You’ve watched the build-up and it is finally time for two warriors to enter the Octagon and test themselves in a battle of skill and finesse. Aerosmith’s “Dream On” is aired throughout the arena and now it is only minutes away from a much-anticipated showdown between current champion Weilli Zhang and former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Bruce Buffer twirls and spins in the cage while announcing the two female competitors as your heart begins to pound harder. Referee Keith Peterson gives the final instructions before the fighters move back to their respective corners and wait for the bell to ring. The night will end in controversy once again but it could’ve been far worse.
The Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was established in 1993. Throughout the years, the MMA promotion company has undergone multiple transitions, including ownership, regulations, fighters, and partnerships.
UFC is considered the top MMA organization, followed by One Championship (ONE) and Bellator MMA. While there are several people affiliated with UFC, none of them stand out like Dana White. Many fans believe White was the best thing that ever happened to the organization. White joined the UFC in 2001, becoming the President and face of the sport. He frequently finds himself mired in controversy because of his rash actions and unapologetic opinions.
Politicians and others viewed UFC as a “brutal sport”. One particular politician described the UFC as “human cockfighting” in 1996. Senator John McCain who had a background in amateur boxing and wrestling viewed the organization as “barbaric”. He went so far as to reach out to other politicians, asking for their support in banning the UFC.
McCain utilized his influence and status to ban UFC from being aired on cable TV, forcing the organization to rely on pay-per-view for many years. Not everyone viewed McCain’s stance on the UFC as negative. In 2008, White credited his and the UFC’s success to McCain in an interview with Sports Illustrated. During the interview, White said, “If it wasn’t for McCain I wouldn’t be here right now.”
It wasn’t until 2007 when McCain finally acknowledged that he no longer viewed MMA as a “human cockfighting” sport.
While the sport is no longer viewed as “human cockfighting”, it is still plagued by many controversial issues, including early stoppages, questionable decisions, poor officiating, outrageous out-of-cage antics, and lackluster performances.
UFC 248 – The Co-Main Event. The bell rings and Zhang and Jedrzejczyk waste no time bashing each other with their fists, knees, and elbows. By the time the first bell rings and the Polish contender lands a strike after the bell, fans are on their feet. The contest remains competitive with both fighters becoming winded and their faces visibly swollen.
Near the end of the third round, former champ Jedrzejczyk is battered with a thudding punch directly to the forehead leading to immediate swelling. Before the bell rings for the 4th round, the “hematoma” on the Polish fighter’s head is clearly visible.
Each time Zhang crushes her fist into the “hematoma”, the fluid and flesh jiggle causing fans to cringe in horror. The deformity worsens to the point it covers the entire forehead. Each strike intensifies the problem making fans wonder what will happen next.
Announcers Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier advocate for the fight to be added to the Hall of Fame while the risk of long-term damage continues to climb every second the fighter does not receive medical attention.
After 25 gut-churning minutes, the final bell mercilessly rings and the fighters await the judge’s decision. The facial disfigurement and hematoma prove to be an important factor for the judges as they award Zhang Weili with the split decision victory.
The risk of death steaming from an acute subdural hematoma is higher than 50%., according to an article posted on the UCLA Health website. Despite being in need of medical attention, Joanna Jedrzejczyk aimlessly walked the cage while rubbing her edematous forehead.
She remains in the cage for about 6 minutes waiting for the champion’s in-cage interview with Joe Rogan to end. As she steps up to the microphone, she is barely recognizable from 25 minutes prior. Joe tells the battered fighter that she looks great while she uses her country flag to conceal her swollen forehead. Within minutes, the interview is over and she is escorted out of the ring.
According to both fighters’ camps, they have been released from the hospital without serious injury. Jedrzejczky’s camp told MMA Fighting that the fighter underwent several tests and scans but everything came back clear and she left on her own.
In 2014, a report published by the Associated Press found that MMA fighters partaking in fights from 2006 to 2012 were hit for an additional 3.5 seconds after they were knocked out. The study concluded that MMA fighters were at a higher risk of brain injury than boxers.
On January 1st, Nashville Predators Ryan Ellis suffered a devastating elbow from Dallas Stars forward Corey Perry. The 29-year-old defenseman would miss 20 games before finally returning on February 21. He was struck one time in the head and he received immediate medical treatment. There are countless similar incidents in many other sports.
The UFC has been plagued by officiating problems that haven’t improved with time. During the latest UFC Fight Night in Norfolk, a fight between light heavyweights Magomed Ankalaev and Ion Cutelaba was prematurely stopped leading to criticism from fans and fighters.
And then, there are brutally late stoppages like Derrick Lewis battering Travis Browne well after he had been knocked unconscious. It is even worse when fighters like BJ Penn have to stop their own fights to prevent their rival from taking unnecessary punishment. Deontay Wilder criticized his trainer for throwing in the towel but many agree that it was the right decision.
When boxing used to air on ESPN and Teddy Atlas was commentating, he would frequently call for fights to be stopped when one fighter had taken too much abuse. Who in the UFC is going to do the same? Or, will it be ignored until the unthinkable happens and the Ultimate Fighting Championship is forced to implement safety and injury protocols?
Oftentimes, head injuries are ignored in combat sports since they’ve become commonplace and promoters do a good job of covering up the seriousness of such injuries. If this had been in the NFL, advocates would’ve had a field day.
The protection of the fighters is often the responsibility of the referee and the trainers in both corners. Like all MMA referees, Keith Peterson has come under scrutiny for early stoppages in the past. If there was ever a time to show bravery and accept that ridicule, it would’ve been last night.
In May of 2019, Endeavor Group, which owns UFC, filed the IPO paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In that paperwork, the company admitted that one of their potential risks was possibly being sued “over alleged long-term neurocognitive impairment arising from concussions”.