Bare-knuckle boxer Justin Thornton died earlier this week after succumbing to injuries sustained in his knockout loss to Dillon Cleckler under the BKFC banner last August, a first-round finish that left the 38 year-old fighter hospitalized with paralysis.
UFC President Dana White was not surprised.
“First of all, is anybody shocked?” White asked reporters at the recent “Contender Series” press conference. “I mean, in bare-knuckle fighting? I’m not a big fan. And I get, I guess I would call it concerned, when I see some of our people when they leave here and go there. It’s like, ‘oh my God.’ But when you look at this, we’ve been putting on fights for 25 years. I’ve done over 7,000 fights with no serious injuries in the UFC.”
I would probably consider this to be a serious injury, but to White’s point, the promotion has yet to lose a fighter to Octagon-related injuries. Sure, a lot of UFC veterans have become rotting vegetables, but at least they have a pulse!
“Every year we spend over $20 million on athletic medical — $20 million a year — health and wellness or whatever it may be,” White continued. “Our pre-fight screening, throughout the last 20 years we found 10 athletes that had life-threatening medical problems with them and career-ending, that they shouldn’t be fighting — that if they weren’t in the UFC, they probably would’ve fought and they probably would’ve died.”
“So we shouldn’t even be talked about in the same sentence as bare-knuckle boxing,” White said. “It’s two completely different worlds. And yes, we’re very sorry to hear that this guy passed away, but you’re never going to see any of these other organizations doing the type of health and safety and medical testing that we do for our athletes.”
Whether or not that testing can help prevent this remains to be seen.