Death and the fight game: The whys and wherefores of the Sam Vasquez tragedy

Sam Vasquez MMA death

By now most have us have come to recognize (and ultimately accept) the unfortunate passing of mixed martial arts competitor Sam Vasquez.

Vasquez, 35, died last Friday from complications stemming from head trauma suffered at the hands of opponent Vince Libardi at Renegades Extreme Fighting back on October 20th.

Despite two surgeries and prompt medical care, Vasquez was unable to recover after being knocked out in the third round. He was admitted to St. Joseph Medical Center and eventually transferred to an area hospice on November 26th.

Vasquez is survived by his wife Sandra and a seven-year old son.

It's been difficult for me to try and find a way to examine his death without it turning into a eulogy. While surely heartfelt, it would likely be interpreted as disingenuous.

In fairness to Sam, I would have never heard of him if not for his death on November 30th. And when I did hear, I waited anxiously for the anti-MMA crusaders to release their hounds.

They never came.

No public outcry, no villagers with pitchforks and torches laying waste to Dana's castle, nary a blurb save for the occasional sound byte on Fox News or quick write-up on MSNBC.

With predators like Bill O'Reilly constantly cruising the surf, such little attention struck me as an opportunity lost.

Let's face it, having zero fatalities in mixed martial arts has always been our ace in the hole. When detractors gave us brutality on the turn, we answered with death-proof on the river.

No longer.

Does the death of Sam Vasquez weaken the argument for fighter safety? Does it damage the credibility of MMA sanctioning? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Like the murky waters that have clouded the Douglas Dedge tragedy, the death of Sam Vasquez has offered little in terms of closure for his family and his sport.

Vasquez suffered two massive brain clots while hospitalized, both requiring major surgery. Yet the first clot was not a result of his fight with Libardi according to wife Sandra.

If accurate (and coming from his wife we should assume that it is) it raises very serious questions about the pre-fight health of Sam Vasquez and his ability to compete.

An initial investigation reveals that Vasquez, as well as veteran promoter Saul Soliz, had completed the necessary licensing requirements required to participate and that on the surface, everything was done by the book.

It may not be unreasonable to think that Vasquez may have answered "no" on a medical questionnaire when deep down inside he knew the answer was "yes".

It may also not be unreasonable to think that a perfectly healthy fighter can be killed by competing in a sport that is essentially a form of controlled violence.

Which side of the fence you're on all depends on your opinion of mixed martial arts as a sport.

In the coming weeks the tragedy of Sam Vasquez will start to fade away. So too will the significance of his passing.

And it is significant. It marks a new era in mixed martial arts by casting a shadow of mortality over the fighters and events.

Will we remember that mortality at UFC 79 as we stand and cheer during Silva vs. Liddell? Will any of the drunken misfits feel the pain and guilt of Vince Libardi as they scream for a knockout at countless live events?

I wonder how things might have been different had it happened to a high-profile fighter like Rich Franklin. At the end of round one against Anderson Silva at UFC 77, Franklin was walking like a newborn calf, yet continued to take punishment by answering the bell for round two.

Perhaps such a scenario, coupled with the less-than-conclusive facts in the Vasquez tragedy is what's keeping the mainstream media at bay.

They may just be biding their time.

As a both a fan and a writer of mixed martial arts, I have that constant subjective/objective battle within myself when it comes to watching fights. It was always hard for me to watch gruesome endings like McFedries/Radev at Fight Night 10.

Having Sam Vasquez in the back of my mind will now make it even harder.

I don't think there is anything positive that can come from a fatality in our sport unless it becomes the catalyst for a much-needed change or a call to action. Whether or not that happens (or whether or not it's warranted) in the case of Vasquez remains to be seen.

While I don't know anything about Sam Vasquez the man, I do know something about Sam Vasquez the fighter. I know he was 35. I know he was a husband and a father. I also know it was just his third fight under a regional promotion.

Combining those facts tells me that he probably wasn't fighting to attain Fedor's money or Liddell's fame, but because he loved to fight.

Sam Vasquez died doing what he loved.

Perhaps I do know something about Sam Vasquez the man after all.

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