Ray Longo talks concussion and fighter retirement

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Fighting in a cage is risky, and thus the people who excel at it are often not as risk averse as is the average person. As a result, fighters are not necessarily the best arbiters of when it is medically prudent to retire. Regulators have the basic facts about knockouts, but don’t know how the fighter is faring on a day to day basis, and thus are potentially problematic as well. Coaches sit in an ideal space where retirement is concerned.

They share with the fighter the desire to achieve, but also want the best for the fighter, as a person, forever. And they know what is going in every sparring session. Top MMA coach Ray Longo appeared recently on MMAjunkie Radio and discussed giving fighters “The Talk” when it’s time to move on.

Pete ‘Drago’ Sell won the prestigious Ring of Combat middleweight championship in just his fifth fight and signed with the UFC. He went 1-1 and was released, returning to ROC successfully. Then he went on The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback and got another UFC contract, going 1-4 before he was released again, and again returned to ROC. He went a respectable 2-1 there but retired after a win. He was just 29, with a 10-6 record. It doesn’t on paper look like time to retire. But his coach knew it was.

“‘Drago’ would fight you tomorrow,” said Longo, as transcribed by Steven Marrocco for MMAjunkie. “He wants to fight. That’s what he loves to do. But we’re just not having it.”

Longo said former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman hasn’t taken too many major hits, but he’s watching.

“We do a lot of concussion testing in the gym with some newer technology stuff,” said the coach. “It’s a hot topic, and we’re definitely not turning a blind eye to it. I believe we’re on top of it.”

Commissions order No Contact suspensions, but it is not enforceable. It is up to the coaches to make sure that it happens. And a lot of damage, maybe most of it, occurs in training, beyond the reach of regulators. Longo says he now benches students for up to a month if they get concussed in sparring.

“Both [Aljamain Sterling] and Chris, I pulled back on their sparring for [their respective fights at UFC 214 and UFC on FOX 25],” said Longo. “I don’t think you can ever be too cautious, but this is the sport they choose, and they are going to get hit.”