How do you win an MMA fight?
You hurt an opponent badly enough to make them quit or lose consciousness, or inflict so much damage that a referee must take mercy and intervene. Do that for most of your adult life and yeah, there’s a pretty good chance your brain is going to suffer.
So what can we do about it?
Not much at the moment, but the Cleveland Clinic is one of several top medical facilities putting research into the effects of head trauma on professional athletes. And UFC, the world’s preeminent MMA organization, is committing to another five years of support.
“Exposure to repetitive head trauma puts a person at risk for the development of cognitive changes that may occur years after an athlete has retired,” said Dr. Aaron Ritter, co-primary investigator of the Professional Athletes Brain Health Study. “The science coming out of the Professional Athletes Brain Health Study is clearly showing us that not all individuals experience cognitive changes and each individual may be affected in different ways.”
The ongoing study now includes athletes from other sports who are consistently subjected to repetitive head impacts, including professional bull riders, but what many fighters don’t realize is that trauma to the brain is not relegated to fight night.
Just ask this guy.
“Our study is unique because we are attempting to look at all of these factors — whether they are genetic, inflammatory, based on the number of fights, time between fights, etc.— simultaneously to determine which are most important in keeping an athlete’s brain healthy.,” Dr. Ritter continued. “The key for the next 10 years is to discover which factors are most crucial in each individual. The Professional Athletes Brain Health Study is the largest and longest-lasting study to look at this issue. Without the support of the UFC, a study like this would never happen.”
Until then, all we can do is hope fighters know when their time is up before it’s too late.