Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

(Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

On the 16th  of January 2021, Calvin Kattar absorbed 445 significant strikes against Max Holloway over a period of 5 rounds. It was one of the most one-sided wins ever seen in a Main event in the UFC. A true masterclass by Max Holloway, he was absolutely untouchable that night and was landing punches at will. Holloway won the fight by Unanimous decision. The damage that Kattar took was as bad as a concussion, if not worse.

Let us start with the basics. A concussion is a brain injury caused due to an impact on the head, which causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth and hit the skull . This impact of the skull on the brain causes a knockout. In this case we can see symptoms like disorientation, confusion, double vision, headache .  The second type of mild traumatic injury  is repeated head trauma which isn’t strong enough for us to see through symptoms. This is called sub-concussive trauma . Sub-concussive trauma is much more common during sparring and fighting and is often overlooked due to the lack of symptoms . The repercussion  of such a beating is that the fighter’s ability to take a punch  reduces, that is , the fighter “ loses his chin”. We have seen fighters “lose their chin “ many times, Mark Hunt and Dan Henderson are the most prominent examples.

Many years of absorbing concussive or sub-concussive blows to the head, results in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease, found in people who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. It is heavily linked to combat sports, American football, soccer.  The symptoms are cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, aggression, depression, apathy, short-term memory loss , difficulty in planning and carrying out tasks, emotional instability, and lastly, progression to full-blown dementia. CTE has been linked with accelerating the development of other neurodegenerative diseases, as well. CTE takes years to develop and generally happens after a fighter has retired.

The problem of traumatic brain injury is serious. So, what can we do to prevent it. The first and foremost is DON’T spar hard. Max Holloway has recently stated that he has stopped sparring hard and Coach Firas Zahabi also implements “ Play- sparring” in his gym. The second step is to strengthen the muscles of the neck, most importantly the trapezius muscles. This will help reduce the force of impact on the head.   

Lets come back to the fight between Holloway and Kattar, after 3 rounds of domination, should the officials  have stopped the fight ? or should Kattar have stopped it himself ? The fighter’s mentality plays a huge role in this. Stopping a fight without being knocked out,  is something most fighters would not consider. This is brave, no doubt but is it smart?


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