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What the media should say (but won’t) about Lou Ruvo brain study & athletic commission politics

By Zach Arnold | January 31, 2014

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Last October, we wrote an article about the initial study results regarding brain damage in MMA fighters that the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic center in Las Vegas discovered. In short, there is a difference between boxers & MMA fighters as far as what kind of brain damage is suffered. The kind of brain damage MMA fighters are suffering from will have a more immediate impact on speech & cognitive abilities. Given the four ounce gloves currently being used, this should surprise no one.

While the work being done at the Lou Ruvo center is a positive development, it’s also a heavily politicized development. And when it comes to state or federal politics, this is an area MMA writers almost never touch because of fear or a lack of caring.

Next Tuesday (2/4), there will be a presser in Washington D.C. featuring UFC, Viacom, Golden Boy, Top Rank, Harry Reid, and John McCain. Why would all these promoters & different factions get together in a town like Washington D.C. to trumpet the Lou Ruvo Center?

Two cynical possibilities: One, to slow down any political momentum for amending the Ali Act to cover Mixed Martial Arts & kickboxing in the United States. The way UFC has treated Georges St. Pierre is a good example of why the Ali Act should be amended. Two, to make this public presentation (similar to what the NFL has done with concussions) in an attempt to dampen any sort of future liability in the courts from fighters over lawsuits relating to brain damage & testosterone usage.

Don’t believe me when I say Tuesday’s presser will have some political context to it? Take a look at who is on the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic board of directors: Sig Rogich and Lovee Arum, Bob Arum’s wife. Their association with the Lou Ruvo center doesn’t disqualify the research of the doctors. However, when it comes to politics, everyone has their own agenda.

For those who don’t know Sig Rogich’s political history, click here. To make a long story short: Rogich used to work for Ronald Reagan’s White House. He’s been feuding with Roger Ailes over who gets credit for the 1988 “Tank” ad that sunk Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign. He’s the former chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He runs a major public relations firm in Nevada & Washington D.C. He’s the top political fixer in Nevada. He’s a top conduit for Lorenzo Fertitta (UFC) and Marc Ratner. He and Lorenzo are very close to Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid and helped Reid in his state campaign against Sharron Angle. Rogich also ran parts of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. McCain was influential for the Ali Act. Rogich also is the founder of the World Series of Fighting, the unofficial bastard child of the UFC & stalking horse for Bellator. Rogich is also currently influential about the political direction of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

In other words, Rogich is the glue guy for all the various political factions. It’s no coincidence that Tuesday’s press conference is in Washington D.C. The UFC has Rogich and lobbyists at their disposal. Rogich has his hands in all the cookie jars.

And it is because the UFC is backing & promoting top fighters using testosterone (anabolic steroids) that major commissions like Nevada, California, and New Jersey are deciding to issue permission slips. Money is a factor in Nevada, as NSAC Chairman Aguilar recently was quoted as saying in an ESPN article. The proliferation of testosterone permission slips is because of the amount of UFC fighters asking for them. Not boxers. Not Bob Arum. Not Golden Boy. This comes from the MMA side of the equation.

And one of the major reasons fighters use testosterone is because of the brain damage they are currently suffering from after concussive blows to the head. The same kind of brain damage that doctors are doing research on at the Lou Ruvo Cleveland Clinic center.

The shell game — nothing has changed

When legitimate doctors working for various athletic commissions made a public statement against testosterone usage in combat sports, it was a cry for help. These doctors are serious professionals but are not the decision makers who are cowering in the face of promoters & fighters who are pushing anabolic steroid usage.

Dave Meltzer & Bryan Alvarez asked if this statement would have any impact on the current mess. The answer is no.

In California, Dr. VanBuren Ross Lemons is ramming through a new testosterone policy a couple of years after Consumer Affairs (with public comment from yours truly) spiked his initial push. The floodgates will open once again in California.

In Nevada, the stage is being set for the politicians to say yes to testosterone while giving political cover to others who can protest but have no power (like Dr. Tim Trainor). This is a classic political party technique where the Whip gathers up enough votes and then allows some vulnerable pols to vote against the party line in order to maintain clout in swing districts. Andre Agassi’s lawyer is now the NSAC Chairman and he apparently will need to take some remedial classes at the Sig Rogich school of PR because he blatantly has come out and said that money will be a serious factor in the decision-making process as to whether or not Vitor Belfort will get a permission slip to use testosterone for his fight against Chris Weidman.

