Steven Marrocco for MMA Fighting recently published a soul-wrenching long-form piece on now-retired fighter Spencer Fisher, who is permanently disabled due to a career of thrilling fans. Fisher started fighting in 2002, signed with the UFC in 2005, and had his last fight in 2012. As Marrocco details, the UFC kept paying him until the promotion was bought by WME-IMG (now Endeavor) in 2016. Since the release, Fisher's harrowing struggle has gotten far worse.
At the UFC on ABC 1 media day, UFC president Dana White was asked about it.
“Listen, we’re all learning every day about the brain injury stuff,” said White. “We’ve been investing in this [Lou] Ruvo Center to try to figure out more. We’re now interested in ... this thing just came out on ‘Real Sports’ about psychedelics, and we’ve actually reached out to the Johns Hopkins guys, and we’re diving into that.
“But listen, he’s not the first, and he’s definitely not going to be the last. This is a contact sport, and anybody who’s ever done this [while] younger, myself included, is dealing with brain issues. It’s just part of the gig.”
The simple fact is that playing sports at a competitive level for a long time is bad for you. If you swim competitively for a long time, you get bad shoulders. Play Jiu-Jitsu for a long time you get bad shoulders and a bad neck. Combat sports like boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and MMA are at another level, because they are bad for your brain.
The UFC recently announced a five-year extension of its longstanding collaboration with Cleveland Clinic and its continued support of the Professional Athletes Brain Health Study. The multi-year commitment, supported by a $1 million contribution to the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, ensures that research will continue to help determine the long-term effects of repetitive head trauma and factors that put certain individuals at higher risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Since joining the landmark study in 2011, UFC has committed more than $2 million via three rounds of financial support.
Clint Eastwood's Bill Munny character in The Unforgiven sums it up: "It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's ever gonna have." That's what CTE does, slowly.