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New York: MMA's Final Frontier


As proponents of Mixed Martial Arts kick off what they call the 17th round of fighting for regulated professional MMA in New York, a new study says about a third of matches end in knockout or technical knockout, indicating a higher incidence of brain trauma than boxing or other martial arts.

The University of Toronto published a study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine that examined records and videos from 844 bouts.

Researchers found nearly 13 percent ended in knockouts, while 21 percent ended in technical knockouts, usually after a combatant was hit in the head five to 10 times immediately before the fight was stopped.

The study says the MMA head trauma rate also outpaces football and hockey. Supporters of MMA call the study flawed and say another forthcoming study will have more accurate results.

State lawmakers have been split on legalizing MMA fights in New York, with opponents pointing to the sport’s dangers.

The Cleveland Clinic's Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is in the midst of its own ongoing comprehensive study on brain injuries involving boxers and MMA athletes. Dr. Charles Bernick, Associated Medical Director of the center, says in order to come up with ways to protect people, they're trying to figure out which types of injuries are most dangerous.  "Is it the severity of the blow to the head, is it the frequency of the blow to the head, is it the type of blow to the head? Are some people more prone to be injured and thus would need to be kind of more  closely watched?"

The center is seeing both active and retired boxers and mixed martial arts fighters on a yearly basis.   "They just get a comprehensive assessment looking into a variety of things. MRI scan of the brain, computerized cognitive testing of their memory and reaction time. We look at their behavior..."

MMA star Uriah Hall with the Ultimate Fighting Championship says the league covers athletes will a full health care package and constantly monitors them.  "We definitely get tests before every competition, we get checked up we get cat scans, everything you can think of to make sure its safe as possible for us to go in there and engage. And after, to make sure that there are no injuries. And if there are injuries, they make sure to take care of it."

Senior UFC official Marc Ratner says he constantly guards his fighters’ health.   "We're very much aware and making them aware of the possibilities of head injuries, so we're trying to teach them, we're trying to educate. That's what I do, I go around to different states to make sure that the standard medical tests they need to have are the same in every state."

New York is the last remaining state to prohibit professional MMA bouts. Longstanding efforts to get it legalized recently stalled again. The state Senate has passed the bill for several years and even put it in a proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but it has never cleared the Assembly.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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