Even in the briefest of conversations, it becomes rather apparent that John Kavanagh has a different way of approaching the sport of mixed martial arts than most coaches.
It was Kavanagh, after all, who popularized the idea of (or at least the phrase) "updating the software without damaging the hardware" in reference to the training habits of his star pupil, #ConorMcGregor -- a methodology that lies in stark contrast to the "iron sharpens iron" style of brutal sparring that so many fight camps still like to tout to this day.
Clearly, something's working. McGregor has not only been one of the most active fighters in the UFC since joining the organization's ranks back in 2013 (having fought 10 times to date) but also one of the winningest. And while camps like American Kickboxing Academy and Nova Uniao continue to be plagued by an almost comical level of training-related injuries and subsequent withdrawals from fights, Kavanagh's SBG gym is stacking cards 10+ fighters deep.
Kavanagh's safety-first approach toward his fighters health has always reached beyond the Octagon, but it wasn't until the tragic death of Joao Carvalho at the hands of SBG fighter Charlie Ward in April that he truly began to make a change. After signing on as the President of the Irish Mixed Martial Arts Association (IMMAA), Kavanagh worked with coaches, gyms, and UK-based promotions like BAMMA to help make pre and post-fight brain scans and bi-annual blood-testing common practice, a standard that has now become mandatory for all MMA events held in Ireland.
According to Irish publication the Combat Docket, the efforts of Kavanagh and the IMMAA are already making a resounding impact that exceeds even that of more established sports like soccer, citing a recent event where "fighters were not allowed fight on the night due to a failure to produce mandatory blood samples that cleared them to fight."
"The event's safety standards 'far exceeded anything that was done on professional shows' previously," wrote the Docket.
And Kavanagh isn't stopping there. Taking to Facebook this morning, Kavanagh announced his intentions to make one-off brain scans a mandatory requirement for all fighters representing his gym moving forward.
For 2017 ALL SBG fighters, both amateur and professional will be getting a one off brain scan to make sure there’s no underlying issues that would preclude them from competing. It is not yet a requirement to get this done to compete on shows but it will be a requirement to represent SBG.
Take 100 random people and scan them and a small percentage will have an issue that would stop them competing. This is not from training in MMA, or any other sport but could be genetic or from some illness when young. Either way we’re lucky in Ireland that SAFE MMA Ireland have secured scans for just €150 to give athletes peace of mind they are clear for training/competing.
I would strongly advise all Irish based fighters, Pro or Am to take advantage of this great offer. Details can be found here.
It's an undoubtedly smart move by Kavanagh, and perhaps because of it, one that you can't help but feel a little bitter about when looking at the bigger picture. The fact is that these kind of innovations are ones that will continue to come at the expense of the fighters, rather than the promotions, as long as they continue to go unaddressed by the latter, or the athletic commissions seemingly too caught up in the intricacies of the average fighter's sex life to tackle the larger, overarching issues facing the vast majority.
But lo, there is hope. Last week, it was revealed that handheld brain scanners first approved by the FDA in 2013 might be making their way to MMA in an effort to detect potentially life-threatening injuries in real-time.
Dubbed, I kid you not, the Infrascanner 2000, this brick-sized device manages to track and diagnose afflictions like brain bleed by "beaming near-infrared light into the brain and then measuring how much of that light is absorbed, "according to BloodyElbow.
"The brain by definition is a symmetrical unit so the right side equals the left side, it’s not completely symmetrical but the components we’re looking for are symmetrical,” said Roy Bachrach, a former paramedic and current Vice President of Business Development for InfraScan, the makers of Infrascanner 2000.
“What we’re doing is comparing the left side of the brain to the right side of the brain, in the same location, and checking for a difference."
Although the device currently sells for roughly $12,000-$15,000 a unit, it has already been purchased by branches of the army, NFL teams, the Russian Martial Arts Association, and even The Blackzilians training camp. Additionally, the device also recently caught the attention of California State Athletic Commission commissioner Andy Foster, who told reporters that the device would be on hand at last weekend's UFC on FOX: Waterson vs. VanZant event.
"If there’s a piece of technology that exists out there that we can use to improve fighter safety, I think to be good stewards of the money, we should use it so that we’re able to protect the fighters," said Foster.
One would imagine that it won't be long before such a technology receives Kavanagh's ringing endorsement.