Has Anyone Died in UFC or MMA? (2022 Updated)

MMA is quickly growing in popularity despite being considered dangerous by many, and the UFC is known for showcasing the brutality within the sport.

MMA started around the early 1990s and the UFC was founded in 1993, but MMA became an official sport in 2001 when the Official Unified Rules of MMA came to be.

These rules cleaned up the sport, introducing an extensive list of illegal moves, weight classes, rounds, time limits, judging criteria, procedures, and more.

However, although the UFC and MMA became as safe as possible, injuries and fatalities are unavoidable, considering the nature of the sport.

So, has anyone died in UFC?

Despite this, there haven’t been any deaths in the UFC since its inception in 1993. This is a testament to how seriously they take fighter safety, and how the rules and regulations have massively helped move the sport forward.

On the other hand, there have been a total of 22 deaths in MMA since the first death in 1981, 9 in unsanctioned MMA fights, and 13 in sanctioned MMA fights.

While the data for MMA fatalities was only last updated in 2019, this article includes MMA deaths since then, where there have been another 4 deaths.

Although there haven’t been any UFC deaths related to fighting in the octagon, there have been many UFC fighters who’ve died after leaving the UFC.

What Are the Causes of MMA Deaths?

Here’s a table of all 22 deaths in MMA:

NameDate of DeathCause of DeathSanctioned or Unsanctioned
1. Sam VasquezNovember 30, 2007Subdural hemorrhageSanctioned
2. Michael KirkhamJune 28, 2010Subarachnoid hemorrhageSanctioned
3. Tyrone MimsAugust 11, 2012UnknownSanctioned
4. Leandro SouzaSeptember 26, 2013Stroke caused by cutting weightSanctioned
5. Booto GuylainMarch 5, 2014Brain swellingSanctioned
6. Yang Jian BingDecember 11, 2015Cardiopulmonary failure caused by cutting weightSanctioned
7. Donshay WhiteJuly 16, 2017Hypertensive heart diseaseSanctioned
8. Rondel ClarkAugust 15, 2017Rhabdomyolysis caused by cutting weightSanctioned
9. Mateus FernandesMarch 30, 2019Cardiac ArrestSanctioned
10. Saeideh AletahaNovember 16, 2019Subdural hemorrhageSanctioned
11. Lucas Gabriel PeresSeptember 18, 2021Head traumaSanctioned
12. Justin Ray ThorntonOctober 4, 2021UndisclosedSanctioned
13. Christian LubengaMarch 14 , 2022Subdural hemorrhageSanctioned
14. Alfredo Castro HerreraApril 14, 1981UnknownUnsanctioned
15. Douglas DedgeMarch 18, 1998Traumatic brain injuryUnsanctioned
16. LeeMay 12, 2005Cardiac ArrestUnsanctioned
17. Mike MittelmeierApril 27, 2012Cerebral hemorrhageUnsanctioned
18. Duston JensonMay 24, 2012Subdural hemorrhageUnsanctioned
19. Felix Pablo ElochukwuApril 7, 2013UndisclosedUnsanctioned
20. Ramin ZeynalovMarch, 2015Brain hemorrhageUnsanctioned
21. Jameston Lee-LawApril, 2015Kidney failure caused by cutting weightUnsanctioned
22. João CarvalhoApril 13, 2016Subdural hemorrhageUnsanctioned
Table of all MMA fatalities

After seeing all of the MMA deaths in this table, it’s clear there are deaths in both sanctioned and unsanctioned events, suggesting due to the violent nature of the sport, there are times when deaths are unfortunate and unavoidable. 

However, with the information available, let’s look at how these fighters died and whether their deaths could’ve been avoided.

Sanctioned MMA Deaths

1. Sam Vasquez – Location: Houston, Texas, USA
After being knocked out, Sam Vasquez was rushed to a hospital where over the next few weeks he had surgeries to relieve the pressure of a large clot in his brain. Unfortunately, he fell into a coma shortly after and died of a subdural hemorrhage.

The fight was sanctioned and overseen by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and there’s nothing more they could do to prevent this death as he was taken care of immediately after the fight and rushed to the hospital where he stayed until his death.

