The Story Behind Safe MMA

Words by Izzy Carnwath.

76 Harley Street's Dr Jack Kreindler was introduced to MMA when he took part in a BBC documentary programme on pain. I was working under Zara Shirwan at HALO PR, when HALO still represented UCMMA, and Zara was approached by the programme makers. They'd had the zany idea that in order to study the rehabilitation of soft tissue injuries, they would throw Dr Jack into a cage with a fighter who would cause symmetrical damage to each side of him. Following this controlled 'fight for science', half the doctor's body would be rehabilitated using Rest, Ice, Elevation and Compression techniques and the other half would not undergo any therapies.

On 14th May 2011, Dr Jack faced Nick 'Headhunter' Chapman at UCMMA 20: Fists Of Fire, on the same card that John Maguire defended his Welterweight title against Jamaine Facey. Announced as just another bout, the Troxy crowd didn't know what to make of the strange fighting style resorted to by the hulking Headhunter and the tiny doctor, which at one point involved Nick lifting Jack up high over his head and spinning him around.
Aundre Jacobs wrote: "It proved an entertaining spectacle as the crowd got behind the Doctor and cheered his efforts along - with much laughter ensuing as the echo from every leg kick boomed round the venue and Dr Jack winced and laughed his way through the ordeal."

On the back of demonstrating that RICE therapy does markedly improve injury recovery, Dr. Jack and Professor Greg Whyte attended Nick's next fight with Zara. Shocked to discover there was no medical regulation for MMA in the UK, they offered to help progress this aspect of the sport in any way they could. At my follow up meeting with the medics in July, Dr Jack asked me to invite two expert MMA advisers in to discuss what could be done.

The doctors at 76 Harley Street are world leaders in the field of sports medicine and specialise in Olympic and Extreme sports: Mike Loosemore is Chief Medical Officer for the Commonwealth Games and works with the Amateur Boxing Association of England. The fact that these doctors were willing to contribute their time, energy and knowledge to help establish medical practises for UK MMA was a priceless opportunity for the entire sport in this country.

The task of bringing in the two 'right people' felt like a mammoth responsibility. Most importantly the advisers needed to be relatively independent: If UCMMA had been involved at this stage, I guessed other promotions might be biased against it and it would fall apart at the first hurdle. I needed to find just two people with long experience and industry knowledge who had shown integrity and that people trusted. I also felt it was important to invite people from outside the HALO/UCMMA circle to demonstrate good intent. I got in touch (informally) with Ian Dean, which at that time was like calling 'the other side'. I'd usually ran into Ian on Facebook when he would pop up to tell me off about something: I valued his experience, oversight of the industry and he was known for his passion and integrity. Ian was pessimistic that the various promotions would ever agree on anything and felt that UK MMA was too factionalised. However, he said the best person to get involved was Marc Goddard due to the tremendous amount of work he was doing already to make the sport safer on the refereeing side. I also told Ian I was thinking to invite Rosi Sexton down due to her work in the field of MMA injury care, and also because of her veteran experience as a fighter.

The first meeting between Marc, Rosi and the doctors eventually took place at 76 Harley Street on 10th November 2011. The Number 76 medics included Dr Jack, Dr Mike and Professor Greg Whyte. Nick Chapman, who was involved in the doctors' continued work with MMA injuries and sport optimisation, was also present, though his involvement later subsided due to other commitments. By now, HALO had disbanded and I had gone in-house as PR at BAMMA. However, my role throughout the project remained the same in being solely administrative in taking minutes, writing up documents, liaising between the various parties and organising meetings.

Dr Jack put forward the idea to Rosi and Marc of introducing a voluntary fighter passport system, which would include annual blood and medical tests and a centralised database for fighters. The doctors would also be able to provide medical advice and act as spokespeople for the sport. The shared concern was that a fatality or injury was very likely to occur at some point and it would be not only be tragic for the fighter involved but devastating for the whole industry. This time bomb was made more immediate by the fact that the British Medical Association had now added MMA to its banned list. Marc and Rosi agreed that action was long needed and supported Dr Jack's proposal in principal. From Marc's perspective, the main obstacle was cost: Fighter licenses would be unaffordable mainly due to the expense of MRIs. Mike Loosemore was able to outline the medical reasoning as to why MRI scans wouldn't need to form part of a foundation safety initiative. This point was pivotal in making the system seem as if it could actually, realistically work. The overriding factor was that 76 Harley Street could house an independent medical body that was not governed by any one promotion or faction. The question now was how to go about getting fighters to sign up. Marc and Rosi both felt the drive had to come from the promotions and that the only way it would work is if major promoters agreed to a code of practice, including universal medical suspensions. Marc suggested calling a meeting with three of the UK's most prominent promotions, Cage Warriors, UCMMA and BAMMA. We all left Harley Street feeling enthused.

