Death in Combat Sports

It takes incredible heart to step in a cage against a trained opponent who wants to put you to sleep. People die in there. Over 930 of our fellow warriors have lost their lives during prize fights in the last 130 years. (1890-2019) For now I'll focus on MMA since most of those 900 deaths happened in boxing. There are 7 crucial cases I found that can teach us about how to potentially avoid these tragedies for ourselves.

(Fatalities in MMA)

Take care of your heart! Some guys are so talented, or uninformed they think working out once or twice a week at full power is enough to be ready for war. Mix an unbalanced diet and life stress, you might as well ask your heart to tear.

A heart attack occurs when one or more of your coronary arteries become blocked. Over time, a coronary artery can narrow from the buildup of various substances, including cholesterol (atherosclerosis). This condition, known as coronary artery disease, causes most heart attacks.
During a heart attack, one of these plaques can rupture and spill cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream. A blood clot forms at the site of the rupture. If large enough, the clot can block the flow of blood through the coronary artery, starving the heart muscle of oxygen and nutrients (ischemia).
Another cause of a heart attack is a spasm of a coronary artery that shuts down blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Using tobacco and illicit drugs, such as cocaine, can cause a life-threatening spasm. (MAYO Clinic)

Although this is one of the least likely ways to die in the ring, it does happen. It should be noted that many fighters die very shortly after retirement from heart failure. Big names include Kimbo Slice, Ramon Dekker, Nokweed Devy...

However, there is hope! MCT Oil (Medium-Chain Triglycerides) safely clears out the coronary system with lauric acid, which is then burned as energy through ketosis. Ketosis deserves a Fight Insight of it's own, but basically your body burns carbs for energy, or fats. When metabolizing fats you're in a state that's referred to as ketosois. Along with a well planned diet and steady, consistent exercise you can strengthen your heart! Anyone who works out twice a day knows the importance of pace. You find about 75% of your personal rate of exertion, and stick with it. Eventually you'll naturally push harder, in a heart healthy manner. Nothing worth creating is done overnight. Take your time with your body, it's the only one you've got!


The next most common case of fighter death is dehydration. Your body is almost 70% water. Dehydration causes organ failure. The thicker and more concentrated your blood becomes, the harder it is for your cardiovascular system to compensate by increasing heart rate to maintain blood pressure. When your dehydrated body is 'pushed' – such as when exercising or faced with heat stress – the risk of exhaustion or collapse increases. Weight cutting is real. It is always going to exist in a system that allows 24-hour weigh ins. A simple fix in my opinion would be weighing in an hour before showtime. It seems to me that promotions like to be able to fudge things around in their favor in case of no shows or missed weight. It has nothing to do with our safety or they would simply pick up the wrestling model (1 hour before) Even ONE FC's hydration tests seem wasteful. If you have to fight in an hour, dehydrated, tired, and you're betting on a size advantage to win, you've already lost. Just my opinions here. It's been proven over and over in recent history that the guy going up wins more often than not. Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Jorge Masvidal, Henry Cedjudo. My jitsieros out there know what it feels like to make a bigger, stronger guy turn into jello. Strength is only applicable if you have the endurance to maintain output. Simply, don't cut weight for the sake of cutting weight, If you have to shed 8 pounds to make 170, I understand. Thinking you can make it to 155 from 178 however (which a lot of guys do) I think it's just a recipe for a short career, or even worse.

Which leads me to the final, most common and possibly most terrifying way fighters die in the cage. Brain trauma. 4 of the 7 deaths I referenced for this were from brain injury. There's no single cause or sign of an impending hemorrhage, stroke or seizure. A lot of times it can be a completely new injury, yet still have lasting or even fatal effects. Wrestlers, football players, surfers, even skateboarders have also died from the same things. It's a huge part of any sport to not get hit in the head. If and when you do, it must be treated very seriously. You should be overly cautious about a head injury. Even if you don't feel a concussion after, take a break. As fighters, we are at times too tough. Whatever wires us to push through pain and misery can seriously harm us if we aren't careful. This is a major reason dehydration is such a bad idea. You're expelling your brain fluid when you cut weight. The fluid that prevents your brain from bouncing off the inside of your skull. Work your head movement, spar light, always keep your hands high in the pocket. Simple, yet effective ways to save a few brain cells.

When you stop reading this I want you think about your current health choices and how they effect your family. We can't prevent death, but we can make it easier on our loved ones once we pass. I'm not going to sit here and say that fighting is safe. Neither is bull riding or jumping out of an airplane. We as humans have a drive towards purpose. We all live and die according to our choices. Be grateful for your life and you'll be able to greet death with a smile. To my warrior family, we find peace in places most wouldn't dare travel. Stay strong.

Kali, Hindu Goddess of Death and Destruction


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