MMA fans like to point and laugh at all the brain damaged boxers out there who’s cerebellums have been turned to mush from too many blows to the head (or is that just me?). But we don’t really know whether MMA is really that much better. I give it another four years before we find out the oh so surprising truth that kicks and punches and brutal knockouts in MMA still fuck a fighter up pretty bad. Why four years? That’s the length of time a new study is going to take that will be tracking a metric shit-ton of fighters to figure out what happens to a brain during a combat sports career:
Researchers, who already have begun testing some 20 participants, hope to get more than 650 boxers and mixed martial arts fighters to volunteer for the project. Billionaire Kirk Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation funded the study with a grant of more than $400,000.
Study participants will undergo four annual MRI brain scans, along with cognitive and speech tests and physical exams to monitor how brain activity can be changed by head trauma in the ring.
“This study will help us to better understand what happens in a fighter’s brain in the course of a career,” said the Cleveland Clinic’s Maureen Peckman, who is coordinating the study between the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, officials with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and boxing and mixed martial arts promoters. “We need evidence-based protocols for people to make objective, rather than subjective, decisions about when someone can participate.”
Changes in brain volume, scarring and blood flow will be measured through brain scans. Changes seen on a participant’s MRI will be correlated with their performance on cognitive assessments and neurologic exams. When fighters show a correlation between MRI findings and cognitive decline, researchers hope to determine whether there is a relationship to a number of factors, including knockouts, number of rounds fought and number of blows suffered.
The UFC has already signed on and is encouraging it’s fighters to participate in the study, which will hopefully get us to the point where we can scientifically calculate how mushy we can allow a brain to mush before guys get drooly, dopey, or Tito-talkish.
At this point we’re not even really paying attention to how much head trauma a fighter is taking – we tend to guage whether a fighter is shot or not based on his chin instead of his brain. Which is kinda silly, since the brain is way more important … except in Urijah Faber’s case, where his chin is like a national treasure that needs to be loved and protected above all other interests.