October 12, 2011
Brain damage unknown territory for UFC
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Mark Hominick was walking around the Air Canada Centre, parading his baby girl the way all proud papas do, when the rather blunt question was asked.
Are you worried about your brain?
And then a more personal question: Are you worried about your future?
It is not just a question for this or any other UFC fighter. It seems to be a question for almost every athlete in every contact sport these days. Month after difficult month, the evidence connecting contact sport to brain injuries gets more troubling and more personal. And with the world of mixed martial arts being so young and so new and so violent there is no real evidence available about what the future of anyone will be from a sport still determining what it is.
When Hominick heard the UFC was returning to Toronto for the second time, he got on the phone to his agent and called once, twice, three times some days. “I had to be on this card,” he said. “I have some unfinished business to take care of.”
The only time he fought in Toronto his forehead blew up like a volcano — he became the Hasim Rahman of UFC — and his heart never stopped pumping throughout a crazy back and forth bout against featherweight champion Jose Aldo. His head honestly looked like it exploded. His brain, it seems, went untouched.
“I don’t worry about my future,” said Hominick, repeating the MMA mantra. “The big difference between MMA and every other sports is, we are regulated by the government.
“In the NFL, in the NHL, you can get a concussion and go out and be back on the field and get a concussion on the next down. There’s no repercussions for the sports, no suspensions if anything goes wrong. In our sport, we’re regulated, we get tested before we fight, we get tested after we fight, we have to be medically cleared to fight and then medically cleared afterwards.
“I’m not saying this isn’t a rough sport. It is. This is a combat sport. You involve yourself with combat sports and there is always risk. But they (the UFC) make sure we are healthy, medically cleared to fight. I had a very tough fight in my last fight and was suspended for 60 days immediately thereafter. I had to get cleared after having a CT-scan and an MRI. I think we’re doing everything in our sport to be safe.”
The thing is, we can’t know where MMA fighters are going. We can’t because the sport is too young, too new. We can’t because we don’t have any brains donated in Boston that will demonstrate what kind of damage may be evident in later years. And we don’t have anything shocking like the Rick Martin story, where a late hockey player who didn’t fight, and had one known concussion in his pro career, is diagnosed with CTE (early signs of dementia) after his passing.
Hominick is 29 years old, from Western Ontario, and is among the Canadian favourites who will be back on the UFC 140 card in Toronto scheduled for Dec. 10 at the ACC. He played a bit part in the pep rally disguised as a press conference Wednesday, along with his five-month-old daughter and his wife, Ashley, but he won’t play a bit part at UFC 140 after putting on a memorable performance in his first and only Toronto appearance. He is back here, in his words, to write the end of the story.
“I want to carry on that momentum.”
So, too, does Dana White, the brains and voice and face behind everything UFC. The business he has created here is nothing short of brilliant. He has taken his sport to the mainstream without any real support from mainstream media. He is the father of UFC and in some ways he is the concerned parent.
“Understand this,” said White. “I care about most of these guys. I have personal relationships with most of our fighters. To be honest, there’s some guys I don’t like at all. But that doesn’t change that I want these guys to be safe and be healthy.
“Michael J. Fox has Parkinson’s disease and has never taken a punch in his life. There’s risk in every job. Go talk to coal miners. Go talk to construction workers and see what happens to those guys. This is life, There’s risk in everything we do.
“Our guys are professional athletes and this is what they choose to do. We go overboard on health and safety in our sport. Not to mention the fact that we’re the most regulated sport on earth. For guys who want to be competitors and guys who want to be in mixed martial arts, this is the safest place to be.”
The players of the NFL and NHL probably said the same thing 30 years ago. Now we are forced to wonder about punches, hits to the head, collisions at full force. Maybe Mark Hominick is right. That all is well and will be well. But we don’t know. We can’t know. And it doesn’t prevent us from worrying about a little girl’s father.