06-02-2012, 12:40 PM
WEC For Life
Join Date: Jun 2009
Fighter's recent paralysis underscores dangers of standing guillotines
When I received the e-mail that a young fighter in Sacramento, Calif., recently had been paralyzed during sparring, my stomach got that familiar knot.
In mid-May, Devin Johnson, a 22-year-old MMA athlete, suffered a cervical spine (neck) fracture and spinal-cord injury leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Apparently, he was attempting to escape a guillotine choke during a training session when this terrible accident occurred.
Every time I see a standing guillotine choke with the legs wrapped and an adult being suspended in mid-air by some unlucky soul's neck, I become nervous. Over my career, I've seen too many young people, usually men, have their lives turned inside out in one brief moment.
I see the person struggling to get free and literally yell at the TV screen: "Don't try to slam them!" Attempting to slam one's way out of a standing guillotine choke rarely works and usually only hastens the end by sinking the choke in even deeper. But my concern really has little to do with getting choked out and everything to do with the potential catastrophic injury that may ensue.
The C4-5 fracture dislocation that Johnson experienced is exactly the type of cervical injury I would expect with such an attempted escape from a standing guillotine choke. I do not know if a slam was involved in this particular case or not.
The combination of a person cranking your neck violently forward and adding their suspended body weight can be disastrous. The ligaments in the back of the neck and the bony structure (facet joints) can tear and break. Once these structures fail, it allows one vertebral body (neck bone) to abnormally shift forward on the next vertebral body, pinching the spinal cord in between. A fighter attempting to escape the standing guillotine by slamming his opponent only serves to dramatically increase these dangerous forces being applied to the neck.
My suggestions to enhance fighter safety when caught in a standing guillotine:
NEVER try to slam your way free.
Sparring should not be full contact and submission. What is the benefit of choking out someone in sparring? Gym rules should REQUIRE tapping when a submission is deep with little chance of escape. The fighter in the dominant position should release the hold and go back to working on improving. If someone goes to sleep during sparring, both fighters should be punished. One for not tapping and the other for not releasing. It's not worth the risk.
The fighter applying the submission should count aloud for five seconds, and if the opposing fighter cannot escape, release the hold and go back to working. (Remember: slamming or collapsing to the ground from the choke potentially creates the same forces across the neck.)
My thoughts and prayers go out to Devin Johnson that he may have the strength to endure the difficult road ahead.
I also include in my prayers the family of Dustin Jenson of South Dakota. Jenson died after being submitted with a triangle choke. A few hours later, he lost consciousness, seized and did not regain consciousness after an operation to relieve swelling on his brain. Mr. Jenson was only 26 years old with a wife and lovely young daughter.
MMA is a relatively safe sport – but certainly not one without risk.