Remember last week when I said that Ben Fowlkes was the best MMA writer in the game?
He proved it once again with yesterday's excellent story on the mental and physical downfall of long-time MMA veteran Gary Goodridge. It's a poignant story, a look at the day to day life of a fighter who stayed in the game long past his expiration date and is now suffering the consequences.
These days he spends most of his time in bed. He watches a lot of TV, probably ten hours a day, according to friends, and he’s more or less glued to his iPhone, which he uses as a sort of exterior memory bank. It reminds him who he needs to talk to and where he needs to be. At the same time, even the iPhone can only help him so much.
According to Mark Dorsey, who co-wrote Goodridge’s memoir, Gatekeeper: The Fighting Life of Gary "Big Daddy" Goodridge, the former UFC and K-1 fighter’s long-term memory is still "impeccable." It’s the short-term he can’t get a grip on.
I’ve gone on trips with him and we’ll be in the hotel at night and he’ll ask me, ‘What did we do today?' said Dorsey. I won’t give it to him right away and he’ll sit there and try to rack his brain and remember.
Much has been made about the effects of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) on the lives of former football players, hockey stars and professional wrestlers. The disease affects the brain of otherwise happy and healthy men and has been named as the culprit behind the suicide deaths of numerous athletes.
When their brains are examined after death, they display the same kind of brown splotches—caused by the spread of tau proteins—as much older patients with advanced cases of Alzheimer's disease.
Goodridge is the first notable MMA athlete to have his name and condition linked to CTE, but he won't be the last.
The sport as a whole is a much safer environment than it was during Goodridge's heyday, and fighters generally take much less punishment in the cage or ring than guys like Goodridge or Don Frye did.
Athletic commissions have gotten much better at identifying problem areas with fighters, and they have the power to deny licenses to guys who shouldn't be fighting any more.
And Dana White has even taken it upon himself to police the sport, as evidenced in the forced retirement of Chuck Liddell—another superstar fighter who has displayed the mumbled speech often linked with CTE or pugilistic dementia.
We can still see the dangers of cage fighting and combat sports, though.
The horrific beating Joe Warren took last Friday night at the hands of Pat Curran is a perfect example. In Warren's case, terrible refereeing was to blame, and Warren is attempting to fight safer by moving to his natural weight of 135.
We'll never completely rid the sport of concussions and punishment to the head. It's a combat sport, after all, and this kind of thing is unavoidable. But we should continually strive to identify fighters like Goodridge, who shouldn't be in the cage, guys who have taken too much punishment over the course of long careers.