Ever since the tragic events of April 11th 2016, when Portuguese MMA fighter João Carvalho died as a result of a third round TKO at the hands of SBG fighter Charlie Ward at a Total Extreme Fighting event in Dublin, the sport has received strong criticism on Irish shores.
Carvalho’s death was one of those tragedies that has visited combat and contact sports over the years and is an unfortunate hazard of the job. Much like the risk of concussion in rugby and boxing, professionals and lovers of MMA accept these risks as merely the other side of the coin that also offers them fame and fortune.
Following Sports Minister Shane Ross’s labelling of MMA as ‘disturbing’, Straight Blast Gym patriarch and mastermind behind the phenom that is Conor McGregor, John Kavanagh, has been speaking to the Sunday Independent and he reveals how injury, in particular chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive degenerative disease, is an ever present fear among fighters.
“It’s a concern of every fighter. At that level of fighting the risk is very real.”
CTE is a disease found to develop in athletes that have a history of repetitive brain trauma, most common in sports such as boxing, MMA, rugby and American Football.
Of his famous fighter, Kavanagh spoke of McGregor’s evasive capabilities that have reduced the risk to an absolute minimum.
“But I think you can add on two hands the number of clean head shots Conor has taken in 10 years of pro-fighting. His style of fighting answers that, because his style is not brawling. He doesn’t step in the pocket and exchange punches.
“His style is in and out – he’s very defensive. That style was born through not wanting to lose and not wanting to take head shots, and not wanting to damage the software.”
While Kavanagh agrees with Minister Ross that the sport needs strict regulation, he suggested that if the minister finds MMA to be ‘brutal’, then perhaps it would be best if he didn’t watch it.
In a bid to ensure we not lose perspective, Kavanagh reminds us,
“Some people think rugby and NFL are brutal.”
He does concede that those who do participate in combat sports are at risk of developing CTE. However, Kavanagh believes that through education we might best ensure the long-term health of those most at risk of the disease.
Contact sports, all contact sports, come with risk. Injuries, no matter how they are mitigated against, can happen. Engineering safety systems, implementing protocols and regulations, increasing medical testing, are all sensible and necessary measures.
However, as soon as you introduce the human element, all bets are off.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena