As should be apparent by now, the Zuffa-sanctioned story to fill the several weeks between major MMA events is the endless discussion of the potential retirement of a fighter that is obviously no longer relevant in a sporting sense. With the full push of the Zuffa machine, the end of Chuck’s career has become a story that has received far more attention than his inevitable return fight will. Last week, the irrepressible Dr. Johnny Benjamin joined this mindless cacophony, offering up his own two cents. Inflation being what it is today, his contribution turned out to be completely worthless.
When I first saw that mmajunkie was going to have a bona-fide doctor writing columns for them, I was excited, thinking that such a man of science could bring the kind of sober and informed analysis that raises the bar for MMA punditry. Sadly, the endlessly self-promoting Dr. Benjamin has instead produced a string of articles filled with facile and silly arguments bookended by condescending insistence that, as a doctor, he knows best. His effort last week is no exception.
Last week, the good doctor makes the argument that Chuck should retire. This is perfectly reasonable. Chuck has looked slow and old in his last fights, and his chin has deteriorated to the point where being slower than before, when he has always been quite hittable, means anyone that can crack is going to put him down and out. Sad to see you go, Chuck, but you’re done.
However, Dr. Benjamin does not make this point, instead, using his acutely developed skills as a doctor, he makes the absurd assertion that Chuck Liddell’s brain will explode if he gets popped in the face again. This isn’t based on any medical evidence specific to Chuck, but instead just some vague references to the damage of repeated concussions and a sob story about a boxer who has had his brains scrambled. This isn’t the first time Benjamin has published this kind of “we’re all gonna die” garbage with no support, either.
Chuck Liddell has lost five fights via TKO. In two of those fights (his first tilts with Rampage and Couture) he received sustained, vicious beatings, although his career continued unhindered after them, and only in his defeat to Rashad Evans was he knocked out cold. Meldrick Taylor, the boxer that has been so obviously destroyed by his sport, has only been stopped four times in his career. This comparison says far more about the differences between boxing and MMA than it does about the danger to Chuck’s health.
It’s condescending in the extreme to act as if MMA fans are unaware of the potential for life-altering brain injury from repeated concussions, but it’s simply irresponsible to wildly bandy about warnings for specific fighters with no substantiation. I am aware of no evidence, and Dr. Benjamin has certainly not provided any, that Chuck has accumulated an unacceptable amount of damage and is taking any more risk than any other fighter when he steps into the cage.
Lastly, why single out Chuck? If five TKO’s, none of them exceptional by MMA standards mean Chuck is teetering on the verge of death, Perhaps Dr. Benjamin should also leap to the rescue of Wanderlei Silva, who had a mild seizure last time he was knocked out. Certainly we must draw the curtain on Alistair Overeem’s long-finished career, as, despite all evidence that he is a healthy, monstrous young athlete, his 6 stoppage losses in MMA (with two more in K-1 kickboxing) mean he is clearly only one punch away from spending the rest of his days matching wits with the applesauce he won’t be able to feed himself. Rich Franklin and Shinya Aoki should hang it up the next time they are TKO’d, so they can still tie his own shoes. The list goes on.
Dr. Benjamin, MMA fans are, by and large, grown adults. Please talk to us like we are. We don’t want your pediatrician-style condescension, your sugar-free lollipops of unwisdom, or your preposterously-reasoned medical interventions for fighter safety. If you must “do no harm” and save a fighter from themselves, please start with Gary Goodridge, a man obviously no longer in full possession of his faculties, for whom even X-arm is likely an unacceptable risk.
The problem is not that it’s obnoxious. There are an infinite supply of obnoxious figures in the MMA universe. The veneer of respectability laquered on by Benjamin’s bona fides, his position at a legitimate and respectable MMA outlet, and the credulous nature of many in MMA fandom combine to give his arguments undeserved life and staying power, hurting the sport. If the idea that Chuck Liddell (or any fighter with a handfull of TKO losses) is staggering to his own death next time he straps on four-ounce gloves takes root, how can we expect New York to sanction the sport? Never underestimate the potential damage of elevating a hack to a position of responsibility.
There may be life in the doc yet. His latest article is well-written and informative, and provides exactly the sort of information that was so missing in his discussion of Chuck Liddell.
If he keeps this up, I’ll have to retract my criticisms!