MMA, boxing rivals unify to support head trauma research: ‘We owe it to these athletes’

Luminaries from the UFC, Bellator, Glory, Golden Boy Promotions, and Top Rank Boxing gathered on Capitol Hill this morning to announce unified support of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health's professional fighters study alongside Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV).

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It took something pretty important to get these guys together in one room.

Luminaries from the world of MMA and boxing joined Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV) to throw their support behind the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s professional fighters study at a press conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill. More than 400 fighters, most of them from the UFC, are already taking part in the research, which is dedicated to understanding the effects of repeated head trauma.

If we don’t do this, I’m afraid the support for these incredible, entertaining sports will wane on the part of the American people. We owe it to these athletes.

--Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

UFC, Viacom (Bellator, Glory), Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Boxing have combined to pledge $600,000 toward the study and that number will grow. The Cleveland Clinic itself has given close to $2 million to the research. McCain said it’s the hope of the federal government to combine the Cleveland Clinic’s research with other studies that are being done concerning head injuries to soldiers.

“Frankly, there’s no other organization more qualified to do this than the Cleveland Clinic,” McCain said.

In attendance were UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his next challenger Glover Teixeira. Representing Viacom were Spike TV president Kevin Kay and Bellator lightweight Michael Chandler. Top Rank president Todd duBoef and WBO featherweight champion Mikey Garcia and Golden Boy’s Bernard Hopkins were also on the dais, along with executives and doctors from the Cleveland Clinic.

“If organizations that are as fiercely competitive as Viacom and the UFC are, and in the boxing world Top Rank and Golden Boy, can come together today, I think there’s still hope for North and South Korea,” Kay joked. “Maybe even Democrats and Republicans.”

WBO junior lightweight champion Mikey Garcia spoke alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

Fertitta said when Larry Ruvo, founder of the Cleveland Clinic, approached him about this research, the UFC was all in immediately. He said he told Ruvo: “Let us know what you need.” The UFC has a two-year commitment to supporting the study, Fertitta said.

Fertitta said he called Kay, his former business partner and current rival, about taking part in it.

“They didn’t hesitate, they understood the importance of it and they stepped right up,” Fertitta said.

Jones, Teixeira and Hopkins all spoke about the importance of what this knowledge could bring to MMA and boxing. Are some people more biologically predisposed to diseases like Alzheimer’s due to head injuries? What blows cause the most damage? There’s a wealth of knowledge that is still very unknown, especially in a sport like MMA that has only been around for 20 years.

“Unfortunately, head injuries and concussions are injuries that we just don’t know enough about,” Fertitta said. “We just don’t know enough about what blows cause them and are certain people more predisposed than other people? We need to find that out.”

Unfortunately, head injuries and concussions are injuries that we just don’t know enough about.

--UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta

Jones, Teixeira and Hopkins all spoke about what Jones described as “leaving your career in the gym.” Basically, the damage taken during a fight pales in comparison to the constant pounding combat sports athletes endure in training.

“You’re gonna take the hits during the actual competition,” Jones said. “My biggest piece of advice to fighters is just be conscious of the way you’re training.”

Teixeira mentioned that this new information could help the thousands of MMA fighters and boxers who train regularly, but don’t compete in organizations like the UFC and don’t get the best possible medical coverage.

“I see people get knocked out in the gym and they’re never going to fight,” Teixeira said. “They’re just regular people with regular jobs. So, maybe this will spread the word out there that they should go get checked out.”

Jones said he hasn’t taken any hard hits to the head in his MMA career. But he recalls a head injury during wrestling match when he was in high school that he thought little of at the time. Jones went for a throw and ended up landing on his own head.

“I saw those lights,” Jones said. “Now that I’m older I realize that those lights were probably some type of concussion.”

His and all of our understanding of head trauma will only grow as the Cleveland Clinic delves deeper into their research. It has the backing of all the right people.

"If we don’t do this, I’m afraid the support for these incredible, entertaining sports will wane on the part of the American people,” McCain said. … “We owe it to these athletes.”