2. Michael Kirkham – Location: King MMA, Aiken, South Carolina, USA
Michael Kirkham lost by TKO in the first round of his professional debut. After the fight was stopped, he lost consciousness and never recovered. His death was noted as a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

There seems to have been nothing more they could do to prevent Michael’s death, as while the rules at the time had a minimum of 30 days before a fighter could have their next match, this TKO was 63 days after his first TKO loss; so he was fighting again after serving more than double the minimum suspension time.

After his death, the South Carolina Athletic Commission amended the rules so that fighter suspensions were 60 days for knockouts and 30 days for TKOs.

3. Tyrone Mims – Location: Conflict MMA, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA
Tyrone Mims lost his fight by TKO after complaining to the referee about fatigue in the second round and having the referee stop the bout. He told medical personnel he was fine, but later in the locker room, he complained of chest pains and soon after lost consciousness and never recovered.

The cause of death is a mystery to this day, and Tyrone had passed the pre-fight medicals with flying colors, seen joking and happy. There is nothing more that could’ve been done to prevent this death.

4. Leandro Souza – Location: Shooto Brazil 43, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Leandro died of a stroke after exiting a sauna and passing out. He was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. He was in the process of cutting weight for his upcoming fight in Shooto Brazil 43, where he was called in as a short-notice replacement and had to lose 33 pounds in one week to make weight; where he almost certainly would’ve missed weight.

Leandro’s death was avoidable, as he took 7 diuretic pills over Wednesday and Thursday, before eventually having a stroke on Friday before his weigh-in. Diuretics are banned in MMA, so his coaches shouldn’t have allowed him to take any, especially not so many.

Unfortunately, this was in 2013 when Brazilian promotions didn’t test MMA fighters for drugs pre-fight, so the diuretics and any other drugs, combined with the weight cutting, led to him having a stroke. 

Also, although Shooto Brazil was sanctioned, they couldn’t afford extensive pre-fight drug tests, which is clearly what needs fixing to avoid drug-related deaths.

He also shouldn’t have been able to accept a fight, being so much above the weight limit just one week out; the commission should have rejected him as a replacement and his death could’ve been avoided.

5. Booto Guylain – Location: EFC Africa 27, Johannesburg, South Africa
Booto sustained a head injury in the third round of his TKO loss in South Africa and died in hospital from brain swelling a week after his fight. 

There’s nothing more the Extreme Fighting Championship Africa promotion could’ve done, as Booto was taken care of and immediately taken to hospital after the fight.

6. Yang Jian Bing – Location: One FC, Pasay, Philippines
Yang Jian Bing was rushed to the hospital the day before his weigh-in, after suffering a stroke due to severe dehydration caused by cutting weight. He later died in hospital, with his death described as a cardiopulmonary failure.

It’s hard to say One FC could’ve done more, but fighters in promotions outside of the UFC don’t have the same level of guidance and coaching, so it’s easier to make mistakes when cutting weight; which is why we see more complications from weight cutting outside of the UFC.

One FC took Yang’s death extremely seriously, and immediately responded by completely changing their weigh-in process just two weeks later.

Fighters in One FC now have to compete at their walk-around weight, and One FC makes sure this happens by weighing fighters throughout fight week and 3 hours before the event, while also testing fighters for urine-specific gravity, which are hydration tests. Any fighters failing these tests will be disqualified from fighting.

7. Donshay White – Location: Hardrock MMA 90, Louisville, Kentucky, USA
After his fight, Donshay collapsed backstage and was rushed to the hospital but died later that night. The cause of death was hypertensive heart disease, caused by high blood pressure, which the fight made worse. He wasn’t on any prescribed medication.

The event was sanctioned by the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission, and there was medical personnel on-site to administer treatment and transport Donshay to the hospital.

However, if he had high blood pressure, this should’ve been picked up in his pre-fight medicals and he shouldn’t have been allowed to fight. Therefore this was a preventable death and the commission is at fault.

8. Rondel Clark – Location: Cage Titans XXXV, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Rondel Clark lost via TKO in the third round after looking exhausted and not defending himself. After the fight, he had difficulty breathing and was sent immediately to the hospital, where he died three days later. 

The cause of death was rhabdomyolysis, which is the rapid breakdown of muscle tissue, caused by physical overexertion and dehydration or kidney failure.

