Holloway's health scare underlines MMA's inherent risks

By GREG BEACHAM

TheAssociated Press

LAS VEGAS — Max Griffin isn’t proud of his reaction after he heard UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway dropped out of his fight against Brian Ortega with apparent symptoms of a concussion.

“To me, we’re fighters,” said Griffin, a UFC welterweight. “We always have a concussion, you know?”

Griffin knows his instinctive skepticism about Holloway’s injury isn’t healthy. He also isn’t afraid to acknowledge the fundamental illogic behind all mixed martial arts fighters’ decision to pursue a career in a sport that is designed to hurt them.

“We always have concussion-like symptoms, (but) I’ve been in fights where I couldn’t see, and I didn’t say, ‘I can’t see,'” Griffin said Thursday. “We have concussions all the time. Like all the time. We have mild ones from getting hit, even not getting hit. You’ll be just kind of woozy today, or whatever. You just fight.”

Griffin knows people who have suffered or died from brain injuries, and he missed a fight last year after a training drill against a heavyweight led to a broken rib that nearly punctured his lung. He also quit his steady corporate job at Blue Shield of California in January to pursue MMA as a full-time occupation.

For any pro fighter, the financial and competitive rewards are simply stronger than the risks.

“If I’ve got a fight, I’m fighting,” said Griffin (14-4), who takes on Curtis Millender at UFC 226 on Saturday. “If you’re going to wheel me out there, put me in a wheelchair and drop me in there, I’m going to fight, dude.”

The fighters on the UFC 226 undercard reacted to Holloway’s absence Thursday with a mix of concern, disappointment and calculated obliviousness. He made two trips to the emergency room this week after his coaches and management noticed he was acting unusually, speaking strangely and struggling to awake from a nap.

“It’s extremely scary,” said Anthony Pettis, the former UFC champion who lost a title fight to Holloway in December 2016. “That’s life-changing. I love fighting, but I love my life more. You get concussion syndrome, and you literally can’t look at your phone or drive at night. I want to do be a fighter, but that changes your life forever.”

Indeed, developing the mindset of a successful MMA fighter is literally about believing you can avoid getting hurt, since that would mean your opponent is succeeding.

“Yes, I am a risk-taker,” welterweight Mike Perry said. “I believe there’s a lot of money in risk. Risk equals reward. Let’s go get paid.”

Perry — who has his nickname, “Platinum,” tattooed above his right eye in a cursive green script — is a wild man even by MMA’s heightened standards, and he shares Griffin’s raised-eyebrow curiousness about the seriousness of Holloway’s injury. Perry also reaped a benefit from Holloway’s absence in this merciless sport: His bout against Paul Felder was elevated to the pay-per-view portion of the UFC 226 card.

Yet Perry expressed support for Holloway’s decision, and he fully realizes he’ll eventually pay for his own reckless mentality in the cage.

“I’m waiting to see what happens to me, because I get hit, but I kind of like it,” Perry said.