On Saturday, Feb. 12, Andrei Arlovski suffered a brutal knockout loss to Sergei Kharitonov at the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight tournament. The image of the unconscious Arlovski laying flat on his back with his unseeing eyes open and mouth agape is something that will stick with those that saw the fight for a long time.
Arlovski has lost three of his last four fights via knockout, in two of those fights he was knocked out cold. Yet, Arlovski says that he is not going to retire from the sport.
It is within Arlovski’s rights as an individual to pursue another fight, there are no rules that say he cannot do so, but at what point does someone have to step in and protect a fighter from himself?
The fighter fights, that’s what he does, that’s what he knows, that’s how he makes his living, but at some point future well-being and quality of life need to be considered. The National Hockey League has started to do this with their players, perhaps mixed martial arts need to follow suit.
NHL players go through baseline testing and when they suffer a concussion they have to undergo testing and meet that baseline before they are allowed back on the ice. In the NHL, the days of the “how many fingers am I holding up” test are long gone.
That’s a good thing, since, according to an ESPN report, “30 percent of NHL players diagnosed with concussions have normal physical readings, but abnormal neuropsychological testing scores.” Which means in the past, those players would have been put back on the ice, when they were not fully healthy.
The length of time it takes to recover from a concussion varies from person to person and from case to case, there is no magic length of time that allows the brain to recover from injury.
The 30-day medical suspension that Arlovski received after his knockout loss to Kharitonov will most likely be insufficient to allow him to recover from being knocked out, yet he will surely be back to training after his suspension is up, taking blows to the head.
The argument that these athletes know what they are getting into is a weak one. There are very few athletes that when asked will not lie and say that they are fine. Playing through the pain has been ingrained in them since they first started competing in their respective sport. But the pain of a bruised arm or a twisted ankle are injuries you can work through, injuries to the brain are not so easy to walk off.
Now is the time for MMA to take a proactive approach in dealing with brain injuries, while the sport is still young and developing.
Every fighter should go through a baseline test before their fight and be checked after they fight. If they fail to meet their baseline results, they should be suspended indefinitely until they do meet those baseline results.
MMA fighters have a very short time frame to make a living, there is no arguing that fact. However, the short-term financial gain of a fighter competing when they are not healthy cannot outweigh consideration of their future quality of life.
Changes must be made and soon.