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Death of mixed martial arts fighter another black eye for the sport

Michael Kirkham is the second mixed martial arts fighter in 2-1/2 years to die of injuries sustained in a state-sanctioned fight. As critics denounce MMA as barbaric, defenders say it's no more dangerous than some other sports.

Mixed martial arts: Ben Rothwell, left, of Kenosha, Wisc., hits Gilbert Yvel, of the Netherlands, during UFC 115 in Vancouver, B.C., on June 12. The death of MMA fighter Michael Kirkham has raised safety concerns about the sport.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press/AP

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The death of a mixed martial arts fighter on Monday – the second fatality of an MMA competitor in the US since November 2007 – is renewing concerns about safety and regulation of the meteorically growing sport.

Michael Kirkham died Monday morning after a bout two days earlier in Columbia, S.C. Kirkham collapsed after his first professional fight Saturday and remained unconscious before dying of a brain injury, according to the Aiken County coroner. Kirkham took several strikes to the head during his match, which was a state-sanctioned fight.

Despite its rising popularity, mixed martial arts ­– which combines a number of fighting disciplines including boxing, kickboxing, jiu-jitsu and others – remains controversial because its rules allow fighters to strike opponents with knees and elbows and to continue hitting rivals who have fallen to the mat.

South Carolina legalized MMA, which is regulated by the state’s Athletic Commission, only last year. It is one of 44 states that have legalized and regulated MMA fighting. On Monday, the New York state legislature halted a measure that would have added it to the list of legal MMA venues.


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