Professional fighter dies after match; opponent speaks out

By: Blayne Alexander Email
By: Blayne Alexander Email
A picture of the MMA fighter that died from injury.

Participant in MMA event dies from injury

June 28, 2010 -- News 12 at eleven o'clock

AUGUSTA, Ga. --- It was supposed to be the beginning of his professional career. Instead, the Mixed Martial Arts industry is mourning the loss of Michael Kirkham.

Thirty-year-old Kirkham was fighting in Saturday’s “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” in Aiken. During the first round, he sustained several blows to the head and lost consciousness. He was transported to Aiken Regional Medical Center, where he died Monday morning from his injuries.

Kirkham had competed in several amateur fights, but this was his first professional match.

News of Kirkham’s death hit members of the MMA community hard. Only one other person has died as the result of a professional MMA match.

“I’ve probably been to two or three thousand fights in my life, and this one was no different. The only thing different about this one is that the young man didn’t recover,” says Mark Greubel.

Greubel owns Greubel’s Mixed Martial Arts in Augusta and trains fighters of all skill levels. He saw the fight that ended Kirkham’s life, and says the blows came during a routine MMA move called “the mount.”

Carlos Iravuro was the other fighter in the ring that night. He says he is still upset over what happened to his opponent.

“I’m in there to compete for a sport,” he says. “I’m not there to do any permanent damage to anybody. I was concerned. Very concerned.”

Greubel requires his students to wear protection when they practice, including gloves, headgear, shin and mouth guards. During competition, fighters wear only gloves and mouth guards. Greubel says regardless of the gear, as with any other sport, there are risks.

“Absolutely it’s a risk. It’s obviously a very rare risk,” he says. “There’s tons of rules in place to keep the fighters as safe as humanly possible.”

Emergency technicians are required to stand by during each fight. Competitors also sign a waiver before stepping into the ring. Fighters have have the option to "tap out" during a fight, and there are referees on hand to stop action if necessary.

Both Greubel and Iravuro maintain theirs is a safe sport.

“I don’t believe I did anything wrong,” Iravuro says of the fight. “You know, it was a sport. We both knew what we were doing; we knew what we were getting involved in. I just did what I was supposed to do.”

Iravuro says he will get back into the ring eventually, but for now he’s still grieving what happened during his first professional fight.

“I can’t fully explain how sorry I am,” he says. “To his family and friends, I am truly sorry and shocked that this tragedy occurred. I, too, will never forget him.”

Mixed Martial Arts is a combination of boxing, kickboxing, Jiu-Jitsu, Judo and wrestling. Greubel says the majority of his clients train non-competitively; only a small percent actually spar and even fewer fight competitively.

An autopsy will be held Tuesday in Newberry, S.C. to determine the exact cause of death.

Greubel is raising money to help Kirkham's family. He asks that anyone interested contact him at his studio.

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  • by Charlie Location: Boston on Jun 16, 2012 at 11:51 AM
    The human head was not made to be used as a punching bag. Any sport that calls for that is inherently dangerous. The purpose of sports like boxing, MMA and UFC is to injure your opponent. That's the only way you can win. In other violent sports -- for example, football,-- you can win the game without injuring anyone. That's not true of boxing, MMA or UFC. The only way to win is to inflict punishment on your opponent. Fighters in these sports surely do not intend to kill their opponent but they certainly do intend to hurt and injure their opponent. Your team can win a football game without injuring anyone; you cannot win a MMA, UFC or boxing match without injuring your opponent. When the object of your punches is the human head with a very delicate brain, the dangers are obvious. These sports have no place in a truly civilized society. They appeal to the worst instincts in the human heart -- enjoyment by causing another human being to suffer injury and pain.
  • by elaine young Location: jacksonville on Jul 3, 2010 at 01:50 PM
    lol dang it michelle this is elaine i was the anonymous forgot to put my name there. Grrrrr. But u cant talk to thick headed people when they think they know it all when they dont know anything at all. We knew michael as a friend and not a fighter. But we do know the love he had for the sport and i think its wonderful that the family is doing what they are doing for michaels kids. Hes gone and nothing will bring him back but he will always be with us no matter what in spirit and meomory. And the blame to me is no where. He loved what he done and everyone has to accept that. It could have and has happen to anyone.
  • by Michelle on Jul 2, 2010 at 09:13 AM
    You are right anonymous. ;)
  • by Anonymous on Jul 1, 2010 at 03:08 PM
    Michelle y waste ur time with this clown kamil he obviously dont know what he is talking about. Just let it go.
  • by Brynn Location: NC on Jul 1, 2010 at 01:56 PM
    Tree was one **** of a guy... he met my husband while I was pregnant with our son... and they started training together... I guess you could consider it the beginning of the Fayetteville Independents... imagine my surprise when this literal Tree walks into my little bitty apartment joined by a gaggle of other gentlemen who are there to lift weights... and do little odds and ends of training. And eat dinner when I would get off my butt and cook. HA! On a personal level, Tree was one of the nicest and most soft hearted people I know... and even though it has been about a year and a half since we last talked he is definitely one of the few people to permanently touch my life. He had the one of those weird laughs that even if whatever was said or done wasn't funny it would still make you laugh. Tree was definitely passionate about MMA... so don't look at his death as a way to get rid of it... see it as a guide on what to improve.
  • by Michelle on Jul 1, 2010 at 08:26 AM
    Kamil, not all headgear obstructs vision, if people can adapt in other sports, they can adapt to headgear in this one. Wearing headgear will prevent more head injuries than NOT wearing headgear. Headgear is safety equipment and safety should always be put first. There is no contradiction there. Kamil, you sound really young, this saying is just for you: The first testicular guard, the cup, was used in hockey in 1874. The first helmet was used in 1974. That means that it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brains were also important. Your argument has no point, please stop smearing Michael's name, his family reads these posts and you have done nothing but pour salt in their wounds. Shame on you!
  • by Shawn in Leesville Location: Leesville, SC on Jun 30, 2010 at 08:04 PM
    If I read this right, only an EMT basic is required to be at ring side? Should be a doctor or a paramedic at a minimum with an ambulance on the scene. If the fighting promotion is too cheap to pay to have an ambulance or doctor at ringside, they have no business fighting. It's smaller fighting rings like this that are the problem. I guarantee you, UFC screens their fighters really good.
  • by Kamil on Jun 30, 2010 at 10:05 AM
    You just contradicted yourself yet again. You want headgear but you also want safety first. So which is it? Because putting headgear on **** sure won't cause less brain damage, the only thing it will protect from is cuts and broken noses. If anything, it will cause more brain damage.
  • by Michelle on Jun 30, 2010 at 09:39 AM
    Brian, any blows to the head can cause enough of a head injury to kill them, it doesn't matter if the blows are frontal or parietal (sides). According to this site,the autopsy revealed that it was a bleed caused by direct hits to the head If this isn't a call for protective headgear than I don't know what is. I know the MMA fighters are going to whine about how it can obstruct their vision and all other reasons not to wear it but it's necessary in this contact sport. Please put safety first.
  • by Brian Location: Martinez on Jun 29, 2010 at 07:30 PM
    I keep reading "punches to the back of the head". I was there and recorded 34 seconds of the fight (my camera battery died.) Let me put this issue to rest. He was NOT hit in the back of the head. Once his opponent got top mount, he hit Kirkham with 2 lefts and 4 rights. That's when the battery died. However, I was sitting in the first row of ringside seats almost directly behind the time keeper. Only a couple more punhes were thrown before the ref called a stoppage.
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