Mixed martial arts are known for their brutality. Most people perceive this combat sport as more dangerous than any other combat sport, all because of the pretty liberal rules and a high level of tolerance to violence. That is why MMA is illegal or legally restricted in some countries around the world. But, the rules of MMA in the sport’s largest market, the United States of America, have been unified in 2001 and although there are different regulations around the world, MMA has very specific rules in place to avoid potentially dangerous scenarios. But, sadly, such scenarios happen, although we have to state that the numbers for MMA are reasonably smaller than the ones for other combat sports, especially the often-mentioned boxing.
There have been no deaths in the UFC history. As for MMA in general, there were 7 deaths in sanctioned fights and 9 in unsanctioned fights.
In this article, we’re going to give you an insight into the fatalities in MMA. The whos, the whens and the whys, all in one place – just for you.
Fatalities in Sanctioned MMA Fights
As of April 2019, when the data was last updated, where have been only seven fatalities in MMA. The unfortunate fighters who lost their lives during or because of an MMA match are:
- Sam Vasquez
Date: November 30, 2007
Location: Houston, TX, United States
Cause of Death: Subdural haemorrhage
Sam Vasquez was 35 years old when he participated in the Renegades Extreme Fighting event in Houston, Texas. The date was November 20, 2007. After three rounds, Vasquez was knocked out by his opponent and lost the match. All was okay until some time later, Vasquez lost consciousness and was taken to a hospital. There, he was diagnosed with subdural haemorrhage and the surgeons had to remove a piece of his skull bone to reduce the effect of his brain swelling. That did not solve the problem and he soon got a tube installed in his skull to drain the cerebral spine fluid, which would allow his brain to swell without causing any more damage. The situation still didn’t improve and he finally fell into a coma on November 28, 2007. After 48 hours, Sam Vasquez – sadly – died. The cause of death was officially described as a complication due to blunt trauma to the head in combination with a subdural haemorrhage.
- Michael Kirkham
Date: June 28, 2010
Location: Aiken, SC, United States
Cause of Death: Subarachnoid haemorrhage
Michael Kirkham entered an MMA competition in Aiken, South Carolina, on June 26, 2010. He was 30 years old and was preparing for his professional debut. His first opponent, Carlos Iraburo, managed to throw him on the canvas seconds into the fight, where he landed several shots to Kirkham’s head. The referee decided to stop the fight before the end of the first minute due to Kirkham being in a very difficult position. Soon after, Kirkham lost consciousness and never recovered. The doctors proclaimed him dead on June 28, 2010, listing a subarachnoid haemorrhage as the official cause of death. Another doctor suggested second-impact syndrome as the cause of death (because Kirkham was TKO’d in his last amateur fight), but that was never proven.
- Tyrone Mims
Date: August 11, 2012
Location: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Cause of Death: Unknown
Tyrone Mims was also 30 years old when he met his end in South Caroline, just like Kirkham. Still, Mims’ death remains a mystery even to this day and it will probably remain so forever. During the second round, Mims complained of fatigue and the referee stopped the match because Mims was officially unable to continue. A quick check-up was performed in the arena, where Mims was completely responsive, with the fatigue being the only issue. But, as he was going back to the locker room, he lost consciousness and never recovered; the doctors declared him dead at 9:27 p.m. The interesting thing is that Mims had no visible injuries, nor did two autopsies show any clear cause of death. Doctors later suggested a heart problem, but that could not have been confirmed nor will it probably ever be.
- Booto Guylain
Date: March 5, 2014
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Cause of Death: Brain swelling
Booto Guylain was a Congolese fighter, 29 years old, who fought in an MMA event in South Africa. He sustained a heavy head injury during the third-round match against Keron Davies and was stabilised on-site. He was later taken to a hospital, where he sadly died a week later, due to complications arising from the brain swelling that was a result of the injury.
- Donshay White
Date: July 16, 2017
Location: Louisville, KY, United States
Cause of Death: Hypertensive heart disease
Veteran Donshay White was 37 when he lost an amateur heavyweight bout against Ricky Muse in Kentucky after being TKO’d in the second round of an MMA event. To add to the tragedy, it was White’s first bout after 2015, i.e. a two-year pause. All was good during and shortly after the fight, but White then collapsed behind the stage and was taken to a hospital. The doctors could to nothing and had to, sadly, declare White dead at 9:02 p.m. It was later established that White had hight blood pressure (hypertension) and did not take his medication. The condition worsened after the fight so the cause of death was stated to be hypertensive heart disease. Interestingly enough, White passed the medical on the day of the fight.
- Rondel Clark
Date: August 15, 2017
Location: Boston, MA, United States
Cause of Death: Rhabdomyolysis
The 26-year-old Rondel Clark was a Massachusetts native. On August 12, 2017, Clark entered an event in Plymouth, MA, where he faced Ryan Dunn in the first round. After c. two minutes in the third round, the match was stopped and Dunn was proclaimed winner via TKO; Clark was visibly fatigued and could not defend himself normally. He did not take much damage during the two-and-something rounds, so the doctors concluded the problem was something else and sent him to the hospital after examining him immediately after the fight. From Plymouth, he was soon transferred to Boston, where he sadly died on August 15, 2017. His kidneys started failing when he was in Boston. The doctors traced the failure to severe dehydration, but it was too late for the young Clark. His body began to deteriorate and he ultimately died of rhabdomyolysis, a condition that causes a rapid breakdown of the skeletal and muscular tissue.
- Mateus Fernandes
Date: March 30, 2019
Location: Manaus, Brazil
Cause of Death: Inconclusive
The youngest on the list, 22-year-old Mateus Fernandes competed in an MMA event in Manaus on March 30, 2019. His fight started off great, with Fernandes winning the first two rounds, before ultimately going down in the third round after a combination of punches. The referee halted the match and Fernandes lost, but that is when it all began. The young fighter started to seize and was rushed into hospital, where he died at 11:45 p.m.; he reportedly suffered four heart attacks before dying. The cause of death was never clearly established, although it’s obvious that his heart failed. There is word that Fernandes was on drugs during the match (he participated in a local program that helped drug addicts overcome their addiction through martial arts), but that was never confirmed; he passed all the blood tests before the match.
Fatalities in Unsanctioned MMA Fights
After analysing the sanctioned fights, we’ll conclude this article with the deaths in unsanctioned MMA fights. The number for these, although a bit higher, is still small compared to other combat sports. The list is as follows:
- Alfredo Castro Herrera
Date: April 14, 1981
Location: Tijuana, Mexico
Cause of Death: Unknown
Unsanctioned fights are always a risky undertaking and that was a lesson teenager Alfredo Castro Herrera had to learn the hard way. In an “event” (which was more likely an organised brawl) that the St. Louis Globe Democrat described as “boxing mixed with karate and judo”, young Herrera faced Angel Luis Rodriguez. Rodrigues knocked Herrera out during the match and the 15-year-old died soon after. The cause of death was never publicly revealed. Herrera was the first MMA-related fatality and the youngest victim to date.
- Douglas Dedge
Date: March 18, 1998
Location: Kiev, Ukraine
Cause of Death: Severe brain trauma
The 31-year-old American went to Ukraine for an unsanctioned MMA event on March 16, 1998. After taking several shots to the head, Dedge tapped out and lost the match. He initially held his stance, but soon collapsed and was taken into surgery in Kiev. He had severe brain trauma, although the term was never specified. Two days after the surgery, Dedge died on March 18, 1998 in Kiev. The damage was irreparable. Rumours exist that Dedge passed out during a training session just before his fight and that he had had a pre-existing medical condition, but neither has been confirmed up do this day.
Date: May 12, 2005
Location: Samsong-dong, South Korea
Cause of Death: Heart attack
Not much is known about the 35-year-old Korean whose family name was Lee. He fought in an unsanctioned MMA bout in a sports bar in Samsong-dong, South Korea. The organisation was so bad that no medical exams were made before the match. He was knocked out by an unknown opponent and soon collapsed, dying not long after the match. The cause of death is said to have been a heart attack.
- Mike Mittelmeier
Date: April 27, 2012
Cause of Death: Cerebral haemorrhage
American Mittelmeier went to Bolivia to participate in an unsanctioned MMA bout; he was just 20 years old. Mittelmeier managed to leg lock his opponent, but the latter illegally kicked him in the head with his foot, knocking him out in the process. Mittelmeier was declared winner by disqualification, but it wasn’t of any importance for the young fighter. A few seconds later, Mittelmeier collapsed. It was later determined that he has severe a severe cerebral haemorrhage that sent him into a coma, from which he never recovered. The organisation was so horrible that, reportedly, there were no medics standing by so it took a while before he eventually went to a hospital.
- Dustin Jenson
Date: May 24, 2012
Location: Rapid City, SD, United States
Cause of Death: Subdural haemorrhage
Another young fighter, Jenson was just 26 when he entered an unsanctioned MMA bout in Rapid City, South Dakota. He tapped out during his fight and all seemed well with the young fighter. Jensen calmly watched the two fights following his, but he collapsed as he went into his locker room. He was taken into hospital, where he died a week later from subdural haemorrhage. Jenson’s fights were not that brutal so it remains unknown whether he sustained the said injury during the event or in some other way.
- Felix Pablo Elochukwu
Date: April 7, 2013
Location: Port Huron, MI, United States
Cause of Death: Undisclosed (probably a heart attack)
Felix Pablo Elochukwu was a 35-year-old Nigerian fighter living in Ontario, who travelled to Port Huron, Michigan, for an unsanctioned MMA bout. There were no pre-match medicals, nor was there any official medical assistance for the bout. Elochukwu fought well until the third round, when he was mounted without properly defending himself, which caused the referee to stop the match and award the win to Elochukwu’s opponent. The Nigerian appeared fine, but he stopped and sat down on his way to the dressing room; he said he was exhausted. The crowd suspected his blood sugar might have dropped and they offered him orange juice, but it didn’t help. Elochukwu soon fell down from the chair he was in and it was clear to everyone that he had collapsed. The ER was supposedly called, but since it came around 40 minutes after Elochukwu fell, there are doubts whether the organisers called the medics immediately. People from the crowd tried to give him CPR, but without success. He was declared dead at 10:12 p.m. His death caused much controversy in Michigan, where MMA was legal, but unregulated. Had there been a defibrillator or a medical team on site, Elochukwu would probably have survived. His death was a tragedy and it prompted Michigan’s legislature to regulate MMA in the state, which happened soon after.
- Ramin Zeynalov
Date: March 2015
Cause of Death: Cerebral haemorrhage
This 27-year-old Azerbaijani fighter died in March 2015 during an event in his native country. He was knocked out during a fight with his rival, but what ultimately injured him was the fact that he hit his head on the canvas on his way down. The medics immediately jumped in, but they could not revive the 27-year-old. He was taken to a hospital where it was discovered that he suffered a severe trauma to the head and died of cerebral haemorrhage.
- Jameston Lee-Law
Date: April 2015
Location: Aberdeen, WA, United States
Cause of Death: Kidney failure
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Jameston was 47 years old when he entered an unsanctioned MMA bout in the state of Washington. He was a veteran at the time and he collapsed during the fight, after which moment he was carried to the dressing room. There, it was discovered that he had trouble breathing. He was rushed into a local hospital, but was soon transferred to Seattle, where he eventually died. The death was attributed to kidney failure, but it’s still unknown what caused the failure itself; there’s no evidence related to that. The most interesting fact about his death is that, due to his age, he would have been legally disqualified and barred from fighting. Sadly, Washington was a very tragic exception.
- João Carvalho
Date: April 13, 2016
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Cause of Death: Unknown
The Portuguese fighter entered an unsanctioned bout in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. On April 11, 2016, Carvalho faced Charlie Ward in Dublin and lost. Two days later, he died. The cause of death was never revealed, but was controversial because it motivated the Irish legislature to regulate MMA in the country.
And so, we reach the end of our list. A total of sixteen people died in MMA – seven in sanctioned and nine in unsanctioned bouts. Although interesting, this article covers a very sad aspect of combat sports and it uncovers some of the problems of modern MMA, whether it’s sanctioned or unsanctioned. It tells us that MMA is generally safe, statistically even safer than boxing, but that tragedies can and do happen despite everything. It is always sad to hear about the death of someone, so we hope this article can be a certain point of thought for all of you practicing MMA to stay safe and to watch out for your opponents. You only have to beat them, not kill them.
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