MMA is a combat sport that, despite all the safety measures, is very dangerous. Apart from bad injuries like horrible fractures, cage fighting can also be lethal. In fact, there have been more than a few deaths in MMA history.
As of 2019, there have been seven recorded deaths in sanctioned MMA matches, and nine in unsanctioned. However as of 2022, not a single fighter has died in the leading promotions like the UFC or Bellator.
But how did all of these MMA fighters die? What was the cause? In this article, we are going to take a closer look at the dangers of cage fighting, and all of the deaths that happened throughout history.
Has anyone died in MMA? (List of deaths)
Seven fighters have died in sanctioned MMA bouts, while 9 more have died in unregulated events. Bear in mind that all of the deaths thus far happened in smaller, regional shows. Nobody died competing in the large ones such as UFC or Bellator or at the high level in PRIDE FC. Here is a list of all the fighters who died in MMA:
Sam Vasquez — died on November 30 in 2007 shortly after his fight at the “Renegades Extreme Fighting” event held in Houston, Texas. Vasquez got knocked out in the third round and he quickly recovered from it and at first, it all appeared to be normal. But, he would collapse backstage and was quickly rushed to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed a subdural hemorrhage (swelling of the brain), and he fell into a coma on November 28. Just 2 days later, Vasquez passed away at 35 years of age.
Michael Kirkham — died on June 28 in 2010 due to the repeated strikes he sustained in a match against Carlos Iraburo. This was Kirkham’s pro-MMA debut which ended in horror just a minute into the first round. Iraburo managed to score an early takedown and quickly get into a dominant position. He closed the show with a couple of big shots to the head and the referee stopped the fight. But sooner after, Kirkham would lose consciousness and he died the same evening due to subarachnoid hemorrhage. He was just 30 years old.
Tyrone Mims — died on August 11 in 2012 and the cause of his death will never be known. The 30 year old Sims looked good in the first round against Blake Poore at the “Conflict MMA” event held in South Carolina. But in the second, Mims would complain to the referee that he is too fatigued and unable to continue. The referee stopped the fight and at first, Mims looked fine but exhausted. He collapsed on the way back to the locker room and never recovered. Even the autopsy didn’t show any injuries or exact cause of why his heart stopped.
Booto Guylain — died on March 5, 2014, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Guylain looked competitive throughout the first two rounds at “EFC 27” against Keron Davies. But he got caught with a vicious left hook in the third round that sent him down to the canvas, and Davis went on to close the show with ground and pound. Guylain was rushed to the hospital where he died just 5 days later at 29 years of age.
Donshay White — died on July 16 in 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. On that fatal night, White was coming off a two-year layoff to face Ricky Muse. White was out of shape and already gassed out at the beginning of the second round and it didn’t take long for Muse to close the show with strikes. White went on to collapse backstage and he died on the way to St. Mary and Elizabeth Hospital. White was actually suffering from high blood pressure. It is still a mystery how he managed to pass two medical tests before the fight.
Rondel Clark — died on August 15th, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. At the “Cage Titans XXXV event”, Clark faced Ryan Dunn in his second pro-MMA match booked at 170 pounds. Clark appeared to be competitive throughout the first two rounds, but he run out of gas in the third. In fact, Clark was so exhausted that he didn’t even have enough strength to defend, which resulted in a TKO win for Dunn. Clark was so exhausted that the medical team rushed him to the hospital where his kidney began to fail, and he died just three days later. The official report says that the cause of his death was “extreme rhabdomyolysis” which is a mix of dehydration and physical overexertion.
Mateus Fernandes — died on March 30, 2019, shortly after his fight against Obed Pereira at the “Remulus Fight” event in Brazil. Fernandes was looking strong throughout the first two rounds, but he got knocked out in the third. After the fight, he suffered four heart attacks and died at the age of 22.
Alfredo Castro Herrera — died on April 14, 1981, in Tijuana Mexico. What’s known about this fight is that Herrera got knocked out, and he died soon after. He was just 15 years old and the youngest MMA fighter to die in competition. The exact cause of his death has never been published.
Douglas Dedge — died on March 18, 1998, in Kyiv, Ukraine. The American tapped out after absorbing a couple of hard shots to the head. He collapsed shortly after and was rushed to hospital where he died two days after due to severe brain trauma.
