Fatalities in mixed martial arts contests
Mixed martial arts (MMA) in the United States was sanctioned under the Unified Rules in the states of New Jersey and Nevada in 2001. By October 1, 2013, 47 U.S. states had regulated the sport. As of April 2014[update], there have been four recorded deaths resulting from sanctioned contests, Sam Vasquez in Texas on November 30, 2007 and Michael Kirkham in South Carolina on June 28, 2010 both died of cerebral hemorrhage, Tyrone Mims in South Carolina on August 11, 2012 due to an unknown cause, and Booto Guylain a Congolese fighter died on March 5, 2014 following complications resulting from a head injury experienced during an MMA bout a week earlier in South Africa.
Because of the young age of the sport and the small number of fatalities to date, little statistical inference can be drawn. A 2006 study suggests that the risk of injury in general in MMA is comparable to that in professional boxing. For professional boxing matches, the Manuel Velazquez Boxing Fatality Collection lists 923 deaths during the 118 year period of 1890-2007.
List of fatalities
35-year-old Sam Vasquez competed in a Renegades Extreme Fighting bout on October 20, 2007 in Houston Texas, losing the fight in the third round by way of knockout. Vasquez lost consciousness again shortly thereafter and was taken to Saint Joseph Medical Center's Critical Care Unit. He was diagnosed with a subdural hemorrhage for which a section of the skull bone was removed to allow the brain to swell without compressing it. Additional swelling led to the placement of a tube to allow cerebral spinal fluid to be drained out of the cavities in the brain to make room for more swelling as well as to allow the monitoring of pressure in the brain. He slipped into a coma for 48 hours until his death on November 30.
Vasquez's death was officially ruled as a death due to complications of blunt trauma of the head with a subdural hemorrhage. Vasquez is the first fighter to die from injuries sustained in sanctioned mixed martial arts competition in North America.
30-year-old Michael Kirkham competed at Dash Entertainment/King MMA “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” in Aiken, South Carolina on June 26, 2010. His opponent Carlos Iraburo had Kirkham on the canvas seconds into his pro debut, Iraburo then landed a few strikes to the head of his grounded opponent leading to a referee stoppage forty-one seconds into the match. Kirkham soon lost consciousness and never recovered. He was pronounced dead two days after the fight. An autopsy report listed the cause of death as “subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain”. Kirkham had been TKO'd in his final amateur bout on April 24, 2010 leading Doctor Joe Estwanik, the former medical advisor to the North Carolina Boxing Authority to speculate: "This could have been second-impact syndrome".
30-year-old Tyrone 'Teestea' Mims was competing in an amateur mixed martial arts show on August 11, 2012 at Conflict MMA Fight Night at the Point IV in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Tyrone became weak and tired in the second round and the referee stopped the bout because he was unable to continue. The referee and cage side physician both checked on him and he responded to them that he was fine, just tired. Shortly after being helped back to the locker room by teammates, Tyrone lost consciousness. EMS attempted to unsuccessfully revive him at the scene and transported him to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) hospital where he was pronounced dead at 9:27 p.m. et. A Charleston County Coroner performed a "gross autopsy", which looks at visible injuries, and failed to reach a cause of death. The Final autopsy results were also inconclusive, no evidence of a concussion or brain trauma were detected, the toxicology report did not reveal the presence of drugs or alcohol. Coroner Rae Wooten speculated that Mims "might have had an irregular heart because of some electrical dysfunction" stating: "That obviously isn't seen after death. Once that's completed, there's no evidence of that." And concluding: "There's just nothing here that explains his death."
29-year-old Booto Guylain, a Congolese fighter, experienced a head injury during the third round of his MMA bout against Keron Davies at EFC AFRICA 27 held in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 27, 2014. He was stabilized on-site and taken to the hospital. He died a week later on March 5, 2014 as a result of complications related to the swelling of the brain.
Alfredo Castro Herrera
15-year-old Alfredo Castro Herrera, died on April 14, 1981 following an unsanctioned "mixed martial arts" match described in the St. Louis Globe Democrat as "boxing mixed with karate and judo" (April 15, 1981 issue) in Tijuana, Mexico where he was knocked out. Herrera's opponent was Angel Luis Rodriguez.