In New Jersey, that commission’s stance on issuing testosterone permission slips remains consistent.

NJ’s position is that they test the testosterone users and that getting rid of the permission slips would force the current anabolic steroid users into the shadows. In other words, the Chael Sonnen argument from a couple of years ago. In the case of Frank Mir fighting in New Jersey with a TUE, he had to go through the state’s testing procedures. Whatever testing Mir underwent in Wisconsin wasn’t just rubber stamped in New Jersey. But the different standards from different states, whether it be on drug testing or the testosterone permission slips, is troubling.

The bottom line? The commissions are political bodies. They do what is in the best financial interests of the political fixers & promoters. If Sig Rogich, Lorenzo Fertitta, Marc Ratner, Dr. Jeff Davidson, and Dana White stopped supporting testosterone-using fighters, this dilemma would shift into the court system where I think fighters would find it rough to make the political & legal argument under the Americans with Disabilities Act that they should have a right to use anabolic steroids in order to fight in a legally-defined ultrahazardous sport like cage fighting.

Until the press is willing to be honest about the politics behind the machinations, then the debate isn’t truly transparent. The silence from the writers about Sig Rogich speaks volumes.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 27 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

27 Responses to “What the media should say (but won’t) about Lou Ruvo brain study & athletic commission politics”

  1. nottheface says:

    In yesterday’s scrum Dana mentioned that it’s hard to get rid of TRT because so many fighters use it. 50 in the UFC by his count.

  2. Nepal says:

    The silence from the press is pathetic if not understandable. Talk too much about concussions and steroids in MMA, you’re likely to be black listed by Dana. Ask Josh Gross how that’s working out.

    If this were the NHL or other sport, you’d have the press asking guys like TJ Grant, how is your recovery coming along? We would know the specifics of his condition, does he throw up when exercising? How are his headaches, can he sleep through the night etc etc.? As of now, do you hear any reporting of these types of questioning? Nope, the MMA press won’t touch that one.

    The MMA apologists are still spouting Dana’s old “MMA is safer than boxing because the ref ends a fight after a concussive blow”. And then we see Nate Diaz blasting Maynard with 15 power punches to the head with 4 oz gloves after he is already concussed. That one was the worst other than the Joe Warren beat down but we see brutal blows to the head after a guy is concussed all the time.

    I’m a hard core MMA fan and it’s the only sport I follow but this head trauma that we see really should be illegal. I realize making it illegal would kill the only sport I follow but realistically, it’s destroying people’s lives. I’m a hypocritical cunt because I’m going to continue to watch every single event including almost every prelim fight but really, MMA is an insane abuse of people for the gain of others.

    • jo says:

      Exactly how i feel, very well put. Couldn’t have said it any better, myself.

    • Fluyid says:

      Your last sentence was where I was until a year ago. I finally put up and quietly withdrew all involvement with combative sports.

      • edub says:

        Are you still involved as a judge or official. I started that about 18 months ago, and have fallen off the fandom part of the sport pretty steadily since then.

        • Fluyid says:

          Nope, all done. I worked an HBO card last year and figured I’d go out on a high note. Had a fun night and now I’m on to other stuff.

        • nottheface says:

          Interesting. Care to elaborate why? Are you entering Ivan Trembow territory?

        • 45 Huddle says:

          Personally, I’m not at Ivan Trembow territory yet… But I wouldn’t be shocked if I was at some point in my life.

          I don’t want football because of the concussions these guys take and then are right back in the game. I personally think football (with hits) should not be legal for kids under the age of 16.

  3. Zorro says:

    I agree with you guys. It’s a hard decision to make but all of us will reach this point at some time. Well, maybe not all of us. But MMA is dangerous, period. I could not watch the beating that Overeem took from Bigfoot. That’s a highlight reel but that stuff will maim someone very soon. Bigfoot also almost maimed Travis when he had clear shots at him.

    We all know what happened to Gary Goodridge. He mainly fought in K-1 but had considerable MMA fights as well where he took enormous beatings (and dished out some, too). In good conscience, I just can’t watch it anymore. Yes, submissions are beautiful but the beatings are just way too brutal and much more so than boxing.

    How long do you think it will go on? Someone will have to be maimed or die first. We have nitwits like Bigfoot trying to shove his rabbit sized fists through his opponents brains, that literally could happen any day.

