great shape. In fact, we were talking tonight about how the fight against Thiago Alves was actually just part of this training camp to get ready for Yoshida. I’ve been training to get ready for this guy forever so I’m ready to go. I just want to get in the Octagon and get this fight over with so I can go
home and relax for awhile.
MMAmania.com: How long before you accepted the fight against Alves on short notice were you training for “Zenko?”
Josh Koscheck: A few weeks. I fought Thiago on October 25. So it was probably around the end of September. That was a long time ago.
MMAmania.com: Is there any concern that perhaps you overtrained for this fight or are maybe a little exhausted mentally and/or physically?
Josh Koscheck: No, I’m always in the gym whether or not I have a fight coming up. There’s a difference between being in shape and being in fighting shape. I always stay in shape — I’m not a person who just puts six-or eight-week camps together once bout agreements are signed. It’s just a matter of turning it up as the fight gets closer and doing whatever it takes to prepare for my upcoming opponents.
MMAmania.com: Were you in “fighting shape” for Thiago Alves?
Josh Koscheck: I don’t know. Mentally, yes, without a doubt. Physically, I wasn’t gassed after the fight. I could have gone a few more rounds. I’d just say it is what it is — I’m not going to make any excuses regarding that performance.
(video) Interview with Junior dos Santos
After an impressive KO victory over Fabricio Werdum, a former UFC heavyweight and top ten fighter, Junior dos Santos saw his popularity increase inside and outside Brazil.
The Bahia native still doesn't know about his next fight or opponent, but he's already back to training keeping the game at a high level and supporting Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira in the preparation for UFC 92.
12 Questions for Pat Miletich
Back to Fighting
When you’ve been in the game as long as Pat Miletich has, you need to be either training yourself or training someone else for a fight. If you’re not, you feel like something is not right, that the rhythm of life is disrupted. That’s part of why the 40-year-old Miletich (28-7-2), the UFC’s first welterweight champion and founder of the once-dominant Miletich Fighting Systems camp, took a fight against Thomas “Wildman” Denny. The fight on Thursday night will headline the latest offering from Monte Cox’s “Adrenaline” promotion, which airs live from Moline, Ill., on HDNet.
Two years after a swift loss via guillotine choke to Renzo Gracie in the IFL, Miletich, one of MMA’s most tenured sages, spoke to Sherdog about his return, Brock Lesnar, the illness at UFC 35 that allegedly caused accidents and hallucinations in the cage, and the future of his heralded camp.
Q: What moved you to take a fight now?
A: Well, it’s a couple of different reasons. I’m tired of not competing, something I’ve done since I was five years old. It basically drives me insane to not have goals and not work towards things. I love the adrenaline, love fighting, love the crowd, the fans, things like that. I love the camaraderie of training with a lot of guys and everybody working toward a goal.
Also it’s Monte Cox, who has been my manager for my entire career, doing the Adrenaline shows. It’s nice to be part of that. The show probably wouldn’t have taken place here in the Quad Cities, my hometown, had I not fought on the card. And so that would be one less fight that my guys get. It’s a televised bout, it gives those guys more exposure, so hopefully it will help those guys be seen by more eyes and get some contracts for those guys. They’re all very tough, world-class fighters on the card from my gym. I want to see those guys’ careers move on and do great things.
New Aleks E. Interview
The original looks longer than the translation I found
Three time combat sambo champion and one of the most extravagant masters in MMA jumped into a conversation with the journalists of SE.
We met Emelianenko junior on the Krasin Street, near the corporate HQ. We've reminisced how Nikolai Valuev has stumbled into SE the same way. We talked for an hour, and after that the giant Nikolai went to catch a cab. At that time barely anyone knew his face - the cars were afraid to stop for Valuev. Many would cross the lane into oncoming traffic.
The 27-year-old Aleksander Emelianenko, who's acknowledged by the whole world as one of the best MMA fighters, is rarely recognized on the streets of Moscow. Although in New York and Tokyo he can barely walk around. Even, when we met with his brother, famous Fedor Emelianenko, not too long ago in the crowd of the Kursk train station. We found a quiet corner and sat down, without anyone recognizing him. And just to the side of us, the kiosks of pirated discs were flooded with the fight bootlegs of the Emelianenko brothers. It was a fantastic feeling.
Aleksander has knocked out giants in such a way, that at times it seemed as if the floor was giving way. The worried doctors often times had to get the mouthpiece with their hands off of his opponents, and not everyone was able to raise their hands after a meeting with Emelianenko. No wonder the Americans gave him the nickname The Grim Reaper.
He came in wearing tall army boots. Sideways, bent his head to squeeze into the door. We remembered the site mesilovo.ru, which specified Sasha's height at 198 centimeters...
Your brother, the legendary Fedor, mentioned that, as a fighter, you are more talented than him. Do you feel like that?
- Of course I feel like that. I don't know what I don't have that Fedor does. I am the strongest. Better than anyone. I'm ready to fight with any fighter in the world - whoever is number one, whether in ratings, or by recongition. I will mess anybody up.
It's sad, that we can't even train with my brother. He lives in Stary Oskol, I live in Petersburg. We're both travel year-round.
You used to practice together before?
