MMA fans are accustomed to seeing fighters stand up and dust off unbelievably brutal knockouts like playground boo boos. One can imagine the immediate shock when pro-fighter Booto Guylain suffered a TKO loss and never got back up.
The 29-year-old was pronounced dead on Wednesday from severe head trauma sustained in a professional MMA bout for Extreme Fighting Championship, an African promotion, on February 27 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
According to a statement released on the promotion’s official website, Guylain was transferred to the hospital, where he was treated for swelling and bleeding of the brain after taking multiple elbows to the head in his bout with Keron Davies.
“We are devastated,” said EFC Africa president Cairo Howarth, after hearing of Guylain’s passing. “This is a huge loss to the sport and to all who know him. Our thoughts are with his family in this trying time.”
Guylain’s tragic death proves that any preconceived notion that MMA is a “safe” sport is erroneous.
This isn’t an attempt to isolate and bastardize the world’s fastest growing sport. Quite the contrary, it forces the world to take a hard look at a sport still in its infancy, fighting for mainstream acceptance.
The key could lie in the banning of elbow strikes to the head of a grounded opponent.
The possibility of getting elbowed in the face is a real nightmare for a fighter trapped underneath an opponent. Elbow strikes are particularly hard to defend against because the fighter on top doesn’t need a lot of space to generate the momentum required to cause serious damage.
There truly is no comparison to the potential trauma an elbow strike can leave to the head of a downed opponent. The impactful force from the strike typically adds to the trauma by sandwiching a fighter’s head between the forearm and the ground. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “bashing your brains in.”
Former UFC light heavyweight champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua comes from a long line of controversial techniques allowed in his MMA tenure with Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships. During an interview with MMAJunkie, the MMA star said elbows are more dangerous than the foot stomps and soccer kicks allowed in Pride.
“I think that the rule set from when I fought in Japan was safer than today’s rules. Elbows hurt a lot more than stomps,” Shogun said.
Retired UFC welterweight Nick Diaz has echoed Shogun’s feelings about elbows in multiple interviews. In a particular one-on-one with MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, Diaz paints a dark world beyond the glitz and glamour of fighting, one few get to see:
It’s very dangerous. It’s not like you’re not scared to fight. You’ve got to be stupid. It’s a very scary situation you’re in when people are trying to manipulate positions so that they can smash your face with an elbow or elbows and just rain it down. It’s hard times dealing with that idea of what might be in front of you for your whole life, one after another sort of thing.
Diaz further discredits elbows in a dual interview with his brother Nate Diaz for Fight! Magazine. While Nate refers to the utilization of elbows as “classless,” Nick says that fighters are literally fighting for their lives under the current rule structure.
Added emphasis on fighter safety is just one reason MMA should consider doing away with elbows to a downed opponent.
Not only are elbows more likely to leave a fighter concussed, the pointed bone is often the culprit behind opening up large cuts, which can lead to premature stoppages.
Depending on the severity and placement of a cut, referees are allowed to defer to the cageside physician, who then makes the final decision on whether the injured fighter is able to continue.
While elbows may not be the only strikes capable of opening a fighter up, they dramatically increase the chances of red spilling onto the canvas.
Fighters log countless hours in the gym, suffering through long-winded training camps to prepare for upcoming fights. Promoters put a lot of money and effort into selling fights and maximizing media exposure. Fans spend their hard-earned money buying pay-per-views.
No one ever wants to walk away from a fight feeling cheated, which is generally what happens from cut stoppages. What fighter wants to go through a rigorous training camp only to lose a fight in the first round from a cut? What fan wants to pay money to see that?
A cut stoppage is void of that same warm, fuzzy feeling of an actual finish. Such an unsatisfying conclusion is comparable to that of a draw or freakish injury. One would be better off placing an asterisk next to any TKO by cut, as it never produces a clear winner.
UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture made a living off taking people down and running elbows into their faces. In David Mayeda’s book Fighting for Acceptance, Couture likened the technique to the old adage of living and dying by the same sword.
While elbows are an incredibly effective tool, there is always the troublesome chance of ending up on the wrong side of them.
“When you can take a guy and ram him into the bottom of the fence and limit his mobility to in some ways defend himself, the elbow strikes sometimes open cuts, and you don’t always see the best fighter come out of it in that situation,” says Couture (per Mayeda). “I’ve been on both sides of that. I’ve won fights that way, and I’ve lost fights that way.”
Former UFC light heavyweight champ and current Bellator star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson also shared his thoughts with Mayeda on the issue. His concerns seem to run much deeper than Couture’s and more along the side of the Diaz brothers.
“No elbows to the head. The elbows don’t really knock people out too often. They can knock you out, but they are mostly designed to cut people up. And you can get scarred for life. I don’t like that too much,” said Jackson.
Simply pushing aside the issue and saying “fighters knew what they signed up for” doesn’t excuse those in charge from the responsibility of ensuring fighter safety. MMA is an ever-evolving sport still in its early stages, and ultimately, changes will have to be made if it ever hopes to cast a wider net and receive mainstream attention.
Guylain’s untimely death and blood-soaked mats are not a good look for a sport still seeking acceptance. It was only a couple of months ago that Australian journalist Phil Rothfield released his now-infamous piece for The Daily Telegraph, calling MMA a “bloody disgrace” and “barbaric savagery.”
A passive approach only fuels the shallow notion from the same old farts shaking a finger at MMA for being all blood and guts, not technically derivative.
UFC heavyweight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva’s manager, Alex Davis, gracefully put everything into perspective in a post on The MMA Underground (h/t MMA Mania):
I also think that elbows on the ground should not be allowed. For the most part, they cause cuts, which are different then Kos, Tkos or Subs. They also tend to make a bloody mess, sometimes from relatively minor damage, and this does not help MMA as it tends to alienate many people to the sport.
Over the years, promotions such as Pride and Strikeforce have delivered spectacular shows without the usage of elbows. An argument can be made that elbows stunt ground battles. Fighters on top can basically hang out for extended periods of time, while creating minimal space to sneak in an elbow every now and then.
If forced to throw punches, fighters will have to posture up more to score points. The extra space will give the guy on bottom a chance to be more aggressive with sweeps and submission attacks.
In a sense, the removal of elbows won’t only make the sport watchable for new viewers, but it could also make fights more exciting.
The tragedy at EFC should encourage the MMA world to reexamine the perpetual issue from a big-picture standpoint. If there is a chance a ban on elbows could increase fighter safety and bring about mainstream acceptance, would it not be worth a consideration?
Time will tell whether athletic commissions make the necessary changes to shore up MMA’s “just bleed” image, or if the sport anchors down in stagnant waters, wading through unending criticism.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.
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Courtesy of :Bleacher Report – UFC