Lee — died on May 12, 2005, in South Korea. On that faithful night, Lee actually took part in an event organized in a bar and without the presence of the medical team. Lee got KO’d, and shortly after suffered a heart attack which is said to have been the cause of his death.
Mike Mittelmeier — died on April 27 in 2012 in Bolivia. A 20 year old Mittelmeier went on to catch his opponent into the leg lock submission. However, his opponent would throw an illegal kick to the head which instantly knocked Mittelmeier out cold and resulted in a severe hemorrhage. Unfortunately, he never recovered from it.
Dustin Jenson — died on May 24, 2012, in Rapid City, US. Jenson lost the match by tapping out to a submission, and he even stayed in the arena to watch another two fights. However, he collapsed on the way to the locker room and was rushed to the hospital where he died due to a subdural hemorrhage. He was just 26 years old.
Felix Pablo Elochukwu — died in April 2013 shortly after competing in an unsanctioned MMA bout in Port Juron, US. The event didn’t include a medical team, neither there were pre or post fight medical checks. In the third round, his opponent managed to move in the full mount and close the show. Elochukwu collapsed on the way to the locker room, and people from the crowd actually tried to give him CPR and save his life. The ambulance came after 40 minutes and Elochukwu died at the Port Huron Hospital.
Ramin Zeynalov — died in March 2015, in Azerbaijan. During the match, he suffered a hard blow to the head, and he hit his head on the canvas on his way down. The medical team tried to save him but the brain trauma was too big. The 27 year old died at the hospital due to cerebral hemorrhage.
Has Anyone Died In UFC
No, luckily for the fighters and fans, no one has ever died inside the UFC octagon, neither after the fight due to complications. This on its own shows you how well-regulated the UFC is, and how much emphasis they put on safety. Combat sports, notably MMA, carry a high injury rate, and with that, a high risk of death. Yet, the UFC has done a lot in terms of minimizing these risks, and here is how.
Concussions are one of those injuries that can easily lead to brain injuries and death. On top of that, suffering back-to-back concussions in a very short time span is an ideal recipe for a disaster. In fact, a couple of MMA fighters have died because of this in the past. To prevent this from happening ever again, all fighters now have to enter a “concussion protocol” after suffering a KO.
The UFC has adopted a policy where all fighters have to undergo post fight medical checks. If a doctor determines that a fighter is concussed, they would send them right to the hospital for further checks. After they leave the hospital, fighters would receive a medical suspension, which can go up to 6 months. During this time, they are not allowed to compete and spar, neither the UFC is allowed to offer them a fight. They can only do light workouts in the gym to stay healthy and in shape.
Concussion protocol plays a big role in preventing serious brain injuries like CTE, and it certainly prevents deaths inside the octagon.
UFC Performance Institute
UFC Performance Institute (UFC PI) is a large training facility built by the leading MMA promotion, UFC, in 2017. The institute has around 30,000 square feet and there is even a much bigger one in Shanghai, China, built-in 2019. It is a state of the art facility built for innovation, research, and training.
All UFC fighters who want to improve their game, and learn how to stay in shape and healthy, can visit the PI center. But above all, athletes learn a lot about how to recover the right way, as well as how to go through extreme weight cuts the safe way. PI has experts in different fields which allows fighters to learn more about their health and training. They will work closely with the athletes on creating training regimes and nutrition programs that are right for them. UFC PI does a really, really good job in providing support to young athletes and preventing injuries and even deaths.
The UFC PI is so advanced in every field that it regularly hosts athletes from other sports like NBA, NHL, NFL as well as Olympians.
Pre and post-fight medical checks
Prior to every UFC event, all contestants must undergo a strict medical test carried out by the Athletic Commission of the state in which the event takes place. First, the medical team would perform blood work and test each fighter for Hepatitis (B and C) and HIV. The next is eye exam, neurological and radiological exams like MRI, and many others. But, bear in mind that the medical checks differ between the states and Athletic Commissions. One thing is for sure, all of the tests are taken seriously.
Although it rarely happens, the Athletic Commission might stop a fighter from competing if they determine that they are not healthy enough. This usually happens due to the complications caused by extreme weight cutting.