It's been nearly 24 hours since news filtered out that Joao Carvalho died due to injuries sustained in a fight against Charlie Ward at Total Extreme Fighters 1.
An inquisition about the merits of MMA as a sport has begun in the non-sports media - on news programmes, phone-in shows and editorial columns. Even TV3's Midday show is talking MMA today. This inquisition is being held largely by people who have no knowledge of mixed martial arts and often include people who seem to have an agenda against mixed martial arts. What's been noticeable is that people who make a living from mixed martial arts in Ireland have not been engaging in these conversations.
Some of this is expected. Carvalho's death was shocking and disturbing and there is a requisite mourning period. Also, people invested in mixed martial arts here have spent the bones of five years arguing about the merits of their sport, with little success in many cases. But sooner or later (in my opinion sooner), those who speak for mixed martial arts in Ireland are going to have engage with the media chattering classes to discuss Carvalho's death and what went happened Saturday night at the National Stadium. Mixed martial arts events happen in Ireland regularly, and no one has died at a fight before. Only four fighters have died from sanctioned MMA fights in America. Something surely went wrong Saturday night.
A lot of ridiculous things have been said about MMA in the last 24 hours in the Irish media, but nature abhors a vacuum, and with every radio discussion piece, the perception amongst 'Official Ireland' that Irish mixed martial arts is akin to Wild West cage fighting gets closer to reality.
Mixed martial arts has been one of the biggest growth sports in the country. Prominent fighters and trainers have a responsibility to their own sport, and especially those young people who have turned to the sport in the last three years, to say that their sport is safe, and that if something went wrong Saturday night, it won't happen again. By remaining silent, it can be construed that someone has something to hide, and that the worst perceptions of the sport are true.
The media fear-mongering had started before Carvalho's tragic death and has been ratcheted up in the last 24 hours. Former Olympian Doctor Gary O'Toole spoke to the Indo yesterday before Carvalho's death and offered his opinions on the dangers of MMA (and rugby) in Ireland:
He said: "I think it is the old Spiderman adage: 'With great power, comes great responsibility.'
"In underage rugby you can have an 11-year-old weighing 55kg lining out against someone weighing 40kg; that kind of a situation would not be tolerated in MMA."
MMA has been on a long journey towards acceptance in this country. Carvalho's tragic death is also a massive setback for the sport here. It's time to hear from the people who speak for the sport in Ireland about what happened in the ring between Carvalho and Ward, about the safety regulations at every mixed martial event in this country, and about why Joao Carvalho will be the last man to die from the