HISCOE: What can MMA learn from boxing’s tragic week?

By Michael Hiscoe, MMATorch Columnist

Jul 20, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; The sneakers of Manny Pacquiao Keith Thurman during their WBA welterweight championship bout at MGM Grand Garden Arena. Pacquiao won via split decision. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This week, boxing saw an unfathomable two deaths. Both deaths, to Maxim Dadashev, 28, and Hugo Alfredo Santillan, 23, occurred as a direct result of actions taken (or not taken) in the ring.

Dadashev was put into a medically induced coma after losing a fight to Subriel Matias last Friday when his corner called off the fight after the 11th round. Dadashev’s trainer Buddy McGirt told ESPN.com that his fighter was “fading” and that he only asked him if he wanted to continue as a courtesy, and that his decision to throw in the towel was already made.

Dadashev went into emergency surgery for bleeding on the brain and ultimately succumbed to his injuries on Tuesday.

Santillan collapsed in the ring at the end of a ten-round fight in Buenos Aires on Wednesday night that ended in a draw. He was hospitalized as his kidneys were failing and he had swelling on the brain that went on to affect his other organs. Santillan died by cardiac arrest early Thursday morning.

Both deaths are tragic, unnecessary, and are something that happens far too often in boxing. MMA and UFC, in particular, have been lucky to avoid such a thing. But that doesn’t mean the sport isn’t vulnerable to such events. MMA has had deaths related to weight cutting and damage taken during fights. They just haven’t happened at a notable level. Yet. Below are some lessons MMA can learn from this tragic week in boxing.

Weight-cutting leaves fighters vulnerable

Just two weeks ago, we saw Aspen Ladd tremble as she weighed in for her main event fight against Germaine de Randamie. She made the weight, and there was concern for her from fans and media, but the fight still went on. Ladd lost that fight in 16-seconds, and only an “early” stoppage prevented her from taking several unnecessary blows to the head.

When a fighter cuts excessive amounts of weight, they are depleting their bodies and their brains of water. Back in 2016, the sport made a shift to have weigh-ins happen earlier in the day to allow fighters more time to rehydrate. The decision is noble in its intent, but we’ve also seen fighters miss weight far more frequently and situations, as we saw with Ladd in Sacramento, are not rare.

Fighters need to cut less weight and regulating where a fighter starts a weight cut should be as important as regulating the weight at the end of the cut. TKO MMA operating out of Montreal as instituted a new policy that puts caps on how much weight a fighter can cut. 48 hours before the fight, a fighter regardless of weight class can be no more than 9 pounds overweight. The same 9-pound cap applied to the night of the fight.

It’s a simple approach but it could work if it’s enforced and if fighters take it seriously. Taking it seriously would probably mean many fighters would have to move up a weight class. Fighters have a habit of finding the holes in any policy and exploiting them to maximize their weights on fight night. If fighters are still depleting themselves to stay under the 9 pound limit on the day of their fight, this policy could completely backfire. It’s worth a shot though, and if it works for TKO, UFC and the major U.S. athletic commissions should consider adopting it.

Keep fights short

Both Dadashev and Santillan died after 30-minutes or more of fighting. The damage to the head these fighters took over 10 or 12 rounds certainly exacerbated their conditions. Shorter fights mean fewer blows to the head and a better opportunity to recover.

MMA has the benefit of most fights maxing out at 15-minutes with main events and title fights being 25 minutes. That said there are still things they can do. For instance, MMA can reserve five-round fights strictly for title bouts. In most cases, you can determine who the better fighter is in three rounds or less. Did we really need those extra two rounds to learn that Leon Edwards was better than Rafael dos Anjos that night? Dos Anjos absorbed 30 blows to the head in the fourth and fifth rounds of that fight. Reducing those 30 blows could add time to his career, and one day save a fighter’s life.

Don’t be afraid to throw in the towel

McGirt did right by his fighter but it was just too late. Corner men and women need to be prepared and educated on when their fighter has taken too much punishment and the fight should be stopped. Referees have some latitude to do the same but there are rules they have to follow so often times it’s best for the corner to stop the fight even though the fighter isn’t knocked down or out and appear to be defending themselves. Anything to reduce unnecessary blows to the head will benefit fighters in the end. Living to fight another day, literally, far outweighs the slim chance of turning around a fight that isn’t going your way.

Early stoppages are OK

There was some criticism of Herb Dean for calling off the De Randamie-Ladd fight early. Referees should always err on the side of caution and call off a fight a little earlier than fans are used to instead of allowing a fighter to take unnecessary damage only to achieve the same result.

Boxing as we know it is a decades-old institution and is unlikely to change significantly anytime soon. MMA is still a relatively young sport with a better track record of health outcomes for its athletes. With continued adaptation and lessons learned from the mistakes of boxing, MMA can avoid having a week like the one the sweet science saw this week.

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