Who is Douglas Dedge? Hardcore fans would know that until the Sammy Vasquez tragedy October 20, 2007, he was the only recorded death in MMA’s history. There are various reports of other deaths before him and no doubt they exist, but Douglas Dedge is the one that is cited as the first American to die in an MMA fight.
The historical facts are muddied when it comes to how Dedge ended up fighting in an unsanctioned event in Kiev, Ukraine. The stories range from Dedge being unfit to fight and blacking out during training sessions to simply a case of a few too many precise blows to the head. What is certain is that his opponent, Yevgeni Zolotarev, mounted Dedge and repeatedly hit him with punches until the fight was stopped less than five minutes after the opening bell.
With the increasing popularity of MMA and spotlight it is receiving in the mainstream media, all it needs is a Dedge-like setback live on cable or pay-per-view TV to have near irrevocable consequences.
On the bright side, there is no doubt the precautions are in place and all organizations appropriately go overboard on medical and rules enforcement these days. Just hang around a fighter for a day or two before a big match and you’ll understand the mountain of detailed tests they go through before being cleared to fight. It comes as no surprise to a fan in attendance when a seemingly perfectly healthy fighter is held back and a match cancelled due to medical restrictions.
All that being said, reality will strike. The fighters are getting better, stronger, and faster and while the rule enforcement and medical are keeping pace – at some point a fatal blow is delivered. It’s almost inevitable. Take boxing where there are heavily padded gloves, no ground game, and no use of the legs of any kind and note that there have been over 1,000 documented deaths in boxing compared to two recorded MMA deaths…and you get the idea that something is on the horizon in MMA. The law of averages comes into play.
We know what will happen when the non-fan or the outsider hears about a death on live cable or pay-per-view “mainstream” MMA. They want to say it is brutal and barbaric in the first place, so this will give them the example they have been waiting on. Unfortunately, one death or serious injury in the new age of mainstream MMA will have a serious blow to the sport’s ability to appeal to the masses.
Let’s hope it doesn’t happen but prepare for the worst. If it does it is your duty as an MMA fan to educate those around you of the facts. In professional sports MMA will continue to rank dead last in the category of death while competing. Hockey, baseball, football, boxing are all well ahead of MMA in the “danger” category.
Another Douglas Dedge should not be the end of the momentum in MMA.