weather icon Clear

Nevada officials to require brain health testing for fighters

Pummeling his way through 75 fights, boxing great Larry Holmes was a force to be reckoned with, winning 69 of those clashes.

It’s the nature of the sport, though, that it takes a toll on fighters, he said.

Repeated hits to the head are common in combat sports as the area is a primary target for knockout punches.

“My intent was not to hurt anybody,” said Holmes, a former heavyweight champion who won 44 matches by knockout, at a brain health event Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

After years of discussion on the long-term effects of repeated head trauma in combat sports, officials at the event announced the Nevada Athletic Commission will require all licensed fighters in the Silver State, including professional boxers and mixed martial athletes, to undergo regular brain health testing.

Dr. Charles Bernick, associate director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, joined notables such as U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Spike TV President Kevin Kay, Bellator MMA President Scott Coker and Holmes on Capitol Hill to announce the new regulation and a donation to the center.

“Nevada has always been at the forefront of fighter safety, and we’re proud and excited to be implementing this policy,” Nevada Athletic Commission Executive Director Bob Bennett said before the official announcement. “It’s not going to cost the fighters anything, and it takes 15 minutes.”

The athletes will be required to undergo assessments using the Cleveland Clinic C3 application, an iPad-based testing tool in the Ruvo Center’s Professional Fighters Brain Health Study, Bernick said.

The health study, established in 2011, uses C3 to assess brain health and function in about 650 participants, all of whom are active or retired fighters representing sports from boxing to muay thai.

“We’re extremely pleased by the commission’s decision to require regular brain health testing using the C3 app in Nevada, which was a decision influenced largely by data collected from the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study,” Bernick said in a news release.

Bernick also said he hopes other sports commissions follow Nevada’s lead.

Among the findings of the Ruvo Center study so far are brain changes that researchers say correlate with differences in testing performance.

Researchers also believe they might be able to use PET (positron emission tomography) scans to detect the protein tau, which builds up during progressive degeneration of brain tissue and appears to be involved in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, according to Bernick and Boston University’s CTE Center.

Confirmation of the progressive brain disease for now is done only after death.

Public attention to CTE has spiked in recent years, due in part to a lawsuit by thousands of former players and their families against the National Football League over brain injuries.

Mentioned throughout the news conference was heavyweight boxing great Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease.

The announcement of Nevada’s new regulation, which isn’t expected to take effect until June or July, coincides with the announcement of a donation to the Ruvo Center by Bellator and the Premier Boxing Champions.

A spokeswoman for the Ruvo Center declined to disclose the amount of the donation but said it would be spread out over two years.

Former football star Herschel Walker, a star running back involved in the mixed martial arts, described brain health research by the Ruvo Center as a blessing.

He appeared alongside boxers Paulie Malignaggi and Austin Trout and mixed martial athlete Phil Davis.

Fighters and officials not in attendance during Tuesday’s event are also speaking out in favor of the new rule.

“It is our collective responsibility as leaders to be at the forefront and always challenging the status quo in order to elevate the safety standards so critical to the future of combat sports,” UFC Chief Operating Officer Ike Lawrence Epstein said.

World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Jessie Vargas also threw his support behind the regulation.

“It’s very important to protect the athlete,” he said. “You can’t argue with looking out for someone’s health.”

McCain, a former boxer, applauded the efforts of the organizations involved and said they will contribute to fighters’ long-term health.

Bob Arum, chairman of the boxing promotions company Top Rank, said everyone in the boxing world should be on-board with the new regulation, which he called a win-win situation.

