Updated: Sep 13
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 11, 2023
UFC’s Main Event on Saturday Spotlights MMA Head Injuries
Arizona neurologist Dr. Andrea An urges officials “not to underestimate or overlook brain health."
CHANDLER, ARIZ.—A year after being knocked out and suffering a brain bleed, Vicente Luque will serve as the headline fighter for the Aug. 12 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bout.
Luque has been on a forced hiatus from the sport because of the head injury he suffered on Aug. 6, 2022 while competing against Geoff Neal. However, according to the Nevada Athletic Commission, a neurologist and neurosurgeon have cleared Luque to once again take part in his sport of choice. As such, Luque, on Saturday, will go up against Rafael dos Anjos in the welterweight (170 lbs) division of UFC’s mixed martial arts (MMA) event.
Luque returns to the ring amid growing questions about how MMA fighting affects participants. Dr. Andrea An, medical director and head neurologist at Neurology Associates Neuroscience Center in Arizona, for one, has extensive concerns about combat sports such as MMA and the way they affect the brain.
“There’s not a lot of solid data out there around what’s safe, especially for younger people, or the decision process around allowing an athlete re-entry after serious injury,” she says.
Along those lines, medical researchers in Poland recently quantified the prevalence of head injuries in UFC fights. According to their calculations, 31.6% of all UFC fights end with a knockout accompanied by a head injury. They estimated that UFC athletes experience an average of 2.4 significant blows to the head per minute, with the average fight extending beyond 10 minutes.
In addition, fighting-related issues such as brain bleed, which Luque has dealt with for the past year, are not a one-and-done kind of problem.
“Any time you have a brain injury, whether it's a brain bleed or a contusion, your risk for developing a neurodegenerative disease, such as dementia, later in life goes up,” says Dr. An. “One head injury can lead to seizures, for example.”
At the time of Luque’s knockout loss, sports commentators emphasized the brutality of the fight. After being weakened by a series of uppercuts to the face and jaw, Luque sustained several powerful long-range head punches that finished him off. Now, one year later, observers seem focused on the betting odds. And many are asking whether it makes sense to bet on Luque given the extent of his head injury.
Dr. An, for her part, does not approve of combat sports because of the neurological damage they cause. However, understanding that some people will continue to choose MMA fighting as their livelihood, she wants to see greater stringency around injury prevention and the rehab process.
“The nature of combat sports, with their high-intensity hits and repeated blows to the head, can lead to substantial, permanent damage to the brain,” she says. “While athletes like Vicente Luque are remarkably determined and resilient, they do face serious risks in terms of cognitive function. We strongly urge UFC officials not to underestimate or overlook brain health."
In fairness, UFC officials do garner praise for stopping fights earlier than professional boxing, and for enforcing medical suspensions following head injuries. Even so, MMA fighting inflicts long- and short-term impacts on brain health, raising questions about how much attention is paid to athletes’ neurological care and sparking further discussion about the dangers of high contact sports.
To interview Dr. An, contact Kelly Teal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ABOUT NEUROLOGY ASSOCIATES NEUROSCIENCE CENTER
Neurology Associates Neuroscience Center specializes in the conditions and disorders linked to brain and spinal abnormalities. Neurology Associates takes patient care beyond typical boundaries, incorporating a truly holistic approach that encompasses imaging, psychiatry, neuropsychology, physical therapy, naturopathic medicine, counseling, cognitive rehabilitation, and more. Neurology Associates is staffed by neurologists with different areas of focus, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a doctor of physical therapy, naturopathic physicians, clinical psychologists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners. Neurology Associates has two Arizona locations, one in Chandler and one in northeast Mesa.