The jet set commitments of the various parties meant the first time we were able to get everyone together in one room at Harley St. was 5th March 2012. By the time of this meeting, the doctors had fleshed out the medical aspects of the project, which Dr Jack and Dr Mike were able to present.

I was giddily nervous about the potentially explosive meeting of three rival heavies, in the form of Graham Boylan, Dave O'Donnell & Jude Samuel. What emerged from this first of many dynamic meetings and exchanges over the coming months were the many issues and concerns that the promotions shared. Everyone was united in believing the industry desperately needed the introduction of safety measures; and everyone feared that it was not just a case of if a tragedy occurred, but when. All the promotions worried that bad practice in one promotion put all others at risk. Something very clearly had to be done and with a neutral body of doctors willing to head the project, it now seemed possible. A verbal agreement was made between the promotions, with the details to be thrashed out over many conversations in the lead up to launch. In Dave's words, we didn't want to be "making announcements about announcements" if nothing was to work out (-I told him not to try steal our ideas -); and so it was agreed that nothing should be publicly discussed until Safe MMA was ready to go live. Launching with just three promotions would allow for a trial period to get the system up and running and to iron out any creases, though the ultimate goal would be to welcome all UK promotions on board.

Moving forwards, Ian Dean and Patrick Vickers were involved in the discussions on behalf of Cage Warriors; and Robbie Olivier and John Gooden were also brought in. When Marc and Rosi were asked to join the interim board of the fledgling UKMMA Federation, they invited Robbie down to a couple of the meetings and he was kept up to date with all developments. John was invited by Graham Boylan, as he was already working independently on a Best Practice Guide for small MMA promotions and was a long time campaigner for fighter safety.

I feel privileged to have been party to the many conversations that built Safe MMA and to have shared a room with such a vast amount of combined expert knowledge and experience. Like with any team work, the project has been strengthened by the different qualities that different people brought to the table: Jude turned his energy and creativity to drawing up the first fighter processes and to designing the logo as well as potential future software with Dr Jack; the Cage Warriors team backed up Graham's razor sharp intelligence with their meticulousness, eye for detail and capacity for thinking through every logical possibility; Dave's worldliness, understanding of people, brilliant ideas and practical perspective were invaluable; Marc's never erring faith, ideology and evangelism overrode all doubts and provided spiritual superglue to the project; Rosi's passionate but considered approach was key to working out the apparently unsolvable; Dr. Loosemore and Dr. Kreindler brought their medical learning and also their familiarity with the processes that medical societies are built on; finally, John Gooden's impeccable communication skills meant he often fell into a natural role of chairing and channelling the various and often variant perspectives.

Among the best moments were when the members this eclectic power team would find themselves all laughing about, for example, something random on a forum. More impressive is the quantity of time, energy and expense volunteered by all; with the biggest professional risk taken by Clinical Director, Jack Kreindler, on a project that will initially run at a loss and will never make a profit. Different members at different times participated in meetings and midnight communications through sickness and health, and despite personal situations in their lives; for example, when Dave made the difficult and painful journey all the way from Kent to central London shortly after his operation, or when Jude attended the launch conference after a funeral.

In spite of their differences UCMMA, Cage Warriors and BAMMA persisted towards their common goal for an important reason: The only way medical regulation can be introduced in the UK is via an independent medical body, since we don't have State Athletic Commissions as in the US. Even with a federation in place the medical arm would always need to be independent. The processes we have gone through to set up Safe MMA are the same processes that British trade unions and professional bodies are built on, including the British Medical Association. In keeping with UK tradition and led by some of the best sports medical experts, the mantle now needs to be taken up by every UK fighter, promoter and gym owner; and whoever joins will have a democratic voice and will be able to vote for and shape how Safe MMA grows. Already more promotions have stepped forward: One of our proudest moments came on 1st November 2012 when Safe MMA held its launch presentation at 76 Harley Street, attended by people from all around the country. Among them were promoters, Chris Zorba of OMMAC representing the North West, Made for The Cage down from Newcastle and Tam Collins of Scotland's On Top, all who have pledged to join Safe MMA in 2013.

To everyone who proclaims to love MMA, it's time to take responsibility and to at last unite to build it into the legitimate sport that it deserves to be in the UK. That is, a sport in which fighters are safe as they can possibly be, one which has the best medical support and access, one that is backed up by medical statistics and information, one which can eventually be insured, one that can be represented honourably in the mainstream media, and a reputable sport that will attract more sponsors, investment and ultimately better fighter pay. We've put in the ground work: Now it's up to you.

To join or for full information about SAFE MMA go to

For general enquiries contact

To keep up to date and to get your questions answered follow @SafeMMAUK on Twitter or like 'Safe MMA' on Facebook.

Photo credit goes to the awesome Graham Finney, check out his work here:

Published by Boogeyman - Sat, 5 Jan 2013 13:15

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