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Nick Denis decides his brain is worth more than his fight career

(Nick’s first hand experience with concussive knockouts)

Nick Denis, the ‘Ninja of Love’ and the pride of Ottawa Ontario (613 represent!) has decided to retire from the UFC. Typically, fighters don’t retire until they’re way past their expiry date and losing regularly. In Nick’s case, he retired after his second fight in the UFC. Why? A fear of sub-concussive trauma:

I made it to the UFC, signed a 5 fight contract, made an amazing debut, some said one of the best debuts in the UFC ever, and had a great second fight that I am very proud of, but ended up breaking my orbital bone and ultimately losing by submission with a second left in the round.

I am going to hold those moments close to me, because they will be as far as my dream goes. I have decided to bow out of MMA.

After my first loss, a devastating knockout where Marlon Sandro dribbled my head on the canvas like a basketball, I did lots of research on concussions. As a graduate student at the university of Ottawa, I had access to all peer reviewed scientific journals. No surprise to find that concussions = bad. However, I found something that had never occurred to me. Sub-concussive trauma. Basically, a blow to the head that doesn’t lead to a concussion. When it happens, you feel fine, and continue on. Maybe you feel like you just had a little brain scramble, nothing big. Those who spar, know what I am talking about. However these add up. They accumulate, from training session to training session, year after year. The research papers found that men who never had an actual concussion, rather only sub-concussive trauma, (they used football/hockey players) when brain scans were administered to them (can’t remember if it was mri or ct), their brain morphology was decayed like that of individuals with later stages of neurodegenerative disorders.

I told myself that if I suffered one more concussion, whether it was in training, in a fight, or just slipped and fell outside on ice, that I was going to be done fighting. Well, over 3 years later, and I haven’t suffered a concussion. I told my best friend Nick, while climbing a never ending mountain in Petra a few months ago, before I made my decision to retire, that I hope one day I will get knocked out again. Funny, I know, but it would give me a sign of a definitive concussion. I would know for sure, decisively, and be able to follow my own rule and retire. But what if I never do get knocked out again? What if for the next decade I keep training hard and competing. I get in ‘wars’ and receive tons and tons of sub-concussive blows. Wouldn’t that be orders of magnitude worse than one concussion?

It seems a bit crazy to me, but then again it ain’t my grey matter on the line. We still don’t know what years and years of MMA training and fighting does to a brain. I don’t fault anyone for not wanting to be a part of the guinea pig generation on that one. Making things easier for Nick is his back up career as a biochemist, which he got into on a whim after watching an episode of Star Trek. That’s just the kind of guy he is, apparently: a television show convinces him to get into one field, some research papers make him drop out of another. And what’s next for the Ninja of Love?

According to Denis, the next challenge involves moving out to the country and building an earth-covered house somewhere off the grid. He’s been fixated on it since he first read about other people who did it with no prior experience, he said. If they could make it work, why couldn’t he? Why couldn’t he build a simpler life for himself, even if he has to carve it out of nothing?

Hmmm. It might be too late for Nick’s brain after all. Speaking of brain damage…

So long Nick Denis and thanks for all the head trauma!