June 30, 2010

Mixed Martial Arts: The Staph Infection Conspiracy Theory

My article on pets and inheritance wasn't as well received as I'd hoped, but I with this post I'll get back to my bread and butter, skepticism. I'm going to have to bring in a topic that I haven't talked about much, but does take up quite a few nights of my life. I'm Steve and I'm an MMA junkie. The bustling blog audience, 'Hi Steve'. I haven't missed watching a UFC or Strikeforce event in quite a while and try to watch the big fights from both Dream and Bellator. So when I learned about the Matt Hamill vs Keith Jardine conspiracy I knew that it would be something I would blog about.

Now for those of you unlucky enough to have missed the fight it can be viewed from this link. It's pretty long, 23 minutes, so if your of a more genteel nature you can just look at the picture at the top. I am the first to admit that I am not a medical doctor, and spent most of the fight wondering what the heck that red spot Matt Hamill's back was. After reading the reports and listening to the post fight conference, I learned that it was a hardened red boil that resulted from having a staph infection. This is what Medicine.net had to say about staph infections, staph infection is a potentially very bad, but it can also be mild and require no treatment. It goes on to say that there are,

"Over 30 different types of Staphylococci can infect humans, but most infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococci can be found normally in the nose and on the skin (and less commonly in other locations) of 25%-30% of healthy adults. In the majority of cases, the bacteria do not cause disease. However, damage to the skin or other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection."

So that's a brief general overview of what staph infection is, and that boil was looked at by 3 doctors. Kevin Iole noted in his mailbag that those three doctors were, "Matt Hamill's personal doctor, Dr. Vicki Mazzorana of the NSAC and Dr. Jeff Davidson, who works for the UFC. All three cleared him to fight and said he posed no risk. The scab was hard and the doctors said that even if it had come off during the fight, there was no chance of it affecting Jardine."

Which is fairly consistent with Medicine.net saying that, "In cases of minor skin infections, Staphylococcal infections are commonly diagnosed by their appearance without the need for laboratory testing." So I don't get the impression that staph is terribly hard to diagnose, and three doctors confirmed that Matt had a non-infectious staff infection that posed no threat to anyone.

Yet there is a growing opinion on the internet from MMA Junkie, MMA Convert, and Fight Opinion that allowing Matt Hamil to fight was a poor Medical decision. Fight opinion starts right off by noting that after the fight Matt Hamil was going to start taking antibiotics for treatment of the staph and asking why does Matt need antibiotics if the staff is healed. Well the implication may not be as bad as it seems. Medicine.net says that, "Minor skin infections are usually treated with an antibiotic ointment such as a nonprescription triple-antibiotic mixture. In some cases, oral antibiotics may be given for skin infections. Additionally, if abscesses are present, they are surgically drained." So it could be just a minor infection that was going to get some nonprescription cream on it.

Then Fight Opinion spends a long time talking about Vicki Mazzorana, and how she had a clinic temporary closed for violations, a violation of no sterilizing a machine in particular. From this the Zack Arnold of fight opinion seems to imply that because she once was guilty of providing a realm for infection, that she would do so again. Although he could just be saying that she has been guilty of poor decisions and practice in the past, if so then fine, but Matt Hamil was also looked at by two other doctors that confirmed her opinion.

To argue that letting Matt Hamil fight was a poor medical decision is an understandable position, understandable, but I think wrong. It is hard to diagnose people from afar, and three doctors that were able to form a real diagnoses all agreed that the staph infection posed no threat to anyone. To say that Matt should have been sent to a dermatologist is reasonable, and it would have added some comfort to the decision, but it wasn't deemed necessary by everyone who had the most information about what was going on.

I'll take those 3 confirmed opinions over the speculation of people Dr. Johnny 'The Fight Doc' Benjamin.  Yet, the semi-reasonable opinions of questioning the medical decision has lead to some people like Eddie Goldman on his radio show saying that, "Fighter safety is being thrown out the window by these crazy commissions who are working to please the promoters rather than protect the fighters." and people asking questions like this to Kevin Iole, "It was obvious that Matt “The Hammer” Hamill had a staph infection on Saturday when he fought Keith Jardine on 'The Ultimate Fighter Finale' in Las Vegas, yet he was still allowed to fight. Why did the Nevada Athletic Commission allow Matt to fight? Do you think the UFC had anything to do with it? Having Matt pull out of the fight would’ve been a huge blow. I really think this is unprofessional and dangerous to everyone who was in the cage or around it. This staph infection is really contagious. I don’t see why this issue isn’t getting a lot more attention. Everyone should be tested after the finale because of this screw-up."

Now these are the more untenable positions. That not only was there a poor medical decision being made, the poor medical decision was being made because the UFC wanted the co-main event of The Ultimate Fighter Final to go on. There is no evidence of this at all.

Not only is there no evidence, and it doesn't even make sense. If the staph was infectious the UFC would have came out looking horrible, because a UFC doctor also cleared Hamill. The UFC might have gotten 3 of its fighter infected with staph (2 now that Jardine has been cut), and one of those would have been The Ultimate Fighter Court Maggee, which is a pretty big loss. Also with the way blood was flying around in that fight, someone ringside could have been infected and that could have turned out to be a minor PR nightmare.On top of that all three doctors would be in risk of losing their medical licenses.

Also the UFC would have to count on no one it paid off coming out agianst them and stating what had happened. It just all adds up to having no value to anyone involved, the doctors or the UFC and there is no evidence for it. This conspiracy just lacks any plausibility.

Thanks for reading,
the moral skeptic


  1. Well, this comment is almost 3 yrs late, so probably no one's going to read it, but I agree 100% with your conclusion. I'm a MD, and you can't really make an opinion re: a skin infection based on a photo. You have to look at it firsthand - palpate the skin to see if there is any induration (abnormal firmness) to the surrounding tissue (which would indicate an ongoing, underlying infection) If the skin is not warm, tender, indurated and no blood or pus can be expressed, then we are probably looking at an infection that is already over, and the scab and redness are just evidence of a recent infection, not an active infection. Big difference.

  2. Fittingly, 4 years late, I appreciate your comment and thanks for sharing an opinion of an actual MD.