Saturday 23 March 2019

International MMA Federation decision to outlaw headshots in underage bouts welcomed by leading Irish neurologist

Tragic MMA fighter Joao Carvalho
Tragic MMA fighter Joao Carvalho

Tony Considine

A leading Irish neurologist has welcomed the decision by the International MMA Federation (IMMAF) to outlaw headshots for all fighters under the age of 18.

Professor Dan Healy, Consultant Neurologist at Beaumont Hospital and a member of the IMMAF medical board, believes the decision is hugely significant and could lead to the biggest change in combat sports since rules were first codified a century and a half ago.

"This decision is the first time any major contact sport has crossed the Rubicon and taken deliberate head trauma out of the equation for children and teenagers," Prof. Healy said.

"Exposure to deliberate head trauma in sport should be a choice made consenting adults, not kids.I think it will be a catalyst for other sports like boxing and kickboxing where children as young as 11 years of age compete with full contact punches to the brain.

"Time will tell, but this decision by IMMAF may have as big an impact as the Marquess of Queensberry rules did in 1867."

IMMAF CEO Densign White added that the decision not to permit headshots for minors was made "following lengthy research, discussions and review.

“It received unanimous approval from the board due to the overwhelming evidence of physiological and psychological risk provided by our medical committee.”

Prof. Healy co- founded medical charity, Safe MMA in Ireland, with UFC fighter Aisling Daly in 2013. Since the high-profile death of Joao Carvalho in a Dublin octagon three years ago, the Irish MMA community has worked collaboratively to minimize avoidable risks in the sport. Every event since that tragedy has met the independent standards set by the charity.

"Since Joao Carvalho’s death, Ireland has become the safest country in the world to compete in MMA, albeit that this is still a dangerous sport," Prof. Healy concluded.

"For example, over 500 Irish fighters have voluntarily undergone MRI brain scans since 2016, all the more remarkable given that MMA is the only contact sport in Ireland without any form of government help, recognition, or funding."

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