This is an avoidable MMA death caused by extreme weight cutting, which should have more rules and regulations introduced to tackle the issue. 

The California State Athletic Commission has been the first to implement rules concerning weight cutting, which means a fighter can’t weigh in on fight day more than 15% of their pre-fight day weigh-in – if they do, the fight is canceled.

9. Mateus Fernandes – Location: Remulus Fight Contest, Manaus, Brazil
Mateus lost by TKO in the third round of his fight and had seizures before being transported to the hospital. While there, he suffered four heart attacks and died from cardiac arrest.

Although the Amazonas Athletic Commission made the event safe by having transport and medical staff on hand, Mateus’ death was avoidable as the post-mortem shows that he had drugs in his system, and had been taking drugs the night before his fight.

However, he passed his pre-fight blood exams and medicals, so these tests need to be more extensive. Also, Mateus was part of a program that helped people deal with drug addictions through martial arts, so they knew he had drug problems and shouldn’t have allowed him to fight.

10. Saeideh Aletaha – Location: Fast and Furious Fight Series, Southampton, England
Saeidah was knocked out in the third round of her fight, and after being treated by the paramedics, she was allowed to go to the toilet alone. She was soon found collapsed in the bathroom and rushed to the hospital where she died the next day from a subdural hemorrhage.

It was said during the trial her opponent was much larger, but the promotion argued both women weighed the same. Much worse is the fact that only 2 medical personnel were at the event, meaning Saeideh went to the toilet alone as the paramedics who treated her had to return ringside. 

Before this, the medics said she was fully conscious and wanted to leave 10 minutes after she was given medical treatment.

To fix this, more paramedics are needed and injured fighters should be watched over for longer periods before they’re left alone, even if the fighter believes they’re fine.

However, smaller MMA promotions don’t have the resources to have more than a handful of paramedics, so it’s likely to cause further problems in the future; unless commissions make it a legal requirement to have a minimum amount.

11. Lucas Gabriel Peres – Location: K1, Maringa, Brazil
Lucas seemed fine after his MMA bout in K1 Brazil, but after arriving home and experiencing headaches, he was rushed to the hospital, where he died a week later as a result of head trauma.

His death is unfortunate, and there’s not much more the promotion or commission of the event could’ve done to prevent his death.

12. Justin Ray Thornton – Location: BKFC, Biloxi, Mississippi, US
Justin was knocked out just 18 seconds into his fight at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. He was rushed to the hospital and spent the next 2 weeks there, before passing away. The cause of death is undisclosed but it’s likely a brain bleed.

Another unfortunate death, Justin was a veteran of the sport and had competed in 24 MMA bouts prior to this. Overall, there isn’t anything else that could’ve prevented what happened.

13. Christian Lubenga – Location: AMMO Fight League, West Springfield, Massachusetts, USA
Christian was knocked out in the third round of his amateur MMA debut in AMMO Fight League. He made a recovery after the knockout but later reported feeling unwell, and was taken to the hospital where he died two days later of a subdural hemorrhage.

Nothing more could be done to prevent Christian’s unfortunate death.

Unsanctioned MMA Deaths

14. Alfredo Castro Herrera – Location: Tijuana, Mexico, 
In 1981, Alfredo died at just 15 years of age, after being knocked out by his opponent, Angel Luis Rodriguez. The cause of his death is unknown, likely covered up because he died at an unsanctioned event.

This is avoidable by only fighting in sanctioned events that have paramedics and transport readily available for injured fighters. Also, there should have been a minimum age limit for MMA fights, as in the United States fighters have to be a minimum of 18 years old to fight in sanctioned events.

15. Douglas Dedge – Location: World Supreme Challenge, Kyiv, Ukraine
In 1998, Douglas died at an unsanctioned MMA event in Kyiv, Ukraine. He lost by tapping to strikes and immediately fell back to the mat after trying to stand. He was rushed to the hospital but died two days later due to traumatic brain injuries.

It’s reported that Douglas had passed out before a training session in the run-up to his fight and it’s believed he had a pre-existing medical condition. This means his death was avoidable as this should’ve been known by the promotions and coaches and he shouldn’t have been allowed to fight.

Had it been a regulated MMA event, it would’ve been caught by the commission of the event in the pre-fight medicals; which shows why regulated events are necessary for avoiding MMA deaths.

