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B.C. Medical Association calls for MMA ban in Canada

The Canadian Press

8/19/2010 6:52:17 PM

TORONTO -- Joe Doerksen isn't sure what all the fuss is about. As far as the mixed martial arts fighter is concerned, his sport is no more dangerous than most other high-contact contests and might even be safer than many recreational pursuits.

"Ridiculous" is how the 11-year veteran of cage-fighting describes a call by the B.C. Medical Association to have mixed martial arts bouts banned in Canada.

The doctors group wants its national body, the Canadian Medical Association, to consider a resolution at its annual meeting next week that would seek to deliver a knock-out punch to the popular sporting event in Canada.

The CMA has been advocating for a ban on amateur and professional boxing since 2001. But the organization has no policy on MMA and won't comment on the B.C.-sponsored resolution, which may come before delegates -- or not.

Still, BCMA president Dr. Ian Gillespie is counting on the issue being discussed at the Niagara Falls, Ont., meeting, because he believes MMA is an inherently dangerous sport that could lead to catastrophic injuries among participants.

"MMA fighting, like boxing, is distinct from many other sports in that the basic intent of the fighter is to cause harm in order to incapacitate his or her opponent," Gillespie said from Vancouver. "And what distinguishes MMA fighting from boxing is the use of various techniques to do so that aren't limited to punching, and there may be the presence of fewer safety rules."

"For instance, allowing a fighter to continue to attack when his or her opponent is down."

MMA fighters employ a combination of eight martial arts techniques, including boxing, kick boxing, karate, judo and wrestling. The object is to win by knockout, technical knockout or an opponent's submission.

Punches and kicks to parts of the head and body are hallmarks of the rough and tumble bouts, as are choke and arm holds that can cause an opponent to lose consciousness or cause joint damage. Pummelling the back of the head, the spine or groin of an opponent is a definite no-no, but a blow to the temple would be a legitimate hit.

And the risk of concussion -- particularly multiple concussions over time -- is the injury that most worries doctors.

Dr. Charles Tator, a Toronto neurosurgeon who founded the ThinkFirst brain-injury prevention foundation, said concussions are not minor injuries but potentially serious brain traumas that can have long-lasting repercussions.

If a person experiences only one or two concussions, chances for a full recovery are good, said Tator. "But if you have three, four, five, 10 concussions, the chance increases that you will not recover and you will have significant brain injury that could cause diseases such as dementia.

"We are really putting the fighters at risk of causing themselves terrifically life-long, terrifically damaging brain diseases."

But Tom Wright, director of operations for Ultimate Fighting Championships Canada, stressed that the league is governed by standards and regulations aimed at protecting participants in provinces and U.S. states where MMA events are allowed.

"Yes, it's a contact sport, it's a combat sport, but there are a lot of other ones, too, that are out there," he said, citing boxing, football and hockey.

Wright said the UFC requires fighters to have pre- and post-bout medical checkups -- which may include MRI brain scans -- and those on the circuit can be put on suspension for weeks to months if they are deemed medically unfit. As well, the UFC ensures a doctor is ringside for all bouts.

"That's the kind of rigour that you want in place so that the health and safety of the athlete is first and foremost," he said from Las Vegas, where UFC's international headquarters are based.

While having medical professionals on hand is prudent, Gillespie said traumatic brain injury can occur within seconds and can cause a lifetime of debilitating consequences and sometimes death.

"And having even three doctors at ringside is not going to prevent that kind of outcome. The most the ringside doctor can do is endorse the referee's decision to end the fight or expedite the person's transport to hospital."

Wright said UFC Canada is willing to work with doctors or any organization to make sure the health of mixed martial artists is safeguarded.

But banning the sport -- now sanctioned by seven provinces, including the most recent, Ontario (as of 2011) -- would mean MMA would no longer be regulated and could go underground, much like illegal cockfighting made its way into back alleys and isolated barns.

"We don't want it to go underground because then the athletes' safety will be compromised," said Wright.

As for Joe Doerksen, the Winnipeg middleweight is philosophical about the risk of injury. He's had a couple of mild concussions, a few broken bones and some stitches after 58 bouts in the ring, 46 of which he's won. "Nothing really serious, I've never had to have surgery."

"There's always a risk, I suppose. But I don't tend to worry about it ... I don't see it's any different from any other sport. Hockey players get injured. Football players get injured. ... You go out there and do your job and if you get hurt there's a doctor right there, so it's not the end of the world. You heal up and you decide whether you want to do it again."

Many recreational sports can be dangerous -- and they're not regulated like MMA fighting, said the deep-voiced Doerksen, who sports elaborate tattoos on his well-muscled body.

"If I go downhill skiing, just for example, if I run into a tree there's no doctor there sitting beside the tree waiting to take care of me."

"I'd feel safer fighting than I would downhill skiing."