Are Pre-Fight Physicals Unbiased?

Following Jake Shield’s win over Ryan Ford by rear naked choke on October 11th at World Series of Fighting, Ford posted a video admitting that he entered the contest with a broken arm. The injury had occurred 2 weeks prior to the fight and Ford, with the help and advise of his team of doctors, according to the video, decided to go ahead with the bout.

Are Pre-Fight Physicals Unbiased?

It is hard to argue with the fighter’s final reasoning; fighting is his profession and he needed the money to support his wife and children. However, it certainly opens the door to issues within MMA’s governing bodies as to how pre-fight physicals, and their results, should be handled. Should an injury that occur in training close to a fight be penalized by denying the fighter of their purse since they obviously cannot compete or, should they be paid in full? It is a very hard question to answer with many variables to it, such as increased expenses to the promotions.

It also brings the issue of who may be responsible to clear fighters to the forefront. Many teams have their fighters use the same doctor but, if this medical practitioner already has a rapport built with these clients, wouldn’t that person be inclined to listen to his or her client’s wishes as to whether they want to take the risk of fighting or not? Ford is the latest example but there is no doubt it has happened before. One example that comes to mind is how Ronda Rousey admitted after her last fight that she had been urged to have knee surgery for months now and yet, had been pushing it back in order to take the fights offered to her.

I hope to hear from some of MMA’s biggest governing bodies and maybe even promotions to know how they feel the issue should best be handled going forward so as to not put a stain on a sport that tries to rise above its bad reputation of being a violent form of entertainment.

Drug tests are not evaluated from people close to fighters, they are objective and distant from who the person stepping in the cage actually is as a human being and maybe that’s how pre-fight physicals should be as well. Should doctors from pre-approved from athletic commissions and well versed in common training injuries that fighters often manage to hide be flown to evaluate each bout contestant in order to ensure the most thorough evaluation of these professionals’ physical conditions? I am sure the cost this would incur is why this one hypothetical solution has yet to be implemented.

I know the Philadelphia State Athletic Commission requires their doctors to be registered but I have yet to be able to find any other state that demands the same standard. Then again, even if a doctor is sanctioned, unless they feel their license is at great risk if the lie is found out then they could just as easily cheat the result of a fighter’s physical as any other doctor.

And so it seems that the problem is two folds. For one, fighters put their bodies on the line daily to be able to fight and push to the very limits in camps leading up to bouts. The work they put in once they sign on to a contest is technically for the promotion itself so it would make sense for them to get paid even if they do get injured and it may even lead fighters to be more open and honest about the condition the body has to go through and whether or not they feel they are physically able to fight when being evaluated before hand. Secondly, the doctors allowed to perform pre-fight physicals themselves should be chosen wisely either by an athletic commission or by a promotion and the consequences they may face if they decide to lie about the results should be made clear.

A fighter puts their bodies on the line as soon as the cage door closes so shouldn’t someone be looking out for said body’s well being right up to that point? These athletes should be at peak physical ability right up to when they cut the weight and as such, maybe evaluated on a regular basis and not a single physical either. Entering a bout injured certainly decreases a fighter’s chance at winning and, more importantly, it elevates the chances of them getting more severely injured, possibly to the point of career ending.

These are all just ideas I am throwing out in the hopes of getting a discussion started and not to harp on any fighter or medical practitioner. MMA is still evolving, kinks are still being worked out and this is one of them that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

I hope this can be the first in a series of article addressing the specifics of how these physicals are handled. If anyone wishes to comment with any information I would certainly appreciate it.


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