Yes. And we went at it at full strength. I boxed better. I was beating Fedor with my hands. And I was practicing without a coach, - I was training my hands by myself; whatever I felt was right. I just got a boxing coach not too long ago, Yuri Razumov. I realized that my understanding of boxing that I had at the time was...
Not even boxing, something else?
I didn't know crap! Just now, I finally saw what boxing was. Now, I trained my hands to be good. I'm boxing at a level higher. Did you hear about a young fighter - Kirill Sidelnikov?
Not a bad kid. Earlier he could somewhat hang with me in the ring, and now his coach is almost in tears; screaming "Don't hit him. Kirill is not ready yet. He's not gonna box with you again like that..." Then turns around to him and says "Aleksander has progressed, and you're just standing still!"
If you're more talented than Fedor, why is he number one and undefeated, and you're just barely making the top 10?
Fedor, in his time took the belt and held on to it. At that time I was the youngest fighter in Pride. Started fighting at 23, I just lacked basic experience. And I had to fight without any coaching. What I could - I learned from Fedor. I lost to the famous Croatian - Crocop just because it was only my fourth fight. I was just a kid.
And your brother just not too long ago went to Thailand with Crocop to study special styles of boxing
Yeah. I was not prepared. Didn't have the means.
What did he catch you with?
A kick to th head. With Josh Barnett it went a little different. I was beating the guy up for 10 minutes straight; broke his nose.. This Barnett is now doing everything to avoid a new fight. He knows what will happen to him.
But in that fight, broken nose and all, Barnett was able to beat you
I came to fight with a 37.4 temperature. Before each fight we go through the medical exams, and the doctors didn't want to let me fight. But the fight was part of the Grand Prix - you fight for your honour in those competitions. Eventually, I couldn't finish him, ran out of steam.
So how could a man with a broken nose take the win from you?
I messed up his nose before the break. Then they brought him back, stopped the bleeding. Barnett had one chance - to go in for the shoot. He gathered for this shoot; ran at me, hit me with a body shot and got me to the ground, where he ended up on top.
Is it a heroic to win with such an injury?
Nothing heroic. Just heart.
Did you have instances where you had to use your "heart"?
In my fight with Ricardo Morais I broke by hand in two places. Look - I still have a growth on my wrist. I threw a combination of punches - on about third or fourth punch I broke my hand. And after that I threw about five more punches.
You didn't feel the pain?
I felt it when Morais fell down. I started thinking 'if he gets up and continues the fight, I can't hit with this hand, will need to change my stance'
But the guy, whose head you used to break the hand, he didn't get up?
No he didn't
You think someone would get up after that?
Doubt it. Although Morais throughout his whole career was never even in a knockdown. And I knocked him out. He fell standing forward. With all his height of 205.
What place are you in the world rating?
I have no idea. My rating is also not as high, because americans have bought out Pride. The fighters they needed they took with their contracts. And for the rest, they told them "You want to fight with us? We'll be paying 500 dollars a fight. If you don't want that - get the hell out..."
So you have nowhere to fight?
Exactly. I spent a long time without any fights, until I signed a contract with Affliction for 3 fights. Japanese also opened a new organization - "Dream", want me to fight there.
If you would end up in American league today - you would start beating their local heroes?
I don't see any heroes there. Noguiera is their champion, whom Fedor destroyed three times. He's an experienced fighter, but it seems he got old because of all the fights. It's time for him to rest. I'm, on the other hand just getting started. My last loss was a long time ago.
New Mike Swick Interview
Listen in as Bloodyknux.Com's Tyler Horton talks to UFC 170 lb standout Mike" Quick" Swick as he prepares to take on Jonathon Goulet at UFN Fight Night For The Troops on December 10th. Mike talks about his adventures outside of the Octagon, his preparations for Goulet and his admiration for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which the UFN event is raising money for, and much more.....
Kimo talks UFC, Career, Roids, Lesnar & More!
Kimo Leopoldo ‘Can We Get Some Old School Fighters Here?’
Mixed Martial Arts Legend Kimo Leopoldo recently talked with PDG about his career, the resignation of CSAC’s Armando Garcia, the UFC, Kimbo Slice, Ken Shamrock, the history of MMA and the battles that were in the early days of “No Holds Barred’ fighting.
PDG: So do you think that this influx of new fighters that may be lacking the credentials is watering down the talent pool in mixed martial arts? Kimo: Yes but that is only part of it; it also falls on the shoulders of the matchmakers and all of the new rules put in place to “protect the fighters”. I know some of this stuff is in place to help fighters build their record up but in the past it was anybody, any place and at any time. Now it's more like let me see if this fight is okay with my coach and manager. Kimbo Slice had that fire, Ken Shamrock had it, Tank Abbott had that fire, Royce Gracie had it and I had it. The old-school fighters know exactly what I am talking about.
Paulson, Nelson, Morgan talk about Lesnar Victory
Brock Lesnar’s Team Breaks Down His Victory Over Randy Couture For The UFC Heavyweight Title
On November 15th, 2008 Brock Lesnar became one of only 4 Heavyweights in UFC history to win the Heavyweight Title with less than 5 professional fights. The coaches who helped him orchestrate his victory over the Legendary Captain America Randy Couture talked with PDG about Brock’s training, the fight and his future opponents. Below is what legendary trainers Marty Morgan, Greg Nelson and Erik Paulson had to say about the new UFC Heavyweight Champion.