Contributor: Tim Bernier
There’s been a lot of news lately in the world of MMA: discussion of fighter rankings, super fights, reality shows, ratings, etc. This post is going to go in a different direction and it stems from two things. One: about a week ago I made the mistake of following a link to YouTube of a 17 year old boxer in Indonesia getting pummeled, KO’d, and ultimately, falling to the ground dead. The second was from just the other day when 25 year old professional snowmobiler Caleb Moore died after sustaining injuries from a crash during the Winter X Games in Colorado.
These are both tragic actions in sports that carry a risk of injury, and thus, a risk of death. Almost every sport has that risk. Every summer a high school football player dies after two- or –three a day practices in the heat. My question is this: if a UFC fighter dies from in-cage injuries, will the UFC as an organization survive? It’s almost inevitable that a UFC fighter will die. It will be a tragic accident, but it will probably happen. All of the commission oversight, CAT scans, and precautions taken cannot eliminate the possibility that a fighter can and will put too brutal of a beating on another whose brain just can’t take it.
My question is specifically for the UFC. They’re the big, top name. They’re the only ones the media will ever care about. A small handful of fighters have died from MMA injuries in the last decade. Most of them can be contributed to poor [see: god awful] safety precautions seen in the low levels of MMA. If a UFC fighter dies, the media will explode with coverage on it. Since its inception, UFC has been under fire for being too violent, barbaric, or disgusting. Opponents of the sport have made their opinions heard. The UFC still isn’t legal in New York, a huge sports state (whether or not the Culinary Union contributes to that is another story). But they’re finally gaining traction and acceptation in the mainstream sports culture. Dana White’s ranting that they’re the most regulated, safest sport in the world may have actually helped. How would an in-cage death affect them?
To start, the UFC will have to start damage control. I doubt they would cancel any events, as it would be seen as a weakness or that they’re scared of further injuries, providing ammo for news coverage. Numbers will drop. There is no doubt that people who were on the fence, will climb on down and back away. Many people will recognize just how violent it can be, and that will be too much for them. “How can you watch this, people can die you know” would be a phrase I would hear from any number of people in my life that don’t approve of my MMA fandom. I would assume Fox would drop from their end of their seven year commitment to MMA and the UFC, and cancel programming. Once again the UFC would be relegated to a Pay Per View only business, and the last time that happened, they were bleeding money and struggling to survive.
The NFL is under fire from huge safety concerns at the moment. A death in football would be enormously tragic, but ultimately, the NFL would survive. They’re bigger and stronger for one. A death would be labeled as an unfortunate accident, one that can probably be avoided with further rule changes and concussion related science. They would make it. The backlash against the UFC would take a different tone. Whereas violence is a secondary aspect of other sports, it can often be seen as the purpose of MMA. It will definitely be portrayed in that way. A snowmobiler had an “accident”. Whereas a fighter would be “savagely beaten to death”.
This is one concern for MMA as a sport going forward. The UFC is doing quite well at the moment. MMA has to be on the top of their game to prevent tragedies like an in-cage death from happening. But the realist in me thinks that it is only inevitable, and MMA as a sport won’t survive if it happens on a big enough stage.
-Tim can be reached @TimBernier31