16. Lee – Location: Samsong-dong, South Korea
In 2005, Lee died after being knocked out by an unknown opponent in an unsanctioned MMA event in a South Korean sports bar; where he died of a heart attack.

His death was avoidable as the event didn’t conduct any pre-fight medical exams, and it’s unknown whether they had paramedics or transport available. The fight shouldn’t have taken place.

17. Mike Mittelmeier – Location: Bolivia
Mike was on the receiving end of an illegal kick to his face and won the fight as his opponent was disqualified. He wasn’t knocked out, but shortly after being declared the winner, he collapsed. From there he went into a coma, where he never recovered and died due to a cerebral hemorrhage.

Mike’s death was completely avoidable, as there were no medical staff or available transport at the event. It’s on fighters, coaches, events, and the commissions to make sure there are always medics and transport at an event, otherwise fighting should not be taking place.

18. Dustin Jenson – Location: Ringwars, Rapid City, South Dakota, USA
Dustin seemed fine after he lost by tapout, and continued to watch two fights after his own. Later though, he suffered from a seizure in the locker room. He was taken to the hospital on time but died a week later due to a subdural hemorrhage.

Dustin didn’t appear to take too much damage during his fight, and all necessary health precautions were met. However, Dustin was an amateur MMA fighter and had 4 fights in 4 months, which means he was over-fighting. 

As this was in 2012, there were no suspension rules for amateur MMA, which if there were, he wouldn’t have had his last two fights; as he was badly knocked out on February 24, less than three months before he fought another two times and died.

This means his death was avoidable, and it was one of the factors leading to the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) introducing amateur MMA rules in 2014; which would’ve saved Dustin’s life. The rules state a minimum suspension of 90 days for amateur MMA fighters that have been knocked out.

19. Felix Pablo Elochukwu – Location: Amateur Fighting Club, Port Huron, Michigan, USA
Felix lost his fight via a third-round TKO and appeared fine until he made his way to the locker room, where he said he felt exhausted, and soon collapsed. He stopped breathing after drifting in and out of consciousness and died before the emergency services arrived.

His death was avoidable as there were a whole host of problems. First, there were no pre-fight medicals taken. Second, there were no medics at the event and it took a first responder from the crowd to give him medical attention.

Thirdly, as there was no transport available, it was 40 minutes before the emergency services arrived at the event. Fourth, the first responder from the crowd believed that if a defibrillator was at the event, Felix would’ve survived. Lastly, there was also the concern about the competency of everyone involved, which is a given considering it was an unsanctioned event.

After Felix’s death, the state of Michigan quickly brought in regulation for MMA in 2013, where beforehand it was legal but unregulated. Regulation would’ve meant Felix had a much higher chance of survival.

20. Ramin Zeynalov – Location: Amateur National Tournament, Azerbaijan
Ramin was knocked out during his fight after he was taken down and his head hit the canvas hard. Medics at the event tried to revive Ramin but were never able to, so he was soon taken to the hospital. It was revealed that he’d died of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Ramin’s death was unavoidable, and there isn’t anything more the event could have done to prevent it. However, as it was an unsanctioned event, the fighters are fighting with less than adequate precautions.

21. Jameston Lee-Law – Location: Brawl at the Mall, Aberdeen, Washington, USA
Jameston was 47 when he had trouble breathing after his fight and was quickly transported to the hospital, where he died a few days later. His death was caused by kidney failure, and although it’s reported as being unknown how this happened, it’s obviously caused by weight cutting.

Jamestown passed his pre-medical with flying colors, suggesting the safety was adequate. However, as he was 47 years old, his kidneys couldn’t handle the brutality of a weight cut, and an upper age limit should be incorporated into the Official Unified Rules of MMA, as well as in amateur MMA.

22. João Carvalho – Location: Total Extreme Fighting, Dublin, Ireland
The fight was called off in the third round after João looked exhausted and wasn’t defending himself. He was fine and even talking post-fight to his opponent, but then started to lose consciousness in the medical room after a ten-minute lucid interval.

Medical personnel for the event was supplied by a private company, which had complications in getting João to the hospital. They had trouble getting him out of the tight corridors and had to leave him on the floor of the ambulance because of time concerns.

