(Matthew Polly is Fightlinker’s resident Rhodes Scholar and published author – crazy huh? His first book, American Shaolin, covered his years in China training with Shaolin monks. His upcoming tome, Tapped Out, is about his years inside the MMA circuit and his adventures in Vegas training for a fight with XTreme Couture.)

While I immensely enjoy the wit of the boys at Cagepotato (and sorely miss my buddy Ben Fowkles), there was a recent post about the science of knockouts that was serious enough to require a serious rebuttal because it goes to the foundation and future of MMA as a serious sport, not a NHB spectacle.

Annoyed by other bloggers’ annoying calls for Matt Lindland to retire, the unnamed author (who are you, The Economist?) argued:

If a fighter’s health is at risk, either long or short-term, then I’m all for them hanging up the gloves, but it isn’t up to anyone but them to decide when that time is.

He then goes on to baldly state:

As far as the uninformed opinions that a fighter’s “KO button” is easier to push or that his chin is weaker as a compound result of multiple knockouts incurred over the span of his career, both are fundamentally incorrect.

He justifies this position by selectively quoting a Popular Mechanics article on the
science behind an “individual” knockout. To paraphrase, it happens at the cellular level
and involves the balance of electrolytes.

This is interesting as far as it goes. But what baffles me and why I’m writing this unfunny
post on a funny MMA blog is this question: Why did the obviously intelligent and thoughtful author fail to quote the second and third sentences of the article’s first fucking paragraph?

Research suggests that the blows that cause knockouts can be debilitating to a boxer’s short and long-term health. Repeated blows to the brain can cause chronic damage such as personality changes and dementia.

Leaving aside dementia for a moment, the post’s premise that the science behind an “individual” knockout discredits the widely held view that there is a “compounding” effect to concussions is fallacious. One has nothing to do with the other.

The argument for a “compounding” effect is simple: Concussions damage the brain; the more damage to the brain, the more likely another concussion. There are other factors that damage a brain. Age is one, as the brain deteriorates over time. Excessive partying is another. So an older athlete who parties too much and suffers several concussions in a row is in serious danger of both more concussions and long-term brain damage. (Yes, I’m talking about Chuck.)

Why does this matter to the sport we love so dearly?

Let’s take the examples of a poorly regulated, a semi-regulated, and a more fully regulated sport.

In boxing, the fighter is the star and decides who, where, when, why, and how he competes. The result is Muhammad Ali.

In MMA, the UFC controls roughly 90 percent of the market. Dana White tried to retire Chuck Liddell but had to back down (“I’m not his Dad”) when he realized The Iceman could simply go to another promotion with a scumbag promoter and sell-out a crowd in a state with a corrupt Athletic Commission, i.e. most of them.

In the NFL by contrast, Troy Aikman suffered ten concussions, and towards the end they kept happening faster and faster. The Cowboys eventually refused to resign him. Aikman, unwilling to accept it was time to hang-up his cleats, tried to find another team. None were willing given the medical evidence, and so he was forced to retire.

(And the NFL is the best of them, despite growing evidence they tried for years to push the long-term effects of concussions under the rug.)

It is no more up to journalists/commentators/bloggers to say when a fighter should retire – although they are of course free to say whatever they want – than it would be for fighters to say when it is time for a writer to hang up his keyboard. (I have some suggestions.) But to say it should be up to the fighter is glib for a blogger and morally repugnant for a promoter. If I’ve learned anything in the several years I’ve been researching MMA for a book (here comes the inevitable plug: Tapped Out will be available nationwide in late 2011), the worst person to ask when it is time to quit is the fighter himself.

There should be a national athletic commission that decides–with appropriate expert
advice–when a fighter, based on age and concussions, is no longer fit to fight in America.
(Of course, they can always go to Japan where they don’t give a shit.) It’s a pipe dream,
I know. John McCain (boo, hiss) tried to reform boxing. He failed, unlike his successful
effort to outlaw NHB.

But I also believe there should be a fighter’s union. So I’m crazy.

What I’m not is someone who thinks there is no evidence that multiple concussions don’t
have a compounding effect. Nor am I someone who thinks it should be up to the fighters
– be they Ken Shamrock, Matt Lindland, or Chuck Liddell – to decide when enough is enough. MMA is a now, officially, after so-many-years-of-controversy a sport. There needs to be a national regulatory body to protect a fighter from himself.

And since I’ve been boring and self-righteous and this is a fightlinker post, I’ll conclude: “Shit, Fuck, Piss, Cunt, Cocksucker, Motherfucker, Piss.”