clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

New Details Emerge in Wake of Michael Kirkham's Death

New, 18 comments

MMAFighting.com reports that Kirkham suffered a brutal loss just two months before his fatal bout:

"The guy beat the heck out of the back of Michael's head to the point where it was beet red," [Michael's father, Dennis] Kirkham told FanHouse. "The other fighter was warned two or three times by the referee."

Michael Kirkham lost that amateur fight in Columbia, S.C., on April 24 via a technical knockout, a bout he lamented on Facebook should have resulted in the disqualification of his opponent. Kirkham was given an automatic 30-day medical suspension for the TKO loss, but it doesn't appear that he followed up with a doctor.

Two days after the suspension ended, Kirkham -- known to his friends here in the Carolinas as "Tree" due to his 6-foot-9, 155-pound frame -- suffered a brain hemorrhage in his pro debut at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center on June 26. He died two days later at the age of 30.

"I told him he wasn't ready," Dennis Kirkham said. "He said, 'I'm fine, dad. I'm OK.'"

The fatality two months after that bout, in Kirkham's professional debut, may have been more than coincidence:

"This could have been second-impact syndrome," said Dr. Joe Estwanik, former medical advisor to the North Carolina Boxing Authority and author of "Sports Medicine for the Combat Artists." "From a few days to three-to-four weeks after somebody suffers a significant blow to the head, a second blow can trigger an overwhelming response by the body that we still don't really understand. Even a minor blow could result in massive swelling of the brain and there's up to a 50 percent chance of dying."

Dr. Robert C. Cantu, a leading researcher on second-impact syndrome, said a brain scan done after the first fight may have been able to detect a brain injury, but such tests run well north of $1,000. That was certainly out of reach for Kirkham, who owed thousands in child support and hadn't held a steady job in years.

He was slated to make about $300 for his bout with Carlos Iraburo...

Through all the court documents obtained by FanHouse, Kirkham listed "unemployed" under occupation. Brandon Patterson, an Indianapolis-based MMA promoter who Kirkham leaned on for advice, said Kirkham didn't see MMA as a way out of his financial troubles.

"He got into it because he loved it and was good at it," Patterson said. "His financial problems had nothing to do with why he got into the sport"...

An autopsy found that Kirkham died from subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain. Aiken County Coroner Tim Carlton, who was not present at the autopsy, said the report showed no indication of a prior injury. But Cantu, the neurosurgeon based at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., said such an injury would likely only turn up in a brain scan...

South Carolina approved MMA last year, although the state's athletic commission's requirements fall short of the benchmarks set by Nevada and California. According to the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians website, a full physical is not required to fight in the state, let alone an annual neurological exam that some other state commissions require...

In the end, much of the onus for a fighter's safety lies with the fighter, according to Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Keith Kizer.

"You rely on the fighter to tell you the truth," Kizer said.

On his entry form, Kirkham left blank a question that asked if he had ever been suspended in any state.

After the jump, more on Kirkham's life and his struggles outside the cage.

Friends said Kirkham was largely self-taught, reading MMA books and studying his favorite fighters, such as Chuck Liddell...

Kirkham, who moved from Illinois to North Carolina after high school to pursue his dream of starting up a band, cobbled together jobs here and there to make ends meet. He had a running feud with his ex-wife, who remained in Illinois and was due $10,584 in back child support as of July 2007, when a judge ordered Kirkham to pay $511 per month in child support for his two children.

"I don't believe it's right that I should have to pay child support on children that I am being denied contact with," Kirkham wrote to a judge in an effort to contest the amount of child support due. "I [have] been kept from having any involvement in their lives for the past three years"...

Kirkham left town with his girlfriend late last year to join one of his brothers in Gaston, S.C. He kept in constant contact with members of the Independents, helping set up various amateur bouts and traveling as far as Tennessee for matches...

It wasn't necessarily due to the dangers of the sport, but Dennis Kirkham had been doing his best to shift his son's focus away from MMA and onto a steady job.

"I kept trying to get him to quit," Kirkham said. "The simple fact he wasn't making any money and all his time was taken up training. I wanted him working construction to feed the kids."

His three children with his longtime girlfriend, including one infant, are in the process of relocating to Minnesota. The grieving process for the entire family is still in its early stages.

For those who trained and fought with Kirkham, he's more than a tragic MMA statistic.

"He got a whole lot of guys into [MMA] and he has inspired a lot of us to keep fighting," Moses Avery said. "No words could ever express the goodness Tree had in him."

A memorial fund for Kirkham's children has been established and contributions can be made at http://michaelkirkhammemorialfund.viviti.com/

UPDATE: Here is the video of the bout from April that Dennis Kirkham references.

D'Juan Owens -Amateur MMA Fight 4-24-2010 (via icunvme2005)