31-year-old Douglas Dedge was an American mixed martial artist who was the first known American competitor to be fatally injured in an MMA fight and the first death in the modern era of MMA. On March 16, 1998 Dedge competed at an unsanctioned "World Super Challenge" event in Kiev, Ukraine. After tapping out to strikes, Dedge stood and almost immediately collapsed back to the mat. Dedge was then taken to the Kiev Institute of Surgery where he died two days later on March 18 of what the chief emergency room doctor termed "severe brain injuries".
Dedge was reported to have passed out during a training session leading up to the bout and it is now widely believed (though never officially confirmed) that Dedge had a preexisting medical condition.
35-year-old Lee died following an unsanctioned May 12, 2005 MMA bout that took place in a sports bar in Samsong-dong, South Korea. No prefight physical exams were conducted. Cause of death was listed as myocardial infarction (heart attack).
20-year-old Mike Mittelmeier died April 27, 2012 following an unsanctioned April 21 event in Bolivia. After taking down his opponent and applying a leg lock, his opponent illegally kicked him to the head with the heel of his foot, knocking him out. The fight was stopped and Mittelmeier was pronounced the winner by disqualification, a few seconds later he collapsed (later being diagnosed with a cerebral hemorrhage that left him comatose). It is alleged that the promoters did not have a doctor or ambulance standing by and it took a long time before he was transferred to a hospital.
26-year-old Dustin Jenson died May 24, 2012 at Rapid City Regional Hospital in South Dakota, following an unsanctioned "RingWars" event on May 18 at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City where he tapped out. Jenson then watched the next two fights before going to the locker room, where he suffered a seizure. The autopsy listed the cause of death as subdural hemorrhage resulting from blunt force trauma to the head, that was related to an injury suffered approximately a week prior.
Felix Pablo Elochukwu
35-year-old Nigerian-born Pablo Elochukwu, an Ontario resident died after competing in his first amateur mixed martial arts bout in the Amateur Fighting Club in Port Huron, Michigan, on April 7, 2013. According to reports, neither he nor his opponent was required to undergo pre-fight medicals for their bout. Sometime in the third round, Elochukwu was mounted and was not intelligently defending himself causing the referee to halt the bout. Elochukwu appeared to be fine during the announcement of the final decision and walked away on his own accord but on the way to the dressing room he stopped and sat down citing exhaustion. Those around Elochukwu noticed something was wrong and offered him some orange juice believing his blood sugar may have dropped significantly (he was said to be hypoglycaemic). Moments after being helped onto a chair, he fell from it. A certified first responder in the crowd noticed Elochukwu's distress as Elochukwu was being helped to a seat, he was in and out of consciousness as Ryan Puzan the first responder from the crowd reached him. Puzan was told by event staff that paramedics had been called and were on their way, he however doubted that as EMS did not show up until forty minutes later according to Puzan. Elochukwu stopped showing any vital signs a few minutes after floating in and out of consciousness, Puzan and a RN from the crowd then performed CPR and breathing treatments on Elochukwu until the arrival of paramedics. The ambulance was dispatched at 9:31 p.m. Elochukwu was treated and pronounced dead at 10:12 p.m. at Port Huron Hospital.
There were said to be no hired medics or doctors at the venue at the time Elochukwu's collapse. According to Ryan Puzan: "if Felix had access to a defibrillator there, he could be walking and talking today.”
Michigan was among about a dozen U.S. states in which amateur mixed martial arts bouts are legal but unregulated. The death of Elochukwu prompted the Michigan legislator to quickly regulate amateur mixed martial arts. State Representative Harvey Santana commenting on the legislation stated: "The unfortunate events that happened over the weekend kind of catapulted it faster".
UFC (the largest MMA promotion company in the world) executive Tom Wright, who heads up the organizations efforts in Canada, fielded questions about Elochukwu's death on April 10 at UFC 161 press conference in Winnipeg. Saying "What we don't know is whether or not there were any pre-existing medical conditions that Pablo was suffering from, and in a regulated environment, we would have known that," he said. "We also don't know if the referees were properly trained. We don't know whether or not there were the appropriate EMTs and ambulances and medical precautions in place. We don't even know if it was a fair fight as far as if the competitors were evenly balanced."
"Those are kinds of things we would know if the sport had been regulated, if the event had been regulated," he continued. "It speaks to the importance of regulation in our sport, why it's important that we have the appropriate kind of rigor and standards, from medical care to pre- and post-fight medical testing to drug testing to insuring the health and safety of these athletes is always first and foremost. And in the case of an unregulated event, you don't know whether those things are in place, which is why we as an organization have always run to regulation."
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