As the early part of this week unfolded, my social media timelines were still basking in the afterglow of the successful Bellator 217 card in Dublin.
Many of the winners had some iconic imagery to take with them on their journeys forward. The losers, as is often the case in MMA, took their losses on the chin and were forensically searching for learning cues.
For a guy like me it opened up plenty of potential storylines to go chasing down. Not to mention the fact that there is an exciting Clan Wars card on this weekend and Cage Warriors 102 in London. But as is often the case, my brain had a different path it wanted to travel.
From the moment Ian Cleary stepped into the Cage last Saturday night in the 3 Arena, I have had a fighter on my mind. A fighter who wasn’t fighting. A fighter who according to science should never fight again.
Micky Doran was scheduled to make his professional debut against Ian Cleary last Saturday night.
Instead he probably spent at least part of the night flicking between Sky Sports and a photograph of his brain. You see one month ago Micky Doran discovered he has a brain injury but like many things in life it’s not as simple as that.
” I was sitting drinking a coffee with my partner Laura and the boy (Sports Medics N.I.) that did the MRI gave me a call, saying it came back with an abnormality. I thought it might be a concussion. I had been sparring hard out in Liverpool. I was fucking gutted coz I knew they wouldn’t let me fight with a concussion.”
It wasn’t a concussion. In fact evidence of a concussion would have been a godsend as things turned out.
” Safe MMA got me fast-tracked into see Professor Dan Healy. I am grateful for that as it would have taken months to get into see him. When I got down to see Prof. Healy he showed me how much of my brain was missing and explained it all to me. It was like a chunk missing. He said you won’t be able to compete again. I said “You mean in Bellator’ and he said no ever again
The way he explained it, he compared it to being in like a significant car crash “
It is important to note at this point that Micky is still processing the news, I mean it has been little over a month since his world has been turned upside down. At times our discussion is what I would describe as a ‘Thinking out loud’ session. The two of us exploring different possible options for him. Asking questions neither of us know the exact answer to. Exploring ideas, that kind of thing.
Maybe in two weeks or two months Micky will have exhausted every avenue open to him and forget about fighting again. Or maybe he will find a solution. However at the moment in time that we spoke he most definitely hadn’t given up completely on the dream of walking back into a cage again.
” The bit of my brain that’s missing, is likely to have been like that from birth or close to it based on the scarring tissue on or around it. So it is not like it is an injury that is directly related to fighting. Fuck it I have had 30 odd fights in and out of competition Like! not to mention the amount of sparring I’ve done”
This is not a case of an athlete refusing to accept the evidence that is staring him in the face. On the contrary he full accepts the findings and understands why the medical advice would be for him to never fight again. However Micky’s point is a valid one. He has been training and fighting all his life. Part of that lifestyle is receiving a certain amount of trauma to the head. Is he to believe now, as a result of this scan, that now all of a sudden he is one punch away from significant brain injury?. Isn’t every fighter just one significant trauma to the head away from Brain Injury?
” I have had mothers writing to me about their sons who are doing boxing. Asking should they pull them out all I can say is that I have probably had this from birth or early childhood and it is not related to fighting ”
The response to Micky Doran’s MRI results have astounded him. Hundreds of people getting in touch, wishing him well. Ian Cleary, the guy he was to fight on Bellator 217 reached out, another he namechecks is Richard Kiely. Many other fighters as well. People he doesn’t necessarily know very well messaging him their support.
In as far as I can tell about these things, Micky Doran is hugely popular. And I mean genuinely. Popular is a word that gets bandied around in sports and by writers. Gets bandied around a lot in funerals too. You know a parish priest standing on an altar explaining how popular the deceased was, while the congregation are quietly advising the gravediggers that it might be no harm to bury the fucker an extra foot down.
People like Micky Doran are the reason the Irish had to invent a word like ‘Craic’
We covered Clan Wars 33 at the tail end of 2018 where Micky was fighting on the main card. The place nearly exploded when he walked into the cage. The feelings and general good will toward Micky isn’t fake. Even as he speaks about this whole experience he is unable to contain what seems to be his natural exuberance and humour.
” The bit that is missing from my brain, I can’t believe I’m saying this haha, is the area that controls aggressiveness. So where some people might second guess themselves in certain situations – I would be the opposite. I would just fucking hit the boy. Boxing and MMA have helped take away that from me. It gave me a focus. MMA filled the bit of my brain that is missing ”
The struggle throughout the conversation is what the path ahead should be. Micky isn’t hellbent on ignoring medical advice. His partner Laura and he are expecting a baby girl in the very near future. There is a lot that is massively positive going on in his life.
