Nova Uniao flyweight fighter Leandro "Feijao" Souza passed away while cutting weight Thursday for Friday's Shooto Brazil 43 card in Rio de Janeiro. He was 26 years old.
Souza reportedly passed out in the sauna, and was transported to the hospital, where he was declared dead. He had two pounds to go to make weight.
Nova Uniao founder and Shooto Brazil president Andre Pederneiras announced the tragic news, via his Facebook.
"It is with great regret that we here report the death of the Leandro Caetano de Souza. The athlete died at the emergency unit in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. The reasons are not yet known. We would like to express condolences to all friends and family."
Souza's teammate and sometime coach Andre Santos offered further details, via MMAFighting.com.
"We don't have much information yet," said Santos. "But we do know that is related to his weight cut. He's my student but he also trains at Nova Uniao for about a year. I wasn't with him during this process because I have a fight scheduled in Russia, so he spent the night at Nova Uniao's gym. His sister called me saying that he had passed out so I went to the hospital, but he was already dead when I got there."
The chief of police in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, Joao Ismar told Brazil's UOL Sport that an examination by Instituto Medico Legal (IML) indicates that Souza suffered a stroke. Further investigation is in progress to determine if the stroke is related to the weight cut.
The death certificate submitted by the Forensic Institute shows Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA) as the cause of death of MMA fighter, Leandro Santos.
The chief of police in Botafogo, Joao Ismar, who is responsible for investigating the case, told UOL Sport that it is premature to point out the reasons that led to the death. The delegation requested more information to the IML on the causes of death and called relatives to testify.
"It is too early to attribute the death to the weight cutting effort," said the chief. "Need to check medical records to see if there is a historical factor, because it is not common for someone so young to suffer a stroke. IML is working to achieve more substantial elements that may clarify the case."
Souza's aunt, Elma Caetano, believes that Bean had ruptured vein in the brain due to the intense physical effort made ??by the player to reach the required weight for flyweight.
Souza's coach, Andrew Chatuba understands that the effort made by the athlete to cut weight could be linked to the death.
"He passed out in the sauna, and was rushed to the Emergency Ward," said Chatuba. "It seems to me there is a relationship with weight loss..."
According to a spokesperson for the health department of Rio de Janeiro, Bean was admitted to the public hospital in Botafogo on Thursday, at 2:50 PM, unconscious, having difficulty breathing, and no pulse. He was intubated and subjected to resuscitation, but died an hour later.
He will be buried on Saturday morning, in Rio de Janeiro.
A physiologist, Toribio Leite de Barros, who has worked in sports medicine reports that the stroke that killed Beans may be due to the intense process adopted to lose weight quickly.
Toribio emphasized that the more severe the dehydration caused by fluid loss cutting, the more the body is exposed to strokes.
"Dehydration makes the blood more viscous," said de Barros. "And this causes friction with the wall of the blood vessel to increase, and can break. Int his case, it is logical that there is a set of factors that may have contributed to the stroke, but any person be subject facing a severe degree of dehydration in a short period."
"I'm totally against this practice used in weight cutting. Remember that losing liquid is much easier than losing fat. Some athletes take diuretic, laxative, in saunas. It is an extremely dangerous practice..."
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Pederneiras cancelled Shooto Brazil 43 as a "sign of mourning" for Souza.
Further details will be posted as they come available, but the story is an old, tragic one in combat sports.
Cutting weight hard had been a staple of collegiate and high school wrestling programs for generations. Then, late in 1997, three wrestlers died in a month. SI had the story:
He died crawling to the scale. Glassy-eyed and pale, his legs too weak to hold him after he had shed nearly 17 pounds in three days, Jeff Reese collapsed and expired on the cold floor of a locker room in Crisler Arena on Dec. 9 in Ann Arbor.
Reese, a junior at Michigan trying to make weight in the 150-pound class for a wrestling meet against Michigan State, spent the last two hours of his life in a plastic suit, riding a stationary bike in a room in which the heat was cranked up to 92. He was the third college wrestler to die in 33 days. Billy Jack Saylor, a freshman at Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C., and Joseph LaRosa, a senior at Wisconsin-La Crosse, died in November while cutting weight. Though the official causes of their deaths varied, Reese, Saylor and LaRosa died of the same thing: the self-inflicted torture of drastic weight loss, college wrestling's ugly secret.
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In response to the three deaths, the NCAA took a number of steps to make wrestling safer, including:
•Banning training in a room hotter than 80 degrees:
•Banning self-induced vomiting;
•Banning extensive food or fluid restrictions;
•Requiring hydration tests:
•Requiring body fat checks; and,
•Restricting the amount of weight that can be lost.
Following the NCAA's lead, high schools too instituted a variety of precautions.
Earlier this year, attorney Erik Magraken in his CanadianMMALawBlog.com argued that Mixed Martial Arts should not wait for three deaths in 33 days due to weight cutting.
It is important to introduce forward thinking legislation instead of waiting for a tragedy to occur before bringing legal change. This leads to today’s topic, rapid weight loss in combat sports and foreseeable tragedy.
MMA, as with all weight-restricted sports, comes with a risk that athletes will subject themselves to rapid weight loss techniques in order to make their fighting weight. These ‘brutal weight cuts’ are well documented at MMA’s highest level. This in turn leads to many MMA athletes fighting in a dehydrated state. This comes with increased risk of fighter injury including increased risk of traumatic brain injury. With this in mind it is worth examining the justification for weight classes in the first place and discuss whether fights following rapid weight loss should be tolerated.
As MMA has grown in popularity so has legislative oversight of the sport. These two developments go hand in hand with a proper legal framework helping legitimize the sport in turn creating a foundation on which the sport can grow. One of the first regulatory developments which has helped legitimize MMA in the public’s eye was the introduction of weight classes. At their core, weight classes exist for fighter safety. The risk of injury grows with weight discrepancy among athletes.
Appreciating that fighter safety is the core reason behind weight classes, rapid weight loss is a phenomenon that needs to be addressed. Failing to address this issue undermines the entire foundation underlying weight classes.
Studies show that rapid weight cutting (ie- more than 5% of body weight) lead to increased participant injury risk in combat sports. As noted by Dr. Benjamin, a simple solution to address this issue is to require certain weight metrics from 30 days out from a fight.
The MMA community should not wait for a tragedy to occur, as did in the 1990′s with NCAA wrestling, before addressing this issue. Unless safeguards are built in some athletes will continue to undertake dangerous methods to make weight. Stakeholders in the MMA community, be it event organizers or legislative bodies, should take proactive steps to address this reality. Not only will this result in competition more reflective of an athlete’s ‘true’ weight, it will promote fighter safety.
Which jurisdiction or organization will have the foresight and initiative to address this issue first?
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The long-feared death has now come. It is incumbent on Brazil's regulatory body, the Comissão Atlética Brasileira de MMA (CABMMA), to step in and make appropriate changes, so that another death from cutting is not inevitable.