I have reffed, judged, cornered, and very occasionally fought in many hundreds of MMA bouts. I am regularly asked what was the worst injury I ever saw from within the cage. The crazy thing is, you couldn't even see it.
He was a first time fighter, a little older, and a little big. I taped his hands before the rules meeting, as his corner didn't know how to. He did okay the first round, could hit pretty hard. Towards the end of the first, things were not going his way, but I didn't end it.
Very early in the second, he didn't not want to be there, and something felt wrong, so I stopped it, although he was not in imminent danger. There was little protest, and then he went back to the locker room with his brother.
He passed out there, and an ambulance was called. Then, in the ambulance, his heart stopped. He was airlifted to Boston. The diagnosis renal failure.
There was a wait, day after day, to see if he kidneys started again. If they did not, he would be on dialysis, for the rest of his life. The good news at that point was that he had lived.
He had never cut before. After a little research, he went on the Atkins Diet. Protein is tough on the kidneys. Then he cut water weight, which placed further demands on the renal system. Then, under the heat of TV lights, his kidneys stopped, right in the middle of a fight.
Eventually his kidneys started, but he never fought again.
Dehydration can fatally affect more than the kidneys. Dehydrated brains are more dangerous still. In boxing and MMA, same day weigh ins are a thing of the past, but it took Duk Koo Kim's death.
Kim took a 14 round beating from Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini the same day he made a brutal cut down to 135 lbs.
Without sufficient time to rehydrate before the fight, Kim's dried up brain slammed against his skull with every clean blow, for 14 rounds. Kim died four days later.
Day before weigh ins have largely solved the potentailly fatal issue of cutting and brain trauma.
But the dangers of cutting on the kidneys remain, and can happen to the most experienced and carefully monitored athletes in the world.
UFC heavyweight Daniel Cormier had to miss his shot at Olympic gold in 2008 when his kidneys failed in Beijing. It nearly killed him. Cormier was cutting weight to compete at 211 lbs.
The symptoms of Acute Renal Failure (ARF) include dry mouth, lack of urine, headache, lower back pain, nausea, and drowsiness. ARF can be treated with fluids and a quick rehydration, but it can also become Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) if the fighter's kidneys give out from the strain.
"It was very scary," Cormier told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com of his Olympic experience. "I was in the hospital. I was getting IV bags, not really eating food. I couldn't recover from the weight cut."
"I had been cutting weight for a really long time. I think I started when I was 13, but I was doing it the wrong way. I put (a plastic sweatsuit) on a week before I weighed in, and I would just start sucking out that water. ... Your body can only take so much. I was beating it down every time. It was very scary."
Cormer, 34, who makes his UFC debut against Frank Mir at heavyweight at UFC on FOX 7 Saturday night, has a carrot and sticks prodding him to drop to light heavyweight. Cormier does not want to fight AKA teammate and UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and he does want to fight UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and at 5' 10" he is remarkably short for heavyweight.
"Physically, I'm different now," said Cormier. "When I was saying that I couldn't make light heavyweight, it wasn't happening. At my heaviest, I was 264 pounds. I was consistently weighing in for fights at 250 pounds, and that was after training camps. I was losing seven, eight pounds and being 250 pounds at weigh-ins. Now, I wake up in the morning, and I'm 234 pounds. That's almost a 20-pound difference. Now it seems realistic. I'm lighter now than even when I was wrestling."
First of course, he has to fight Frank Mir under the lights on Saturday night.
"I think I have to just get through this fight and then see what happens next," said Cormier. "I'm going to fight with my heart and soul and give you everything I have to win this fight against Frank and continue to build to hopefully one day be the UFC champion."
Mixed martial arts is the most compelling sport on Earth to watch, and it is the most compelling sport to do. But playing sports can be dangerous, and mixed martial arts is no exception. Eight people believed to have died from injuries sustained during MMA competitions from 1993 to the present.
Seven athletes have died from injuries sustained while competing in the Olympics - one runner, one cyclist, a boxer, one speed skater, one downhill skier, and two lugers.
Boxing has recorded nearly 1,500 deaths since it's inception in the 1700s.
Auto racing has killed countess drivers, and spectators are not immune. A single accident in 1955 killed approximately 60 spectators, and the driver.
28 people are beiieved to have died running, in marathons alone, in the USA alone, just from 2000-2009. In 2005, four runners died, in a single event, the Great North Run half marathon in the UK.
Cheerleading killed 42 between the fall of 1982 and the spring of 2007.
Danger is a part of life, part of what makes it worth living, but awareness of those dangers is part of our responsibilites as human beings. MMA fighters need to be fuly aware of the dangers of weight cutting before they sign the contract and step on the scale.
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