Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a popular and exciting sport that attracts millions of fans around the world.
However, MMA is also a dangerous sport that involves intense physical contact and risk of serious injury.
While most MMA fighters can compete safely and professionally, there have been some tragic cases of fatalities in MMA history.
Here, we will explore 10 deaths in MMA to date, including both sanctioned and unsanctioned fights.
We will also examine the causes and consequences of these deaths, and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
Sanctioned MMA Fights:
1. Sam Vasquez
Sam Vasquez was the first fighter to die from injuries sustained in a sanctioned MMA competition in North America.
He collapsed after taking a punch to the chin during a fight on October 20, 2007. He was diagnosed with a subdural hemorrhage and slipped into a coma for 48 hours until his death on November 30.
2. Michael Kirkham
Michael Kirkham competed at Dash Entertainment/King MMA “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” at the University of South Carolina Aiken campus in Aiken, South Carolina, on June 26, 2010. His opponent Carlos Iraburo had Kirkham on the canvas seconds into his pro debut.
Kirkham soon lost consciousness and never recovered. He was pronounced dead two days after the fight. An autopsy report listed the cause of death as “subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain”.
Unsanctioned MMA Fights:
3. Booto Guylain
Booto Guylain was a Congolese MMA fighter who lost his life after suffering a severe head injury during a bout at EFC AFRICA 27 on February 27, 2014.
Guylain was competing against Keron Davies. During the third round of the fight, one of Davies’ elbows reportedly connected with Guylain’s head, knocking him unconscious.
He was immediately treated for swelling and bleeding on the brain. Despite the immediate medical attention, Guylain was pronounced dead a few days later.
4. Donshay White
Donshay White was a 37-year-old heavyweight fighter who tragically passed away following an amateur bout at the Hardrock MMA event in Louisville, Kentucky, on July 15, 2017.
During the fight, White was stopped two minutes into the second round of his fight with opponent Ricky Muse.
A short time later, in the locker room, White suffered what is being referred to as a “cardiac event” and collapsed. He was immediately rushed to the hospital.
Despite the immediate medical attention, White was pronounced dead a short time later. The exact cause of death was later determined to be a heart condition.
5. Rondel Clark
Rondel Clark was an amateur MMA fighter who passed away on August 15, 2017, three days after a fight at Cage Titans XXXV in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Clark was TKO’d in the third round of the fight by Ryan Dunn, and he collapsed backstage after the bout.
He was taken to the hospital, where he passed away due to complications from extreme rhabdomyolysis, which is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue caused by physical overexertion.
Clark’s death highlights the dangers of extreme weight cutting, which is a common practice in combat sports like MMA.
6. Joao Carvalho
João Carvalho was a Portuguese MMA fighter who passed away on April 11, 2016, following a Total Extreme Fighting event in Dublin, Ireland.
Carvalho was beaten by technical knockout in the third round of the fight against Charlie Ward, a teammate of the Ultimate Fighting Championship champion Conor McGregor.
Carvalho began to feel ill 20 minutes after the fight and was taken to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, where he underwent emergency brain surgery.
Unfortunately, he passed away in the hospital’s intensive care unit two days later due to complications from an acute subdural hemorrhage caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
The death of Carvalho aroused rage and an explosion of debate and criticism, with many questioning the safety measures and regulations in place for MMA fights.
The referee who was in charge of the fight, Mariusz Domasat, defended his decision and said that he stopped the fight when there was a reason to stop the fight, and everyone who has any idea about MMA knows the fight was stopped at the exact proper time.
7. Douglas Dedge
Douglas Dedge was an American mixed martial artist who tragically became the first known American competitor to be fatally injured in an MMA fight and the first death in the modern era of professional MMA.
The fatal bout occurred at the International Super Challenge in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 16, 1998, against Yevgeni Zolotarev.
Dedge attempted a takedown but was mounted and took 14 punches to the head before tapping out.
He stood up after the fight but almost immediately collapsed and died two days later from severe brain injuries at the Kiev Institute of Neurosurgery.
Friends later said they witnessed Dedge blackout during training for the fight. The limited-rules event was billed as a “Ukraine Against the World” contest and drew about 4,000 spectators.
To field the opposition, labeled the “World Team,” promoters circulated invitations on the Internet that guaranteed potential competitors travel and stay expenses, as well as $2,000 for fighting and an additional $3,000 to win.
Dedge was one of three American fighters on the show.
In the immediate aftermath of Dedge’s death, Ultimate Fighting Championship co-founder Art Davie, who had been fired by the organization at the end of 1997, wrote a letter to UFC owner Bob Meyrowitz (also sent to MMA opponent Senator John McCain) asking him to “reconsider” the promotion of MMA in light of the Dedge incident.
Davie had just become affiliated with kickboxing promotion K-1 and became vice-president of K-1 USA.
Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter commented that Davie’s motives for writing the letter “can and will be questioned greatly”.
Meyrowitz, speaking for the UFC, said the death was “an example of why we have been asking for regulation of this sport by athletic commissions in the U.S. as well as internationally”.
8. Michael Kirkham
Michael Kirkham “Tree,”, a 30-year-old MMA fighter, tragically passed away following a bout at the Dash Entertainment/King MMA “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” event at the University of South Carolina Aiken campus in Aiken, South Carolina, on June 26, 2010.
During the fight, Kirkham’s opponent, Carlos Iraburo, had him on the canvas seconds into his pro debut.
Iraburo then landed a few strikes to the head of his grounded opponent, leading to a referee stoppage 41 seconds into the match.
Kirkham soon lost consciousness and never recovered. He was pronounced dead two days after the fight.
An autopsy report listed the cause of death as “subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain“.
9. Tyrone Mims
Tyrone Mims was an American mixed martial artist who tragically lost his life following an amateur bout in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, on August 11, 2012.
During the fight, Mims lost by technical knockout (TKO) after complaining to the referee about fatigue in the second round.
After the fight, he told medical personnel he was fine, but later in the locker room, he complained of chest pains.
Soon after, he lost consciousness and never recovered.
He was pronounced dead later that night. The exact cause of death was not immediately known.
10. Felix Pablo Elochukwu
Felix Pablo Elochukwu, also known as Felix Nchikwo, was a Nigerian-born MMA fighter who tragically passed away following an unregulated bout in Port Huron, Michigan, on April 5, 2013.
During the fight, Elochukwu lasted three rounds in the ring. Officials stopped the fight when Nchikwo showed signs he was having difficulty defending himself.
After the fight, he was perfectly alright but got tired at the end, got a little dizzy, and then collapsed forward.
He was taken to the hospital for treatment but died a short time later. An autopsy revealed that Elochukwu died as a result of a heart malfunction.
The St. Clair County Medical Examiners office in Port Huron issued a press release stating that Felix Nchikwo had a cardiac arrhythmic disorder that caused sudden cardiac death.
An arrhythmia is a change in the regular beat of the heart and is not considered to be a heart attack.
These cases highlight the inherent risks of MMA and the importance of safety measures and regulations in the sport.
Despite the risks, MMA continues to be a popular and growing sport, with safety measures and regulations in place to minimize the risk of fatalities and injuries