Common sense tells us that a sport that ends as soon as the fighter gets KO’d is going to be safer than a sport that allows them to get back up and to keep taking damage after already being concussed, but now there’s research to back up that common sense.
A landmark study called the Professional Fighter Brain Health Study has made the discovery that getting punched in the head causes brain damage. No big surprise there, right? But they’ve taken it a step further and actually came up with a way to start measuring that damage. The FES (fight exposure score) aims to allow doctors to determine how at-risk a particular fighter is for brain damage if they continue fighting, which could be huge in terms of making sure fighters retire before it’s too late. Nobody likes to see their favorite boxers at 45 years old and barely able to string together a sentence, and there are definitely some veteran MMA fighters who seem a bit punchy too. Anything that can help them know scientifically when it’s the right time to walk away is a very welcome addition to combat sports.
Brain damage is also a very serious problem in the NFL, but with billions of dollars on the line it’s not a huge surprise that it was more or less swept under the rug until recently.
This particular study consists of 500 active and retired boxers and MMA fighters, along with a control group. Initially, everyone was given an MRI and various tests for things like memory, reaction time and motor skills. Follow-up tests and scans looked at how the size of certain areas of the brain have changed after the fighters continued to take damage. By measuring the damage after subsequent bouts, and then analyzing the fights, we’re getting closer and closer to being able to quantify just how much mileage a fighter can put on the tank before risking permanent and serious injuries. The results show that MMA fighters are taking less brain damage than boxers are.
“We can’t pinpoint the cause for this, though just off the top of your head you’d say, ‘Yeah, it’s because [boxers] get hit in the head more.’ If you look at these statistics services like CompuBox and [CompuStrike], it’s clear that boxers are being hit more than MMA guys in the same weight classes. So is the answer simply, ‘They get hit more?’ Whether that’s the only factor, though, I don’t know. But yes, boxers come out worse [than MMA fighters].” said one of the lead researchers.
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