  4. Diaz's cashed bowl says:

    I listened to the Eddie Goldman with Perretti, who bluntly and humbly admits they were wrong when they made the claim “mma is safer than boxing”.
    personally I was a big fan of the old Pancrase no fists on the ground shamrock suzuki shows.
    And the bare knuckle 8 man one night tournaments were great, and relatively safe. With bare knuckle you get hit one or two good shots in the face and you’re like screw this $#@&!
    The gloves give an illusion of safety. In reality they just protect the hands slightly.

  5. klown says:

    This is depressing. I love this sport, but I can’t stand the thought of the damage these athletes absorb, and I increasingly feel like a hypocrite.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      And it just isn’t the concussions. Every time these guys are in a fight, it is basically like getting in a car accident for their body.

      In general, sports is a sad state of affairs. We glorify guys like Andrea Agassi in tennis…. but when you get the entire store, he was basically a kid bullied by his parent until he became good enough to go pro. Professional sports is filled with these.

      I have been to a few youth wrestling tournaments. I almost never see the kids under 10 years old smiling. In fact they almost always look sad. But they are thrown in their by their parents who have these delusional parenting ideas.

      With all that we know about concussions and long term abuse on the body…. The NFL, NHL, UFC, or Pro Boxing should not be a career goal of anybody with an IQ above 80.

  6. 45 Huddle says:

    I don’t know about everybody else, but I started watching MMA a long time ago. Actually, before it was even called “MMA”. And it was much safer back then for the fighters. I know that sounds funny since they had less rules, but think about it:

    1) Fighters had shorter careers. Most guys tried it out and then retired.

    2) Many fighters didn’t know how to grapple so the fights were shorter. Today we see a LOT of 15 and 25 minute wars that are just damaging the opponents bodies. The amount of damage I see a 20th ranked fighter take on a “Fight Pass” level fight is frightening.

    3) No gloves meant fighters couldn’t punch as much. Fighters often times broke their hands in fights.

    4) Fighters today are much more skilled. We just didn’t see such severe head kicks like we do now. Coleman/Williams at UFC 17 was a rarity and only happened because Coleman was completely gassed. Watching a fighter go lights out from a perfectly placed head kick is actually a sickening thing to watch.

    5) As mentioned above, organizations like Pancrase had no punching to the head on the ground and no closed fist strikes to the face on the feet. RINGS also had modified rules. Go watch Rutten/Funaki 2. It is one of the most forgetten about great fights in the history of MMA. The Pancrase rules helped make it an epic fight. And the damage Funaki took during the fight (which was a lot by those days standards) pales in comparison to the fights today.

    Over time, the athletes have become better. The technique has gone up greatly. And as a result the sport puts these athletes through tons and tons of damage. It is easy to see why regular every day people think the sport is barbaric.

    I feel like I started off watching a real version of Pro Wrestling, and now end up watching a combination of amateur wrestling, boxing, and a car wreck.

    So far this year the UFC has put on 33 fights. I have watched exactly TWO of them without fast forwarding at least a part of the fight. And those two fights were:

    Krylov/Harris and Rockhold/Philippou. And the Krylov fight was only because it ended so quickly I didn’t have a chance to fast foward it.

    Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta like to claim that you can put a fight on in any country and it translates to that culture. This is true. But it also translates to every culture as something that can be sickening to watch an athlete go through. And I think we are at that point in MMA’s history that the damage these athletes are taking is just beyond what we as fans ever signed up for.

  7. Coach Rollie says:

    TRT users need to be banned from sports, especially contact sports. Especially contact sports where you can punch, kick, knee or elbow someone in the head as hard as humanly possible.

    Unfortunately, this ban will not come anytime soon. Someone is going to have to be seriously injured before it does.

  8. Zorro says:

    You know there will be legal actions. Zuffa will be dealing with these legal issues for years to come. I’m sure they’ve mapped out some kind of legal strategy. But one way of defending yourself is cut fighters fast … after 3 losses … that way, they can go to another organization. When a fighter’s career is over, you can hide behind the fact that these guys took fights with other promotions. It’s not like the NFL, where there is only one football league. Also, the same strategy that they took more injuries form sparring than from actually fighting … they’re independent contractors, not employees. Why do you think that’s the case? If they’re employees, they’ll have to pay them workman’s comp and disability.

