MMA Punch-Drunk Club: Are We Doing Enough to Protect the Fighters?

Scott KennedyContributor IMarch 16, 2011

Violence can be defined as the use of physical force, usually intended to cause injury or destruction.

The key word in that definition is the word usually.

Some forms of violence are sanctioned by society. One in particular, is the violence that occurs within the parameters of a sport.

Some of our favourite sports are extremely violent, and participating in these sports entails the risk of a potentially serious injury. Precautions are taken to minimize the risks, but the nature of these sports usually makes it impossible to eliminate risk completely.

Dementia Pugilistica is brain damage that is caused from being punched in the head too many times. Getting rocked might seem to have little to no immediate effect on the fighter but, over time, all those hits to the head add up and can leave the fighter punch-drunk.

Punch-drunk, however, does not fully convey the seriousness of brain damage. Punch-drunk makes us think of Rocky Balboa, not Terry Norris.

Norris was the 32-year-old boxer who stood before the Nevada State Athletic Commission and, in slurred speech, asked to have his boxing license reinstated.

His request was denied, as the commission recognized that to allow Norris to fight would be unconscionable. Norris was displaying obvious signs of brain damage.

It wasn't one punch or one fight that did Norris in, it was the cumulative effect of every punch that he took to the headwhether in the ring or training in the gym.

Each person who participates in a contact or extreme sport knows they are taking risks. It's the risks that are part of the sport's appeal. Risk raises the level of excitement for the athletes and the fans.

But how aware are athletes of real consequences of the risks they are taking?

One of the most legendary training camps in all of MMA is the Chute Boxe Academy of Curitiba, Brazil. This is the gym where Wanderlei Silva, Mauricio Rua and Anderson Silva got their start.

The Chute Boxe team was famous for their full contact sparring sessions in which it wasn't uncommon for fighters to be knocked out. Considering what we are now learning about the effects of repeated concussions, engaging in full contact sparring is not a risk that fighters should be taking.

You can't help wondering how many times a Chute Boxe team member went into a fight, still suffering the effects of a concussion.

It is becoming apparent that the head injuries athletes are suffering are not being properly dealt with.

Chuck Liddell and Andrei Arlovski are two high-profile fighters who come to mind.

Liddell is now retired, but most fans would say it was a couple of fights too late. This is not because the losses have tarnished Liddell's legacy; nothing could do that. No, it is because most fans recognized that Chuck was done. When Chuck was knocked out by Shogun, Dana White told us all that Liddell's career was over. White said that he cared too much about Chuck to allow him continue to fight.

Chuck, however, wasn't ready to retire.

He asked Dana for one more fight and Dana caved. Chuck fought Rick Franklin and was knocked out one more time.

Chuck officially retired after that.

Andrei Arlovski has suffered several brutal knock-outs in a recent string of losses. Arlovski's latest KO loss was to Sergei Kharitonov in the first round of Strikeforce's heavyweight tournament.

Despite being knocked out yet again, Arlovoski is adamant about continuing to fight. 

Sadly, it seems everyone but Andrei and his trainers recognize that it is time for him to retire.

The way things now stand, unless Arlovski starts showing the effects of brain damage, he'll probably be allowed to fight again.

Considering what we're now learning about the cumulative effects of concussions, this is irresponsible. There is a high probability that Arlovski will suffer avoidable brain damage if he continues to fight much longer.

Some of the symptoms Arlovski may one day suffer include cognitive impairment, dementia, memory loss, depression, tremors and speaking problems.

As fans of the sport, we need to ask: where do we figure in all of this?

Every time we, the fans, watch two fighters enter the cage we need to acknowledge the consequences.

We as fans, owe it to the sport to be more critical about what we are participating in. We cannot pretend that what is happening in the cage has nothing to do with us.

We must demand that the strictest measures be taken to ensure the safety of the athletes.    

We must concern ourselves with protecting the athletes; especially from themselves.

This is essential for the integrity of our sport.

Anything less and it's not a sport that we're sanctioning, it just violence.