The death of Michael Kirkham on June 26, the second mixed martial arts death in a sanctioned event in U.S. history, has been a wake up call to the dangers of insufficient regulation, the ramifications of combatants not being forthcoming on licensing applications and the landscape of the sport where new states are approving and local promoters promoting when maybe neither fully understand the tragic consequences of cutting corners.
But UFC president Dana White insists mixed martial arts is not only safe, but the safest sport in the world when correctly regulated.
“This is the safest sport in the world when done properly,” White said when asked about the unfortunate passing of Kirkham.
Michael Kirkham died following his professional mixed martial arts debut on June 26 at the Dash Entertainment and King MMA co-promoted “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” event at the USC Aiken Convocation Center in Aiken, South Carolina. An autopsy determined that he died from subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain.
White acknowledged the potential recipe for disaster when smaller promoters jump into hosting mixed martial arts events without the financial security to ensure proper preliminary medical testing on the athletes.
“As we go out there and get this thing sanctioned in all these different states, here’s the problem,” White began to explain. “I need these smaller promotions to exist but here’s the deal. If you can’t afford to do the proper medicals before the fight you don’t belong in this business.”
A fatality is a promotion’s worst nightmare, and the regulation of testing standards and promotion policing rests solely on the state commissions.
To fight in South Carolina, it isn’t required for a fighter to pass a full physical exam.
Asked about the South Carolina regulatory body’s responsibility, White said, “Yeah. Those are the medicals required in all the states. It should have been done. It should have been done.”
“The bottom line is I don’t care what state it is, what commission, if that company doesn’t have enough money to do the proper medical tests on the fighters before and after the fight, go open a (expletive) doughnut shop,” added the UFC president. “Go do something else. Open a laundry mat. This isn’t the business you should be in.”
White believes Kirkham entered his final bout with a pre-existing condition or injury that wasn’t detected.
“That fight lasted 22 seconds. It’s not like this was some three-round war where this kid took a lot of head damage,” commented White. “I’m no doctor, but I believe there was a pre-existing injury that they didn’t find in pre-fight medicals. And if you don’t have the money to do the proper medicals go get in another business. This isn’t the business for you.”
White may be right. Kirkham fought just 63 days before that fateful night on June 26, losing by technical knockout on April 24 in an amateur bout and was placed on the standard 30 day medical suspension with no contact, meaning no sparring with blows to the head.
On his pre-fight paperwork the 30-year old left blank the question that asked if he had ever been suspended in any state.
The UFC hosts more mixed martial arts fight organization in the world and has not suffered a single death, and White attributes that statistic to appropriate pre and post-fight medical testing and proper regulation and maintains the precautionary measures save lives.
“The UFC has saved people’s lives,” stated White. “Guys have come on the show, for The Ultimate Fighter, with brain injuries and all these sorts of problems, and they’re detected. You get a CAT scan. You get an MRI. You get an EKG, a full battery of tests before you go in and compete. When that’s done you find the stuff that’s wrong.”
Thiago Alves, (who was not cleared for his scheduled UFC 111 rematch with Jon Fitch due to a brain abnormality) he’s fought in the UFC for a long time. Some freak, weird thing happens in his brain. If he was fighting in that South Carolina show they would have never found it.”
“No one has ever died in the UFC.”
Whether Michael Kirkham’s fate would have been different had the pre-fight medicals been more stringent, we’ll never know. But the implications that it may have been should raise some eyebrows within the sport, or we can only hope.
Dana White M.D…