In Depth

MMA fighter Joao Carvalho dies: Have things gone too far?

Portuguese star's death, so soon after the case of boxer Nick Blackwell, means fighting sports must consider their futures

The death of MMA fighter Joao Carvalho has raised more questions over the safety of cage fighting and combat sports in general.

Carvalho, 28, collapsed 20 minutes after his bout with Irish fighter Charlie Ward at the National Stadium in Dublin. He underwent emergency brain surgery later that night but died on Monday evening, after 48 hours in intensive care.

The tragedy has some parallels with that of boxer Nick Blackwell, who also collapsed and spent a week in a coma after losing to Chris Eubank Jr at Wembley last month. During that fight, Eubank's father, Chris Sr, intervened to instruct his son to stop aiming punches at Blackwell's head and expressed surprise that the referee had not stopped the fight sooner.

Speaking on Saturday night in Dublin, UFC superstar Conor McGregor also said he thought the referee should have intervened earlier, after a dazed Carvalho was struck nine times in the head while on the floor.

"Aficionados of boxing and MMA will argue that the fights should have been stopped sooner, although that will come as scant consolation to Carvalho's family, nor indeed Blackwell, who has survived but will never box again," writes Ian O'Doherty of the Irish Independent.

The brutality of MMA and the fact it flies in the face of an increasingly risk-averse society is part of its attraction, he argues, but it also undermines its future.

"Given the way the cultural and medical winds are blowing, it's possible that boxing will be banned in our lifetime and even rugby will become unrecognisable. In such an atmosphere, it is almost impossible to make a case defending MMA.

"And the simple truth remains that until they change the rule allowing repeated head strikes on a prone opponent, MMA will never rise beyond the level of the grotesque spectacle," says O'Doherty.

Johnny Watterson, writing in The Guardian, agrees. "The savagery of Carvalho's beating and the glee of the young fans... will be seen in the broader sense as a calamitous and indefensible episode in Dublin.

"There is no precedent in organised sport where punching a defenceless opponent nine times on the ground when he has collapsed but conscious is acceptable. It is crossing the line."

Risk is part and parcel of sport, he says. "It happens in rugby and horse racing, in the TT Races at the Isle of Man and in boxing." But MMA and boxing must consider the risks: "The decision of where to stop does not simply come down to what may or may not disturb some buttoned-up sensibilities but, given the intentions of the fighters and how they go about achieving their aim, where it should stop is when it becomes obviously, dangerously violent."

Recommended

England’s spectacular cricket win: ‘an unstoppable tidal wave’
Ben Stokes and his team
In Depth

England’s spectacular cricket win: ‘an unstoppable tidal wave’

A guide to Wimbledon 2022
The Wimbledon women’s and men’s singles trophies on display at Centre Court
In Focus

A guide to Wimbledon 2022

What has Serena Williams been doing?
Serena Williams
Profile

What has Serena Williams been doing?

Swimming’s governing body bans trans athletes from elite women’s races
A swimmer in training
Talking point

Swimming’s governing body bans trans athletes from elite women’s races

Popular articles

Are we heading for World War Three?
Ukrainian soldiers patrol on the frontline in Zolote, Ukraine
In Depth

Are we heading for World War Three?

When will paper £20 and £50 notes expire?
Paper banknotes
Business Briefing

When will paper £20 and £50 notes expire?

What happened to Zara Aleena?
Zara Aleena
In Brief

What happened to Zara Aleena?

The Week Footer Banner