Combat sports execs unite to support head trauma study

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Sometimes the biggest rivalries in combat sports take place out side the ring or cage. Boxing's Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions don't get along. And no love is lost between the UFC and Viacom, which owns Bellator MMA and GLORY kickboxing. But all sides turned out at a press conference in Washington, DC on Feb 4 to announced their joint, ongoing support of a crucial effort – the Cleveland Clinic Professional Fighters Brain Health Study (FBHS).

Figures in attendance will include:
•Dr. Charles Bernick, principal investigator;
•Todd duBoef, the President of Top Rank;
•Michael Chandler, Bellator MMA contender;
•Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO of ZUFFA;
•Bernard Hopkins, American boxer
•Jon Jones, UFC light heavyweight champion;
•Kevin Kay, President of Spike TV (Bellator MMA, GLORY kickboxing);
•John McCain, US Senator (R-AZ)
•Harry Reid, US Senator (D-NV)
Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions;
•Glover Teixeira, UFC contender; and,
•Representatives in charge of the study from the Cleveland Clinic will also be in attendance.

Awareness of the dangers of head trauma has surged over the past few years, but precious little is understood. Can a single massive KO leave you punchy years later? Is it an accumulation of the lesser blows characteristic of training? How do you know when it is time to quit? No one knows.

The FBHS is an ongoing research project conducted by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Cost of the study, had been placed at $2,000,000 after grants from the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. The group of power players from politics and combat sports announced they would jointly commit $600,000 to the study.

“It was a very easy decision to say that we were all in, in respect to our athletes participating in the  studies, as well as monetary funding they would need to be able to carry out these studies,” said ZUFFA Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta as transcribed by B/R.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who once famously called MMA “human cock fighting,” now says that without more research in head trauma in combat sports, the may lose public support.

“We all know that it is a problem, and we all know this study…is much needed,” said the Senator. “Because if we don't do this, I'm afraid that support for these incredible, entertaining sports will wane on the part of the American people.”

Since 2011, the FBHS has tracked brain health and deterioration among some 400 active and retired boxers and MMA fighters. Results of the study, which may not reveal significant information for five years or more, may prove to be of value in other fields as well.

“There's nothing out there now that's ready for prime time,” said Dr. Bernick. “But as we see more fighters, maybe there could be a tool for recognizing [significant head trauma] more quickly.”

Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, medical director at the Ruvo center, reiterated how little is understood.

“Most head injury does not produce brain injury,” said Dr. Cummings. “But some head injuries produce a brain injury that starts a process that ends up in something that looks like Alzheimer's Disease. We do not understand which head injuries lead to which brain injuries and result in this chronic and disabling process.”

McCain said that lawmakers could strengthen existing laws or create new ones to better ensure fighter safety. He further stated said he would prefer to leave fighter safety to individual athletic commissions.

“I do,” McCain said when asked if he thought MMA could benefit from federal legislation. “But you want to be very careful not to encroach on the states' abilities to do this regulation…If we want national, I'm not sure [standards of safety] would be as high.”