MMA Injuries Event Review & the Irish Political Landscape

Professor Healy & fighter Owen Roddy discuss How the Brain Processes a Fight, using an MRI of Conor McGregor's brain
Professor Healy & fighter Owen Roddy discuss How the Brain Processes a Fight, using an MRI of Conor McGregor’s brain

Just a week after politicians attended Fightor in Belgium, and on the same day that Norway’s Progress Party representative, Oskar Grimstad, attended the UFC in Stockholm, political waves were being made in Dublin, Ireland.

Ireland consists of two political regions, Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland in the south. Recently the MMAFI (Mixed Martial Arts Federation of Ireland) reformed as the Ulster Amateur MMA Association with its remit narrowed to the governance of the north of Ireland only.  While the MMAFI had maintained the support of the Northern Irish government, in the southern Republic MMA faced political opposition. It was concluded by MMA community leaders from both regions that each would need to pursue its own course.

The Republic of Ireland became home to Safe MMA-Ireland in 2013, spear-headed by UFC fighter Aisling Daly and Consultant Neurosurgeon, Professor Dan Healy. Safe MMA is the UK medical advisory for professional promoters, and Safe MMA Ireland became its Irish wing.

Following a Rugby concussion death of an Irish 14 year old in 2013, political opposition to MMA heightened in the Republic. In response to an increasingly antagonistic environment, pioneer and Coach John Kavanagh recently formed the IAPA (Irish Amateur Pankration Association). The focus of the organisation is on the Amateur and recreational sides of the sport, and Kavanagh has won great support from gyms and coaches across southern Ireland.

With MMA injuries as a political hot topic, on Saturday 24th January, Safe MMA-Ireland’s Professor Dan Healy funded and hosted a free “Preventing Injuries in MMA” event for fighters and coaches, in collaboration with John Kavanagh. The event, which took place at the eminent Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin attracted an estimated audience of 300-400 fighters and coaches; and featured experts covering a range of fighter injury related topics.

James Walsh, Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon, opened up with a No Holds Barred talk on “Broken Bones in MMA”; while fellow Consultant Orthopaedic surgeon, Gary O’Toole, followed up (with no less detail) on “Twisted Knees in MMA”. The opening lectures contained some pretty graphic PowerPoint photographs of bone injuries and surgery. One of the worst injuries shown ironically belonged a Flyweight fighter who was asked to go outside of the gym and move a sign. Both fighter and sign were carried by the wind resulting in a knee dislocation,

The topic of “Performance Enhancing Drugs in MMA” was addressed very informatively by Dr Conor ‘O Brien, (Former Chairman of the Anti-Doping Committee 1999-2005, WADA Committee member 2005-7 and Irish Olympic Team Doctor 1996) with some entertaining illustrations and animations. The doctor referred to PEDS use across all sports and even at recreational gym-user level. He discussed how increasing pressures around body image could be attributed to a growth in wider PEDs use; and the way in which some products are geared towards creating ‘show muscles’ which can actually decrease their effectiveness (e.g. Creatine). He discussed the supply chain of PEDs, and drug related deaths and downfalls in sport. He also urged that MMA as a sport must sign up to WADA to become credible.

Chief Performance Nutritionist to GB Boxing and Manchester United FC, Mr Mark Ellison, followed with a presentation on “How to Cut Weight Safely and Effectively”; while Chief Medical Officer of New York State Athletic Commission, Professor Barry D Jordan, analysed “How the Brain Can Be Damaged in a Fight”. Consultant Neuropathologist, Professor Michael Farrell, looked at “Punch Drunk Syndrome: What a Pathologist Sees When He Gets Your Brain.”  And “Fighting Pitfalls” were discussed to include “livers, cauliflowers, carotid dissections and detached retinas”, led by Irish Rugby team doctor and former Irish Amateur boxing champion, Dr Eanna Falvey.

One of the event highlights was Professor Daniel Healy’s presentation on “How the Brain Actually Processes in a Fight” with fighter Owen Roddy. While Dan Healy referred to a blown-up MRI scan of Conor McGregor’s brain in order to talk through its neuro-function, Owen Roddy related the science back to his experiences as a fighter.

The political highlight was a brief talk by Senator Catherine Noone.  Having recently called for a ban on MMA in the Republic of Ireland she had been approached by Dan Healy and John Kavanagh, who had taken time to educate her about the sport and invited her down to the event. While she maintained there were risks in MMA, she acknowledged there were risks in all sports and pledged to back the regulation of MMA in parliament.

The MMA injuries day ended with a SafeMMA Ireland Q&A session featuring founder and UFC fighter, Aisling Daly, microbiologist Jerome Fennell and Safe MMA’s Izzy Carnwath

The next day, Brad Pickett led a seminar at SBG Ireland gym in Dublin, which was attended by politician, Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell.

For more information on Safe MMA visit:

For more information about the Irish Amateur Pankration Association in the Republic of Ireland visit:

For more information about the IMMAF affiliated Ulster Amateur MMA Association visit:

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