The Nevada State Athletic Commission Put Fighters in Danger at The Ultimate Fighter Finale

Posted on June 20, 2010

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Hamill's staph infection (photo courtesy MMAJunkie.com)

At the Ultimate Fighter Finale on Saturday evening, the greatest danger to fighter safety didn’t come from a punch, kick, throw, or any other maneuver.

Matt Hamill, a former competitor on the television show whose success in MMA despite being deaf has gained him a multitude of followers, entered into his Light Heavyweight contest with Keith Jardine sporting a strange mark on the bottom of his back. Speculation was rampant on the internet until after the fight, where he revealed to MMAFighting.com‘s Ben Fowlkes that he had acquired a staph infection.

Initially, I disregarded the cries of disbelief. There was simply no way that an Athletic Commission official would allow someone with an open staph infection to compete in the Octagon. I reminded several folks that after a few days of anti-biotics, the infection is no longer contagious and would not pose a threat to fighters. It was my assumption that something along those lines was the case, and that there was a logical explanation for what we were hearing.

Then, at the post-fight press conference, Hamill revealed that he would not be starting his regiment of anti-biotics until the next day. Even more shockingly, it was revealed by Keith Kizer (the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission) that the Commission’s appointed physician was not only aware of Hamill’s condition, but gave him the green light to compete.

This decision put the health and potentially the lives of Keith Jardine and the two fighters competing afterwards in very real danger.

A staph infection is a dangerous condition that can lead to permanent injury and even death. Fighters are prone to this condition due to continuous contact and sharing of surfaces such as training mats or the canvas of a professional fighting surface. Once it occurs,  the infection needs to be treated immediately, lest the danger to the victim and others around him or her exponentially increase.

Unfortunately, it seems as if the physician appointed by the Athletic Commission chose instead to downplay the severity and risks of this condition and allow Hamill to fight anyway.  What makes his decision even more worrisome was that Jardine was cut open quite a bit in the second and third rounds of his fight with Hamill, opening him up to an even greater risk of catching the infection.

I thought perhaps I was overreacting until I read the analysis of MMAJunkie.com’s resident physicial Dr. Johnny Benjamin. He goes into greater detail of the nature of the infection and the danger the decision put the fighters in.

Here’s what needs to happen. Firstly, there needs to be an inquiry into the physician in question. He should be grilled from here to next Tuesday on what went into his decision and why. He should be asked how, as a medical professional, he could allow a fighter with an untreated and contagious staph infection to compete. Then the Athletic Commission needs to explain to the public what happened and apologize for the mis-step. Actually, it needs to go further than that. It needs to vow that they will never allow such a poor medical decision to be made again.

Every sport has its risks, and MMA is certainly no exception. However, there’s a big difference between the inherent risks of athletic competition and the avoidable risks that are supposed to be vetted through careful examination and regulation. The Athletic Commission is not there to make sure a show goes on as promised to its fans, it’s there to ensure the legality of an event and fighter safety. In that respect the Commission failed, and everyone involved is extremely lucky that (so far) there haven’t been reports of additional infections.

What occurred Saturday night was truly baffling to me as a fan of the sport. MMA has enough trouble gaining acceptance in the mainstream as a sport without the state agency that’s supposed to oversee it making such a gross and inexcusable error.

Hopefully, we’ll get some answers soon.

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