“Nobody wants to see punch-drunk fighters. We have 100 percent confidence in the Lou Ruvo Center,” Arum said. “It will give the fighters a baseline so if there’s a deterioration in years to come, they can identify it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Pashtana Usufzy at pusufzy@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Find @pashtana_u on Twitter. Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509. Find @adamhilllvrj on Twitter. Contact Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Find @stevecarprj on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Covering The Cage Videos
Jon Jones DWI Arrest Video
Video was released on Friday from an officer's body cam of UFC champion Jon Jones going through a sobriety test and before being arrested. Jones was arrested early Thursday on charges of aggravated driving while intoxicated, possession of an open container and negligent use of a firearm.
UFC Brasilia happens in empty arena - VIDEO
Despite coronavirus canceling many other planned sporting events, UFC Brasilia went on as scheduled on Mar. 14, though no fans were permitted to attend. Charles Oliveira and Gilbert Burns took home performance bonuses for their wins in the main and co-main events, respectively. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NAC suspends combat sports through March 25 - Video
The Nevada Athletic Commission voted to suspend all combat sports licenses through March 25 in order to protect the health and safety of those working and competing in the events from coronavirus. Adam Hill and Heidi Fang discuss what this means for future events the UFC have on their schedule and more. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Adesanya-Romero defend their performances at UFC 248 - VIDEO
Israel Adesanya retained the UFC middleweight belt by defeating Yoel Romero via unanimous decision, but the fight came under criticism for there being a lack of action. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dana White says UFC 248 main event was a terrible fight - VIDEO
At the post-fight press conference UFC president Dana White expressed his displeasure with UFC 248's main event between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC 248 Official Weigh-In Results - Video
All but one fighter made weight for UFC 248. Emily Whitmire came in heavy for the strawweight limit by 1.5 pounds. All fighters involved in title fights hit the mark making Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Israel Adesanya vs. Yoel Romero official. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sean O'Malley Says His Performance at UFC 248 Will Remind Everyone Who He Is - VIDEO
UFC bantamweight Sean O'Malley explains what his two-year hiatus from competing in the octagon was like, what he missed most about fighting in his time away and what he thinks his strengths are against Jose Quinonez at UFC 248. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC 248 Staredowns - VIDEO
All fighters on the UFC 248 main card faced off at media day at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, including Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk who will fight for the women's strawweight title and middleweights Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero who will do battle for the division's belt on March 7 at the T-Mobile Arena.
Israel Adesanya says McGregor and Rousey's rise helped him with UFC fame
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya discusses how he's prepared to handle the fame that comes with having a title belt by studying what others like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor have done before him. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dana White says coronavirus is a global problem - VIDEO
UFC President Dana White explains how the promotion as a global brand with fight cards in all corners of the world is preparing to handle the coronavirus. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dana White says coronavirus is a global problem - VIDEO
UFC President Dana White explains how the promotion as a global brand with fight cards in all corners of the world is preparing to handle the coronavirus. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joanna Jedrzejczyk explains her intent with gas mask meme - VIDEO
UFC Strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk posted a meme of herself in a gas mask next to her Chinese opponent Zhang Weili and later deleted it from Instagram. At a media day, Jedrzejczyk explained what her intent was with that post and fired back at Weili who had said earlier in the day that she was still angry over the joke. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Zhang Weili Still Angry Over Her Opponent's Coronavirus Joke - VIDEO
UFC women's strawweight champion Zhang Weili discusses how she fled her native China to train in Las Vegas due to the spread of the coronavirus and responds to jokes her opponent, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, made about the outbreak ahead of their UFC 248 title bout. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC president says McGregor-Nurmagomedov rematch is the fight to make
After Conor McGregor's first-round demolition of Donald Cerrone at UFC 246, UFC president Dana White said a rematch between "The Notorious" and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov is the fight to make next. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC 246 Ceremonial Weigh-In Staredowns - VIDEO
The UFC 246 fight card, featuring a welterweight main event between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone, is official, minus one planned bout. In place of Claudia Gadelha vs. Alexa Grasso, a bantamweight bout between Brian Kelleher and Ode' Osbourne will move up to the pay-per-view main card. All fighters competing on the card faced off during the ceremonial weigh-ins at The Park Theater.
McGregor: "All their eyes are lighting up when 'The Notorious' name is mentioned" - VIDEO
Conor McGregor says he knows that other fighter's eyes light up at the chance of facing him as it usually means a dramatic increase in pay. Welterweights Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman spoke about why they'd face McGregor next and Donald Cerrone explained how he's affected his payday for UFC 246. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Conor McGregor says he'd be honored to be the first to fight at Allegiant Stadium
Maycee Barber Doing All She Can to Become the UFC's Youngest Champion - VIDEO
As 21-year-old Maycee Barber begins her quest to become the youngest champion in the UFC, she must first face a competitor in women's flyweight Roxanne Modafferi - a veteran of the sport who is often regarded as one of the pioneers of women's mixed martial arts. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC 246- Media Day Staredowns
With UFC 246 fight week underway, fighters from five featured bouts, including the co-main event women's bantamweight contest between Holly Holm and Raquel Pennington, faced off at media day in Las Vegas. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UFC 246 Press Conference: McGregor vs. Cerrone Highlights and Staredown - VIDEO
Ahead of their welterweight bout at UFC 246 on Jan. 18, Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone were respectful of one another, despite having traded barbs close to four years ago at another press conference. Their bout will serve as the five-round main event at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)