    It’s gonna be a mess but that’s also the motivation behind foreign expansion. Why do you think Zuffa is so busy expanding to Asia, Europe and Brazil where PPV buys really don’t add up because there is rampant piracy? They make money with live gates, endorsements, and TV coverage with ad revenue. Plus, and here’s their big diversification strategy: just like Philip Morris still can count on tobacco sales from foreign countries with underdeveloped tort law. There is no real concept of negligence or worker safety in these developing countries, not even in Japan.

    So now you guys know! Sounds conspiratorial? No, Zuffa is actually copying the Big Mo (Phillip Morris) strategy. Go abroad, young men. Sign up foreign kids. U.S. revenue is likely to dwindle and you could be facing legal battles. Milk this thing for all it’s worth. That’s why they sold a stake to the morons from Abu Dhabi, the fight fans, these guys are … but they’re not exactly savvy investors.

  9. Alan Conceicao says:

    I don’t really have a response to this other than that MMA fans were deluding themselves in regards to the perceived “safety” of the sport then. I said it 10-11-12 years ago, I say it now. The first couple waves of fighters hadn’t retired or gotten close yet. Now they are, and we’re starting to see the after effects.

    If people decide after some time frame that these sports are no longer for them, that’s OK. I thought Ivan’s response was hilarious, unaware grandstanding, but you know, it is what he thought was right. As a boxing fan, there’s been little delusion of what happens to boxers after their careers are over for, god, 40-50 years. The only thing that still bothers me about it is the oft repeated chestnut that boxing (or any combat sport) “saves” people of certain socio-economic backgrounds. It preys upon them and exploits them.

  10. klown says:

    I realize the risk will always be there – but aren’t there certain things that can be done to mitigate the risk?

    1) Ban TRT and implement year-round blood testing
    2) Reduce the number of 5-round fights
    3) Limit the number of fights per year
    4) Consider getting rid of gloves
    5) Punish strikes on unconscious fighters/after a ref intervenes
    6) Have a fighters’ union to advocate on behalf of fighter safety, such as the suggestions above or other measures

    • Alan Conceicao says:

      Cage fighting’s popularity is based around it being an absurdly cruel sport dressed up in the most barbaric means possible. The cage was selected specifically because it is menacing. So to remove those things that make the sport particularly brutal (like strikes on hurt opponents and removing gloves) will hurt the popularity of it dramatically, rendering expense of year round blood testing or a fighters union dead topics.

  11. Rob Maysey says:

    I am all for making the sport safer–and all reasonable rules aimed at this goal.

    That said–I am a bit torn. At 7 living in Houston, Texas, I was told to get in the car. “Where we going?”

    Response from brother and dad–“you’ll see.” Where was full pads football. Winning was the goal–not having fun–win.

    I am seeing more and more this ethic is being phased out of the culture–and I am not sure it is a good thing. Awesome lessons including teamwork, pride, courage, discipline, and will to endure are lost on today’s Madden 2K crowd.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      You can do that with wrestling, soccer, and various other sports that do not include damage to the brain.

      • Rob Maysey says:

        Soccer does damage the brain if heading is involved.

        Wrestling–that is a great sport–but also not without injury.

        You hardly see kids out at all anymore–it is quite surprising to me. We were never home–morning until dark, we were out, playing some kind of sport, if not team/formal, then with our friends.

        Everyone can’t walk around with helmets in the safety of their houses to avoid injury. Injury happens.

  12. Fluyid says:

    Still on this topic somewhat — I finally broke down this year and had a brain MRI done. Glad to say that it was all good and normal. The neurosurgeon that I was consulting said that my brain looks better than his. After 100+ fights (amateur and pro combined) and thousands of rounds sparred that’s a bit of a relief.

    It’s been at the back of my mind for a long time and I finally did something about it. I know it’s not an absolute guarantee of anything but it’s some measure of assurance of something. (I didn’t go to the neurosurgeon just for this… I was there for something else…. I figured I’d ask about accumulated brain trauma while I was there)

  13. klown says:

    MMA Fighting reports the UFC, Viacom, Top Rank and Golden Boy have collectively contributed $600,000 to a professional fighter study by the Cleveland Health Clinic. Another $2 million comes from the clinic.

    While it’s laudable for them to lend financial support to the study, I wonder what the significance is. What will be done with the results of the study? Does the financial support by the promoters indicate that they’d be willing to implement reforms of the sport to reduce harm to athletes?


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