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Enough is Enough

(Matthew Polly is Fightlinker’s resident Rhodes Scholar and published author – crazy huh? His first book, American Shaolin, covered his years in China training with Shaolin monks. His upcoming tome, Tapped Out, is about his years inside the MMA circuit and his adventures in Vegas training for a fight with XTreme Couture.)

While I immensely enjoy the wit of the boys at Cagepotato (and sorely miss my buddy Ben Fowkles), there was a recent post about the science of knockouts that was serious enough to require a serious rebuttal because it goes to the foundation and future of MMA as a serious sport, not a NHB spectacle.

Annoyed by other bloggers’ annoying calls for Matt Lindland to retire, the unnamed author (who are you, The Economist?) argued:

If a fighter’s health is at risk, either long or short-term, then I’m all for them hanging up the gloves, but it isn’t up to anyone but them to decide when that time is.

He then goes on to baldly state:

As far as the uninformed opinions that a fighter’s “KO button” is easier to push or that his chin is weaker as a compound result of multiple knockouts incurred over the span of his career, both are fundamentally incorrect.

He justifies this position by selectively quoting a Popular Mechanics article on the
science behind an “individual” knockout. To paraphrase, it happens at the cellular level
and involves the balance of electrolytes.

This is interesting as far as it goes. But what baffles me and why I’m writing this unfunny
post on a funny MMA blog is this question: Why did the obviously intelligent and thoughtful author fail to quote the second and third sentences of the article’s first fucking paragraph?

Research suggests that the blows that cause knockouts can be debilitating to a boxer’s short and long-term health. Repeated blows to the brain can cause chronic damage such as personality changes and dementia.

Leaving aside dementia for a moment, the post’s premise that the science behind an “individual” knockout discredits the widely held view that there is a “compounding” effect to concussions is fallacious. One has nothing to do with the other.

The argument for a “compounding” effect is simple: Concussions damage the brain; the more damage to the brain, the more likely another concussion. There are other factors that damage a brain. Age is one, as the brain deteriorates over time. Excessive partying is another. So an older athlete who parties too much and suffers several concussions in a row is in serious danger of both more concussions and long-term brain damage. (Yes, I’m talking about Chuck.)

Why does this matter to the sport we love so dearly?

Let’s take the examples of a poorly regulated, a semi-regulated, and a more fully regulated sport.

In boxing, the fighter is the star and decides who, where, when, why, and how he competes. The result is Muhammad Ali.

In MMA, the UFC controls roughly 90 percent of the market. Dana White tried to retire Chuck Liddell but had to back down (“I’m not his Dad”) when he realized The Iceman could simply go to another promotion with a scumbag promoter and sell-out a crowd in a state with a corrupt Athletic Commission, i.e. most of them.

In the NFL by contrast, Troy Aikman suffered ten concussions, and towards the end they kept happening faster and faster. The Cowboys eventually refused to resign him. Aikman, unwilling to accept it was time to hang-up his cleats, tried to find another team. None were willing given the medical evidence, and so he was forced to retire.

(And the NFL is the best of them, despite growing evidence they tried for years to push the long-term effects of concussions under the rug.)

It is no more up to journalists/commentators/bloggers to say when a fighter should retire – although they are of course free to say whatever they want – than it would be for fighters to say when it is time for a writer to hang up his keyboard. (I have some suggestions.) But to say it should be up to the fighter is glib for a blogger and morally repugnant for a promoter. If I’ve learned anything in the several years I’ve been researching MMA for a book (here comes the inevitable plug: ” target=”_blank”>Tapped Out will be available nationwide in late 2011), the worst person to ask when it is time to quit is the fighter himself.

There should be a national athletic commission that decides–with appropriate expert
advice–when a fighter, based on age and concussions, is no longer fit to fight in America.
(Of course, they can always go to Japan where they don’t give a shit.) It’s a pipe dream,
I know. John McCain (boo, hiss) tried to reform boxing. He failed, unlike his successful
effort to outlaw NHB.

But I also believe there should be a fighter’s union. So I’m crazy.

What I’m not is someone who thinks there is no evidence that multiple concussions don’t
have a compounding effect. Nor am I someone who thinks it should be up to the fighters
- be they Ken Shamrock, Matt Lindland, or Chuck Liddell – to decide when enough is enough. MMA is a now, officially, after so-many-years-of-controversy a sport. There needs to be a national regulatory body to protect a fighter from himself.

And since I’ve been boring and self-righteous and this is a fightlinker post, I’ll conclude: “Shit, Fuck, Piss, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Piss.”

  • G Funk

    Whats going on with all the occasional posters posting all at once? Is it Christmas already? Unnecessarily long winded post by the man who thinks all UFC fans are racist.

  • glassjawsh

    “the obviously intelligent and thoughtful author”

    Goldstein – yes
    russell – no

  • Tanhauser

    Wand seems ok. And he’s been knocked out harder than Lindland.

    Idk, Who are we to tell some guy what he can and can’t do for a living? It’s what matt has done all his life. It’s like telling a firefighter he can’t keep working because he got mesothelioma from asbestos fighting a fire.

    I’m sure Lindland has his hand in other pies though and doesn’t NEED to fight.

    It’s up to him, and his promotion of course. If Coker isn’t interested …

    that said I have no desire to see him fight.

  • agentsmith

    The last sentence set off my employer’s firewall.

  • subo

    You can’t say those words on the Internet!

    Polly, you’re the shit. Plus, you’re absolutely right about the need for protection. However, while I like the idea of nationalizing the regulation, methinks Nevada would have issues with that. A union is the only thing, absent the shitty fly-by-night promotions that used to provide a semblance of balance, to ensure collective bargaining between the fighters and the promoter.

