On May 18, Dustin Jenson, 26, fought in an unregulated MMA event in Rapid City, South Dakota called RingWars. This was reportedly his fifth fight, although there is no official record of any of his fights, as MMA is not regulated in South Dakota, despite a law that says it should be.
Jenson tapped to a triangle choke, and did not appear to take any significant damage in the bout (see video below). He told EMTs he was fine, watched two more fights, and went back stage to stretch out. Another fighter heard a moan, and discovered Jenson having seizure, some 45 minutes after the fight.
The called the EMT, the only medical personell on hand, and and ambulance was called.
Doctors at the near by Rapid City Regional Hospital determined he had increased pressure on his brain, and put him in a medically induced coma. Surgery was performed to relieve pressure, but Jenson did not wake up and was declared brain dead on May 24. He remained on life support until his organs were donated.
An autopsy performed Tuesday could shed light on why Jenson died.
Until the results are available in four to six weeks, the county sheriff's office won't decide whether to conduct a death investigation, Pennington County Sheriff Sergeant Dustin Morrison told MMAjunkie.com.
A private EMT company was present at the event – per the arena's contract with the promoter, Matt DeWolf, a professional fighter who also trained and cornered Jenson – but an ambulance was not on standby.
Prior to the event, the private EMTs questioned fighters on their recent medical history, including whether they had any previous head injuries or been recently knocked out. Fighters were not required to submit bloodwork, neurological or ophthalmological exams beforehand, as is standard in states with athletic commissions.
In 2009, then-South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds enacted legislation to create the South Dakota Boxing Commission, which would oversee combat-sports events, including MMA, in the state. But for reasons that are unclear, the commission doesn't appear to exist. It has no website and does not have a presence on the ABC's website. An official from the state's attorney general's office couldn't explain why the legislation wasn't put into effect, and a representative from the governor's office was unavailable for comment.
One industry veteran who's promoted events in South Dakota said regulation is entirely at the discretion of the promoter.
"It's pretty much whatever goes, goes," said Dan Lewis, who recently sold his interest in the Tri-State Cage Fighting promotion. "You'll see [fighters compete] that are drunk. It's just a crazy sport in South Dakota."
New Jersey State Athletic Control Board counsel Nick Lembo said the incident underscores the dire need for regulation.
"It's an unfortunate incident," he said. "We don't know exactly what happened, but I would hope that all jurisdictions see that there needs to be minimum pre-licensing, pre-fight screening and post-fight screening, performed by a licensed physician, and that emergency medical personnel, fully equipped with an ambulance, need to be on site.
"It's a combat sport, and in this day and age, we need to be cognizant of the risks and do the fighters and the sport justice by having concerns about their health and safety along with the integrity of the contest. Basically, if a promoter or a regulatory body can't do or can't afford proper medical screening, then they shouldn't do the event. It's not good for the sport. It's not good for the fighters."
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