In stick and ball sports you hear tales of champion athletes who began playing their chosen sport as soon as they could lace up their boots or pick up a bat and document them as inspirational stories of a childhood dream come true.
In mixed martial arts, we don’t have that per say, we have stories of athletes that put the time in the gym or the wrestling mats in their youth growing up to be stars in the Ultimate Fighting Championship but that might change as time winds on.
A week or two ago I was alerted to a video of a full-contact fight between a pair of boys – Six-year-old Minas Avagyan facing off with his Armenian foe that’s one year his senior, Hayk Tashchyan.
Tashchyan presses the action early throwing a lopping right hand before Avagyan forced the takedown with ease, after some impressive scrambles on the floor and a stiff right-hand to the torso Tashchyan was forced to submit with a guillotine-choke.
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Taking a page out of his idols playbook Avagyan climbed the cage to celebrate before closing with a grave digger that recent UFC Hall of Fame inductee Tito Ortiz made famous at the turn of the century.
While it’s hard to deny that these children had a lot of skill in their fight showing a lot of promise, is it right for children this young to be competing in a sport that’s seen more than one brutal act of violence in its near two-decade long existence?
The obvious concern is the health and safety of the athletes that inhabit this sport and if these children that start taking damage to their developing brains will even be able to compete in the UFC once they are of legal age.
According to a report from Julie Gilchrist in the Morbidity of Morality Weekly Report:
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During the period from 2001 to 2009, an estimated 173,000 children ages 5 to 18 were treated for traumatic brain injuries each year, and during the same period, annual emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries regardless of age jumped from 153,375 to 248,418.
In the report the key sport that was targeted as being the biggest contributor was football, an issue that the Pop Warner, North America’s largest youth football organization has had to deal with in recent times.
A study released on ESPN.com earlier this year revealed that head trauma sustained by second-grade football players can be as severe as injuries received at the college level – This news forced the president of Pop Warner, Jon Butler to propose a major overhaul in the amount of contact that can be sustained in practice.
While football is a sport that has its clear dangers, the risk is amplified when you enter a sport where the intent is to harm your opponent with your fists or force them to submit by cranking on a limb until they are forced to give up.
Recently the news broke that former UFC, Pride and K-1 star Gary Goodridge suffers from Dementia pugilistica, a form of head trauma that is common amongst professional fighters and athletes that have suffered a series of concussions.
I conducted an interview with the Canadian super-heavyweight years prior before he met up with former Strikeforce and DREAM light-heavyweight kingpin Gegard Mousasi at DREAM’s annual New Year’s Eve mega-card and it was a sad state of affairs as he was showing real signs of dementia at that point.
It was sort of heartbreaking, hearing a man that was a dual-sport star between MMA and kickboxing deteriorated to great lengths as he struggled to remember his past as he deals with the same drug regimen of an Alzheimer’s patient.
While Goodridge is an extreme example since he essentially became a punching bag for hire as his career came to a close, in the end being knocked out 24 times across his 84 walks to a fighting circle in various shapes and forms between MMA and kickboxing you cannot deny it.
The only real sport to compare with in terms of long-term effects of it’s participants in boxing and there are more than one case of broken down, beat up boxers that have put on the gloves one too many times dedicating their lives to the sweet science.
Even at the top of the food chain, the greatest heavyweight boxer that we’ve seen Muhammed Ali suffer from the same symptoms and fall backs of Dementia pugilistica like Goodridge but he is diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for signing children up to learn a martial art, learning the tricks of the trade of a martial art can have a great effect on a child’s outlook as they learn discipline and respect while giving them the confidence to defend themselves in they feel threatened.
That is a wonderful thing, if I ever make the fatal mistake of having children I would encourage them to learn jiu-jitsu or karate or whatever they please, but signing a waver that says it’s okay for your pre-teen child to compete in a fight for the entertainment of a small group of people is not.
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