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Rise in Popularity of Mixed-Martial Arts Leads to Serious Brain Injury Discussions

Over the last decade few sports have gained in popularity as steadily as mixed-martial arts (MMA). Rising from a sport with a few loyal fans, MMA-led by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)-has attracted millions of followers, making national celebrities of its biggest stars. For those unfamiliar, MMA is essentially a “fight” between two individuals incorporating a wide range of techniques, from boxing and wrestling to karate and jiu jitsu. Of course, considering the physicality of the sport, our Chicago brain injury attorneys know that the risk of severe head injury to participants is particularly high.

The rising popularity of the sport has led those in charge of the effort to take a far more serious look at the actual brain injury risks and ways that those risks can be lowered while maintaining the spirit of the sport. For example, a new story at The Bleacher Report explained that while knockouts are popular with fans, the single event may have life-long consequences for the athlete. The story reminds readers that “the specter of brain injury looms over each and every striking sport.”

On one hand, MMA may actually be safer than sports like boxing. Whereas blows to the head are the main component of all boxing matches, MMA fights include many other moves beyond head strikes. There is much more grappling and subtle submission moves in MMA. These come with their own risks, but at the end of the day that repeated head contact seen over a boxing career is less common in professional MMA fighters.

However, on the other hand, this feature also means that MMA fighters often continue in the sport longer than boxers. As a result, MMA fighter may experience more concussions over the course of a career than others. This can present incredibly significant risks, with debilitating consequences for aging fighters.

Each Illinois brain injury lawyer at our firm appreciates that these risks make it imperative for those in charge of safety for the sport to give serious thought to changes in rules and regulations which take these risks into accounts. For example, in the sport’s earliest days participants did not even use gloves. It was a bare-knuckle fighting. That changed as the sport grew in popularity.

Now some have suggested that the sport implement a new policy where fighters are forced to retire after taking a certain amount of knockouts. It is not uncommon for fighters even in their early twenties to have suffered two, three, four, or more knockouts in their career. Make no mistake, the severe blows that lead to these knockouts cause actual brain injuries. Our growing knowledge of the brain and long-term injuries to the head make clear that, while fighters might seem to recover from these injuries, there are often long-term consequences. Years from now many of these athletes will face severe health issues. It is simply irresponsible to ignore those risks for a few years of fighting.

All of this is not to suggest that MMA officials are ignoring their duty. In fact, MMA may actually be the most regulated sport in the country. This is not surprising considering that the event involves much more violence than virtually all other sports. Yet, as information about the long-term effects of these injuries grows it will become important for officials to constantly keep standards up.

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