    Oh, and whomever sanctions Lindland to fight anyone better than Kevin Casey should be shot.

  • Márcio

    You made some good points but I still believe that the ultimate decision should be up to the fighter. It’s their livelihood after all. I, for instance, believe that nowadays a unicorn dies everytime Sakuraba steps in the ring, but he should have the right to do it.

  • fightlinker

    “It’s like telling a firefighter he can’t keep working because he got mesothelioma from asbestos fighting a fire.”

    If going back into more fires would worsen his condition and shorten his life, he wouldn’t be allowed to keep doing it :-p

  • frickshun

    BWAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAAHA. Funniest post in a looooong time on Fightlinker!!!!!!!!! This is comedy gold.

    However, I do agree w/Polly. Can we force Mir to retire? Personally, I don’t like his face.

  • Reverend Clint

    polly you basterd commissions are not corrupt, thats what keith keizer told me anyways.
    I like everything you have said. Some people just dont know when to quit. Its like telling an addict when to stop.

  • SST

    Covers Ears*

    Laalaa lalallaala laaaaaaaalllss

    That post wasn’t even funny.

  • netterbog

    1) I agree with your union idea;

    2) I’ve had north of 12 concussions – and they certainly happen a lot easier now than when I was a teenager;

    3) You said “fallacious.”

  • repenttokyo

    if someone’s profession is dangerous enough that they could be damaged to the degree where they can no longer practice their chosen profession, then there need to be protections built into the labor system governing that profession to provide financial assistance for damaged workers.

    it’s really as simple as that – but no sports have it.

  • matthewpolly

    First, I’d like to thank Ryan for posting my stem-winding rant. Second, I’d like to say to “G Funk”, if you remember that post from a year ago, you might be a racist. But yes, it is nearly Xmas. And you are right, the post was too long. I was in a mood. And to Reverend Clint, we should get a beer some time. The tab is on me.

  • matthewpolly

    Oh, that drinks, goes out to you as well Subo. I dig your passion and your writing.

  • Reverend Clint

    Well if you ever make it up to the Pacific Northwest I’ll take you up on that.

  • frickshun

    Rev has a man-date!!

  • iamphoenix

    I thoroughly read this with my eyes. Also I would like to include that a group of evil scientists shouldn’t keep us from watching hilarious knockouts…

  • subo

    Matthew – That’s a real compliment (or some world class smoke-blowing) coming from you. Oh, and we’re drinking whiskey.

  • matthewpolly

    I prefer Jack, but am found of other single malts.

  • G Funk

    Polly, nice Jeff Foxworthy reference! I was wondering if you posted this article or if Ryan did itcause of the momentus decription that seemed like your fame proceeds you when meeting someone, or like how music plays for the president when he enters a room.

    You should post more, as should Rod and Shawn.

  • GoldenArms

    jeff foxworthy references, subo loving and telling people how to live their lives… go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars. if a guy wants to be retarded, let him be retarded. that is their choice, not yours.

    ps- troy aikman is gay, that’s why no one wanted him (except joe buck and frickshun)

  • Jim

    I think pre & post fight medical’s are doing a good enough job. Modern day boxers seem to be holding up pretty well.

    In any case how are they going to regulate concussions?
    Most don’t show up on MRI’s & unless the athlete describes his symptoms honestly, the commission doctor won’t be able to diagnose either.

    Not to mention the fact no-one know’s much about how concussions work anyway or who’s really at risk. Randy Couture’s had a few & he seems fine. Chuck doesn’t seem to be holding up too badly either, despite all the drama.

  • Jim

    I like the idea of a federal commission though, especially if it gets rid of all the state ones.

  • matthewpolly

    Dear G-Funk,
    You caught the Foxworthy reference! So nice to have an educated crowd.

    Not to walk back that previous post, which was poorly worded (I was drunk), but I don’t think UFC fans are racists, I think they tend to be tribal.

    Two examples: I was at the Avis desk in Vegas and the short, stocky guy says to me: “What do you think of GreaseGate?” I say, “I’m biased. Phil Nurse was one of my coaches, so I side with him. What do you think?” Guy says: “Well, I’m Hawaiian, so I’m for BJ Penn.”

    Second story: I was up in Montreal with the boys for GSP vs Serra II. Crowd is insane, you can’t hear a fucking word. During a brief pause in the mayhem, the guy next to me asks? “Where you from?” “New York,” I say. “Ah, well, you must be for Serra.” “Actually, I’m from Manhattan, and I’m for GSP.” Guy thinks and then says, “Well, I guess Manhattan is a long way from Long Island.” “Yeah,” I say. “A long way.” After the match he buys me and his mate a beer. I don’t want it, because I’d been drinking non-stop with the boys, but I take it. As things settle down, I feel obligated, so I buy him and his mate a beer. When I hand both to him, he turns to his mate and says, “See, I told you. Not all Americans are assholes.”

    Tribal, not racist. We’ll see the same in Montreal this weekend when GSP (spoiler alert) proves he “iz the champion of North America.”

  • frickshun

    Polly–>funny story about Serra/Georges II. And that’s a good word (“tribal”).

    PS: I’m a New Yawka too.

  • G Funk

    Watchout Polly, Frick’s got game! He’s been known to convert otherwise very straight men.

  • frickshun

    (licks finger & wipes on Polly’s shirt……”Let me get you out of those wet clothes”)

  • dulljake

    Fighters are usually overgrown children that make incredibly poor decisions with their lives. For the sake of their health in the future, it really can’t be up to them. With that said, we should only pull out that shit when it’s become evident to everyone that their chins are gone.

  • frickshun
  • subo

    Golden – The only true thing you said is that Joe Buck wants to make sweet, sweet love to Troy Aikman. You can see it every time they lock eyes.