There was also then confusion about which hospital to go to, taking him to the wrong hospital at first, before he died at the second one, two days later due to a subdural hemorrhage.

The Total Extreme Fighting event, like all MMA in Ireland, was overseen by the Irish MMA Association, which is not connected to any government body. Despite all this, the court ruled his death as death by misadventure, which is a common ruling in the UK that says the fighter knew the risks of MMA and willingly participated.

It could be argued either way, but there isn’t information on whether pre-medicals and other safety measures occurred. However, his death prompted the Irish government to start regulating MMA immediately, which goes to show more could’ve been done in the first place to prevent deaths like this from happening.

Are MMA Deaths and UFC Deaths Preventable?

MMA deaths and UFC deaths are preventable, up to a certain extent. 

Unsanctioned fights
Despite the number of deaths in sanctioned and unsanctioned fights being similar, it’s clear unsanctioned fights are not safe and should be avoided if fighter safety is a priority.

It’s possible many of the deaths in unsanctioned fights were avoidable if proper safety precautions and regulations were met.

However, even with MMA being increasingly legalized and regulated across the globe, all of the most recent MMA deaths were from sanctioned fights, meaning no matter how safe a fight is, preventing MMA deaths isn’t 100% possible. 

At least with regulation, fighters know the risks and that the best procedures have been taken to look after their safety.

Cutting weight
Along with increased regulation, cutting weight would also become safer as a result. However, a fighter has to look after themselves when cutting weight, which means they need a good coach and team around them during fight week. 

This is harder for amateur and lower-league professionals who can’t afford all the extra help, so weight-cutting is likely to cause further complications down the road.

To prevent weight-cutting deaths, MMA promotions could follow the example set by One FC, in completely removing weight-cutting from the sport of MMA. 

This seems very unlikely to happen though, seeing how engrained weight cutting is in the sport of MMA and how the UFC hasn’t had any deaths caused by weight cutting (they’ve had plenty of problems with it though).

However, as mentioned before, the California State Athletic Commission has been the first to implement rules concerning weight cutting, meaning a fighter can’t weigh in on fight day more than 15% of their pre-fight day weigh-in – if they do, the fight is canceled.

If there’s a death in the UFC caused by weight-cutting issues, states would soon follow California in updating rules – or possibly banish weight-cutting from MMA by updating the Official Unified Rules of MMA.

Brain bleed detection
Most MMA deaths were caused by brain bleeds, which can be hard to detect, as fighters go through a symptom-free stage known as a lucid interval. If they were receiving medical care during this stage, they’re at a much higher chance of survival.

Although not yet widespread, a device known as an infrascanner is being used at the biggest MMA and boxing events, as it’s able to detect brain bleeds early.

However, the device costs $12,000 per unit, so they’ll only be used by the biggest MMA promotions such as the UFC until the costs come down, or laws are passed requiring all sanctioned MMA events to have a compulsory infrascanner.

Even then, the UFC is only using infrascanners at events sanctioned by the California State Athletic Commission. Therefore, it’s impossible for events that can’t even afford to have medics on-site to afford a $12,000 infrascanner.

Ultimately, it’s no coincidence there are yet to be any UFC deaths. All of their events are fully regulated and they have fighter safety as their highest priority, as they know the consequences if a fighter were to die; which is the reason there are many doctor stoppages in the UFC.

They also have the funds for the best of everything, with it looking likely they’ll use the infrascanner at more events in the near term.

Despite all of this, UFC deaths aren’t 100% preventable and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a UFC death, due to the nature of the sport.

MMA Deaths – The Bottom Line

Overall, decreasing the chance of MMA deaths can happen if unsanctioned events are either avoided or made sure to have necessary procedures in place to protect fighters; such as an adequate amount of competent medics, available transport, pre-fight medicals, and fair matchmaking.

Sadly, having the necessary procedures and safety measures come down to money, because smaller promotions and unsanctioned events are looking to make a profit, and spending money on fighter safety isn’t high on their list of priorities.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the lawmakers in each country to regulate MMA and make it as safe as possible for everyone partaking in the sport; and it shouldn’t take more deaths before actions are taken.

Even then, if fighter safety is as good as it can be, there will still be MMA deaths because of the nature of the sport.

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