Devin Johnson Paralyzed in Training Accident; Should We Be Doing More?

Oliver Saenz@PdW2kXCorrespondent IMay 31, 2012

Devin Johnson in his hospital bed.
Devin Johnson in his hospital bed.

As an exclusive follower of MMA, I can’t compare the rate of tragic accidents and injuries to other sports. What I can say, though, is that in the near-decade that I’ve been following this sport, the amount of tragic injury and even death seems to be low.

I refuse to say “acceptable,” because it’s not acceptable, it’s never been acceptable and it will never be acceptable. It’s just…not as bad as I worry it could be. Sadly, though, it’s time to once again talk about a fighter that has now been paralyzed due to Mixed Martial Arts.

MixedMartialArts.com brings us the story. On May 14, Devin Johnson was practicing at the Ultimate Fitness MMA gym which popular UFC star and former WEC champion Urijah Faber co-owns. After being caught in a guillotine choke, Johnson shot for a double leg takedown. It was there that things went horribly wrong, and Johnson’s spine was badly injured.

The family of Johnson has set up a website, both to update people on his progress, and to offer a means for people to donate to help cover Johnson’s medical bills. For any interested, please click here.

What strikes me as so very sad about this story is not just that this horrific injury occurred, but that a young fighter’s career is over before it ever started. Johnson is only twenty-two years old, and was training to make his MMA debut in September of this year.

Now he’s going to have to learn how to walk again.

And so this leads me to wonder: what can we do to try and prevent something like this from happening? It’s very unfortunate, but this is not the first time someone has become paralyzed due to doing something risky in Mixed Martial Arts.

Do we just admit defeat and say that that’s the risk you take? Are we really that callous? But on the opposite extreme, do we want to start regulating every single thing about Mixed Martial Arts? Do we make it illegal to shoot for a takedown if you’re caught in a guillotine? Do we really want our rules and regulations that nuanced?

For my part, here’s what I think should be done: we need to realize that we can’t be proactive about this situation, no matter how badly we want to. We can recognize basic signs of risk and teach ways to avoid it, but I don’t think we’ll be able to pinpoint every single move, hold or technique that could, at some point in time, cause a serious avoidable injury.

So, the first part of my argument does seem to be similar to the “that’s the risk you take” argument. But I feel nothing so extreme. What I am saying is that this sport is so nuanced and evolves at such a rapid rate that we can’t go about thinking that we’ll be able to train against all the potentially dangerous techniques. We’re not mind readers, we can’t predict the future and ultimately, we can’t physically force a fighter to not do something potentially risky when they’re in a tight spot.

But here’s what we can do: if we have to be reactive to situations like these, (and while it’s unfortunate, I’m making the argument that we do) we need to educate fighters as early and as often as possible.

We need to start making a list of all the techniques that definitely have caused serious injury, and we need to come up with ways to train against those techniques. If training methods against those techniques exist, we need to make sure as many fighters as possible know.

At the end of the day, here’s what I’m envisioning: in addition to the usual routine of coaches teaching how to avoid dangerous techniques, I’d like to see a yearly fighter summit on health. Maybe it’s larger than just a day spent learning—or even re-learning—about dangerous techniques that have caused serious injury and how to avoid them. Maybe you throw in a day or two of which supplements you could/should be taking, which supplements are currently banned and why, how to effectively diet, how much of a weight cut is too much of a weight cut, etc.

But I want at least one day to be devoted to describing techniques that have caused serious injuries in the past and how a fighter can do their best to avoid either injuring themselves or their opponents with said techniques.

Hopefully then, we will have a serious shot at preventing a lot of these tragic accidents from occurring.

And before I go, I’d just like to say that I’m really pulling for Mr. Johnson, and I wish him nothing but the best.

Oliver Saenz, also known as PdW2kX, is a freelance journalist, opinion columnist, hardcore MMA fan and lifelong video game nerd. For more news, views, previews and reviews on all things Mixed Martial Arts as well as video games, be sure to visit FightGamesBlog.net


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