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Ultimate Fighting Championship playing a big part in brain health study

UFC partnering with the Cleveland Clinic
Posted at 5:28 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 00:02:47-05

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters are not strangers when it comes to getting punched in the head. That’s why doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are taking a closer look at the fighters’ brains to understand the long-term effects of head trauma.

UFC fighter Julian Erosa gets MRIs and cognitive tests as part of his annual check-up.

“It’s worth it for me. A little bit of an inconvenience, " he said, "[but] it’s worth knowing where my brain health is."

He’s one of more than 100 former and active UFC fighters taking part in the clinic’s Professional Athlete’s Brain Health Study.

It’s focused on looking at the long-term effects of head trauma in athletes.

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“For the last three years I’ve been able to see where my brain is at every year," said Erosa. "And there’s nothing wrong with it, but I have that peace of mind as well."

The UFC is making a big commitment to the Cleveland Clinic, donating $1 million to help fund research for five years. That’s on top of the $2 million it has donated since 2011.

Dr. Aaron Ritter with the Cleveland Clinic says the study is meant to help athletes like Erosa understand their brains.

“Our goal is to make the career as successful as possible, but also with the perspective of you’re going to be using your brain for the next 30, 40, 50 years,” he said.

He says so far, the study has found that the more head blows an athlete takes, the more risk they face of having brain issues over time.

But Dr. Ritter says he also wants to understand why not every athlete develops issues.

“I think the next five years are really going to be devoted to finding those biological markers that say there’s something going on in the brain that may lead to long-term consequences,” he said.

Erosa says he’s glad to take a proactive approach to his brain health and hopes it encourages other fighters to take part.

“If you can nip it in the bud, why not. If there are things I can see, without feeling it yet, then that’s something I want to take advantage of,” he said.

Dr. Ritter says he wants to see the study go as long as possible seeing how athletes' brains develop after their professional careers are over.

The clinic’s study is the first to analyze both male and female fighters at the same time.