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MMA’s First Death: Thoughts and Condolences

On October 20th, Sammy Vasquez entered a cage at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas only to leave by a stoppage that would turn into the first MMA related death in the United States MMA market. At age 35, Vasquez may have been an older fighter in a sport of young, strong guys, but he was deemed fit for battle by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Although there are rumors circulating that his death may be related to an unrelated blood clot that occurred after the initial clot, the medical examiner has yet to release any cause of death.

The entire turn of events has begun to stem from the death of Sammy Vasquez. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation began an investigation into the matter, and factors such as his pre-fight testing are now coming under scrutiny. The matter of the matchmaking and go-ahead by the commission to pit a relatively inexperienced Vasquez (1-2) against a more experienced Vince Libardi (4-3) has also become a topic of discussion. The MMA community has also been fairly quiet and details from the family and people involved in the promotion have remained silent. It’s a sad day in mixed martial arts.

The Backstory

First and foremost, let’s lay out what happened for reference. Vasquez received some blows from Libardi, put him to the floor, and Vasquez was allowed to stand back up by the referee. In a second flurry, Vasquez was dropped and obviously hurt. The referee stepped in and stopped the bout. From that point forward, EMTs took over and attended to the needs of a hurt Vasquez in the cage. Vasquez was taken out of the arena on a stretcher and quite possibly had a seizure on the way out of the event, according to a Sherdog.com report.

During his hospital stay, Vasquez was diagnosed with an acute clot in his brain. He had surgery that relieved the pressure from the clot, but had a second “rare” clot develop. Another procedure that was extensive and invasive was required. On November 9th, Vasquez was put into a medically induced coma after suffering a stroke. This was the point in which the Vasquez family had to make some tough decisions about Sammy. He was later put into hospice care, and died on November 30th from injuries related to a mixed martial arts fight.

The subsequent controversy

Some of the issues that arose from the death of Sammy Vasquez were issues regarding his health going into the fight. According to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR), there is an extensive pre-fight medical regiment that is required for fighters at a certain age in order to acquire a license to fight in Texas. That information has yet to be disclosed to the media.

Interestingly enough, Dave Meltzer announced that on Monday, the TDLR stated that the event was conducted in compliance with all regulating procedures. This went through an investigation of the pre-fight review by the referee, actions by physicians on duty and EMTs, as well as anyone involved during the event. Meltzer did not mention whether this including the extensive pre-fight licensing tests that were to be done by the TDLR.

According to the TDLR website release, the pre-fight requirements are included in the investigation.

Pre-fight medicals need more scrutinization

When looking over the current situation, there are a few things that strike me as odd. First of all, the investigation seemed to be done directly after the event happened. After thorough investigation that involved interviewing the people at the event and looking at video, I have one problem with the investigation and notes that I’ve read regarding it. It seemed to me that it was heavily based on covering people’s asses and not actually getting down to the nitty gritty of the pre-fight medicals that most people turned to immediately.

Before I get into my argument, I will state that those interviews and viewing of the video are important in reviewing the response time of the doctors. The Houston Chronicle interviewed Soliz, the promoter, who stated that the doctor, Jorge Guerrero, was in the ring immediately. According to the TDLR, it was evident that they came to the same conclusion. That conclusion being that the response to the injury was adequate enough to get Vasquez to the hospital in time. Understanding that part of the investigation, let’s focus on the pre-fight medical testing. We can’t. It has yet to be disclosed and it seems from what the TDLR website states that the investigation includes pre-fight requirements. Unless the wording is incorrect, the medical testing is a pre-fight requirement to get licensed for the event and has already been reviewed.

Obviously, I’m pointing at the pre-fight medicals. These should be scrutinized and re-evaluated again and again with second and third opinions. If there was a hint that there was a possibility of a pre-existing condition, it should be documented for the future for doctors to learn from.

Other opinions I have read involved the possibility that Vasquez covered up a condition. It seems absurd unless he also fudged a medical report and signature. I doubt this has any weight at all. Stop coming up with conspiracy theories and look at the facts.

Sweeping under the rug?

Why hasn’t this story been given more exposure or more opinion? I’m not entirely sure, but I guess I took quite some time to comment due to the fact that so little information has been revealed about the circumstances surrounding the death. The surprise for me is that mixed martial arts has been commented on in the media as being much more dangerous that any combative sport or contact sport. People see grown men swinging for the fences at each other, trying to choke one another out, trying to end a fight by causing a guy to lose consciousness, and they think to themselves as to how the sport must be extremely dangerous. Wouldn’t we want to keep this sport safe and stray away from labeling it as “barbaric” and “see what happens” type of talk?

It is fairly unknown to casual fans that Boxing has more deaths per year than MMA has had deaths in its history. The biggest contributing factors to this is that MMA fighters can tap out, they receive less blows per bout that boxers do to their brains, and MMA fights can hit the floor where action may not involve punches to the head. Over time, a boxer can obtain considerable brain damage and develop fatal conditions to the brain. In my experience, this has become one of those things that goes along with the territory for boxing. Should MMA accept the same fate? Absolutely not. Especially if conditions pre-existing are factors.

With that said, my entire point revolves around the fact that now we’ve had a second death in a sport that is growing. The general consensus from casual fans and people who may not know these facts are that MMA is much more brutal, much more likely to have a death. But MMA hasn’t had more deaths, they’ve had LESS. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for MMA in general and doctors involved in the sport and commissions to maintain that low number by investigating these incidents thoroughly? My point… ask questions. Most people simply want to tell me that we knew it would happen. Give me a break. Because we knew it would happen eventually, we should just give up on finding out why? Please move on if you feel this way.

As a correlary to my point, wouldn’t it be beneficial to determine whether the incident is due to a pre-existing condition that could have been caught prior to the bout? YES! Not only do I want to see investigations that would benefit in keeping a low number of deaths to MMA fighters and an overall safe and working process to keep fighters out of the hospital from life threatening injuries, but it would also be beneficial to learn what types of conditions are threatening to a fighter.

Matchmaking problems?

Reading some fan opinions brought up the matchmaking issue. To be honest, the matchmaking argument is completely absurd. Some people based it on records, which is such a horrible argument. Do you realize how many fights have resembled these similar records in MMA? Tons. A (1-2) fighter who takes on a (4-3) fighter. Obviously both fighters had weaknesses.

Other factors mentioned were age. Another absurdity. The one case that I found interesting was the fact that Vasquez was on a long layoff and Libardi wasn’t, but that type of fight has been done a million times, and any fighter he was going to be matched up against was probably going to be active in MMA in the last few months. I don’t think that’s a valid argument and the matchmaking was pretty standard.

Final thoughts

I’ve laid out an argument that is somewhat indirect to the point here, which may be confusing, but I hope that some people understand it. MMA has had less deaths to date per year and in its history than other combative sports. We need to keep moving toward ways to keep it that way or ultimately eliminate the number altogether by investigating these medicals. If there had been a pre-existing condition, that is something that needs to be addressed. Simply sweeping it under the rug and stating that it was bound to happen does not help the matter whatsoever. What if it was a pre-existing condition? We would never know with that kind of thinking. Business would move on as usual until the next death happened. To put it simply, more scrutinization on the death of Sammy Vasquez should be done.

I speak on behalf of the entire staff of MMAFrenzy.com as well as our readers in sending condolences to the family of Sammy Vasquez. A true competitor to the sport, and from what I’ve read from people close to him, a gritty competitor in the ring and in his training. Hopefully, some answers to the many questions will be found.

*****

Donations to the Sammy Vasquez Memorial Fund can be made at MMA Junkie.

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