Leading MMA & combat sports doctor Chris Lam comments on the Dennis Munson death

Chris Lam, a medical advisor and ringside doctor for some of the biggest combat events, including the UFC, has recently blogged about the tragic fight that resulted in the death of Dennis Munson Jr.

Last week Journal Sentinel released shocking footage, with commentary, of Munson’s fight at a Roufusport kickboxing event from earlier this year. In the footage you see the deterioration of Munson, in what was his very first fight, and shocking negligence of officials including his own cornerman.

I reached out to Chris and asked him to share his thoughts on the footage that was released. Please note that these opinions are solely his own and are not those of any organisations or companies which employ his services.

Chris gives his thoughts round by round:

Round 1

The clip only shows the first 45 seconds of the fight. But it appeared to be uneventful, Munson had his hands up and was defending himself, he received one head shot at about 1:35 min and was also involved in the clinch on 2 occasions and traded knee shots. It would have been nice to see the remainder of the first round to see Munson’s condition at the end of the round.

Round 2

It is during this round where alarm bells started ringing for me. I disagree with one of the commentators, to me, it didn’t appear as though Munson was fatigued coming out at the start of the second round, he did ever so slightly veer to the left but I question the significance of this especially as I do not know how gassed Munson was at the end of the first round. His gait and stance appeared normal until the inside leg kick. During this break the commentator says Munson stumbles heading to the corner. Someone people would disagree with that comment, you have to remember that this was Munson’s debut fight, in this situation when being instructed to return to a corner as a newbie your instinct would be to automatically head towards your own corner and not a neutral corner. I would argue the Munson was merely changing direction when being instructed to by the ref when it appears that he stumbled.

The fight was then restarted and warning signs start appearing by 1:20 min of the second round where Munson appears to stumble. At about 1:00 min he receives a flurry of unprotected punches for about 5 seconds. At the end of the second round Munson appears to be unsteady on his feet returning to his corner and then slumps onto the chair, he appears exhausted at that point, leaning forwards seemingly lacking the energy to even lift his head up. At one point his cornerman had to push Munson back and prop him up against the corner. It is during this break where I would definitely approach the apron and have a closer look at the fighter.

Round 3

This is particularly difficult to watch. Munson comes out very unsteady. Throughout this final round his arms are down and he definitely appears wobbly, during this round he receives a number of heavy head shots. I believe that the neurological damage was inflicted prior to this final round but the trauma he sustained during this round probably exacerbated the problem. At some point during this final round I feel the referee should have stopped the fight, or at least give him a standing eight count, and take a closer look at the fighter.

At the end of the fight Munson staggers back to his corner and after a few minutes collapses onto the canvas. I personally do not believe that Munson needed to be taken out of the ring on a spinal board with a hard collar around his neck. Looking at the extra footage I cannot see anything during the collapse which would suggest a spinal injury.

Post-fight Chris raises some issues regarding the medical staff, the attention they should be giving Munson and explains the importance of said attention.

“There does not appear to be any medical personnel entering the ring to assess the fighter and no oxygen was given to him. Following a contest a fighter’s metabolic rate would be sky-high and they would be utilising their oxygen reserves at a great rate. Failing to give oxygen would mean the fighter would run out of oxygen at a cellular level very quickly. This is analogous to allowing an engine to run at high revs and not topping up the fuel tank, eventually it will run out of petrol and stop running! Neurological damage, especially due to a brain bleed following trauma, can catastrophically affect a fighter’s breathing – sometimes even stop their breathing (this is known as a respiratory arrest) – this makes the provision of extra oxygen even more important in this situation.

According to the media reports it took 30 minutes  before Munson was transported to hospital for definitive care. With brain bleeds literally every second counts and this delay certainly did not help the situation. I am puzzled as to why 911 had to be called and an outside agency had to take Munson to hospital especially as there was a paramedic crew already present at the venue.”

You can read the rest of blog here in which Chris explains step by step what could have went wrong and offers a unique insight as to how this tragic incident could have possibly been avoided while highlighting the problems with self-regulated shows in combat sports.

Chris Lam pictured centre. Photo via 1stAidForMMA
Chris Lam pictured centre. Photo via 1stAidForMMA

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