My curiosity is drawn back to the medical side of things again. How do they explain all the head trauma received to date as a combat sports athlete. How it has seemingly done no negative or discernable damage to him or his behaviour. Is he being treated on an ongoing basis?. Is he on medication?
“No it’s not something that needs treatment. Say if I was born with this right. I have taken a lot of trauma to the head. I don’t think that I’ve changed. It is not one of those things that will get worse. It could get worse if I get anymore trauma to the head. It is not a condition I have or anything. It’s not getting worse and it’s not getting better and that’s the way it is. Jesus Christ there is only me this could happen to! “
It had been a roller-coaster few months for Micky on the fight scene in the 6 months before he got those MRI results. He had signed with BAMMA during the summer and was scheduled to fight on their December card. BAMMA then kind of disappeared and he was left in limbo a bit. He fought that fight on Clan Wars 33 and had a split decision loss. Then Bellator came in unexpectedly and signed him. Ups and downs.
” I had signed with BAMMA in the Summer. Then that fell through. I honestly thought Paul Mc (his Coach) was only saying these things (about Bellator) to keep me training over Christmas so I wouldn’t turn into a fat fucker ya know!
I think Bellator just came in with a name. Ian Cleary. Have you any any Bantamweights. Paul asked me and I said Fucking for sure! “
So all in all it has been quite the rollercoaster ride. We spoke about getting second opinions. Not because he doesn’t believe the results of the first but to kind of confirm that this injury or abnormality isn’t something that is related to his fight career. That it goes way further back than that.
” Yes, yes that is exactly what I have been looking for. But then again will the promotions take the risk. Look at Nick Newell he’s fighting with one arm. He is far more likely to get a brain injury than me I feel”
I asked him had he come across anyone that had a similiar injury to himself; an athlete with a similiar story, but the answer is No. Athletes that have had brain irregularities have been in touch though.
“Ryan Burnett and Paul McBain have reached out to me but both are different. I think Ryan’s was to do with the flow in his brain. Paul McBain failed an MRI for a fight in Dublin but was able to fight in the UK on Cage Warriors I think.
See if I didn’t get that Brain scan I would have been fighting on, knowing no different. I am for brain scans and against brain scans at the same time!. Sometimes I am about 60/40 I am glad I got the brain scan done and it stopped something bad happening to me. And sometimes I’m like for fucks sake it’s stopped me from doing something I love. It’s one of them things”
At the end of the day it will be up to the promotions as to whether Micky can ever fight again. As to whether they will take the risk is a question neither of us can answer.
” Don’t get me wrong now. MRI’s and all that are good, but parts of MMA are starting to turn MMA fighters into ballerinas with this no-headshot rule and stuff like that. The way I look at MMA (senior) everyone goes in and if you get hurt you get hurt. Sign a waiver; at the end of the day Everyone knows what they are getting into here.”
Micky had put everything into the opportunity Bellator had laid out for him. His day job was concreting. He quit that. He had been over in Liverpool for heavy sparring as part of his fight camp. No stone was being left unturned. He had one shot and he was determined to take it. Dreams cost money and he didn’t shy away from paying the price. I can only imagine how hard it must be to have your whole career stop so suddenly. Athletes have a hard time retiring at the best of times. In Micky’s case stopping so abruptly must be a complete torture. A torture that is likely to continue for sometime to come.
” Sometimes I forget it actually happened and I catch myself!. I start saying to myself I need to get back to the gym next week and start training and fighting…and then I go ‘Oh that’s right I can’t because I have a chunk missing from my head’ …”
Again we need to keep in mind that he only received this news a little over 4 weeks ago. The advice is that he can try other sports that don’t involve receiving head trauma but as we discuss those kind of options you can tell it is not something that sets his heart aflame. He is to sit to down with his team and coach in IFS but has been finding it difficult to make the journey to the gym – it’s a reminder of all the things he is missing.
Today as I was reflecting on our chat I couldn’t help thinking he would be a great man to front an MMA promotion, he has that natural ease in talking to strangers, in drawing you in. In telling you what he thinks without insulting you and at the same time giving you laugh. But that is merely an aside.
Regardless of whether Micky fights again or doesn’t fight again I think it would be an absolute crime if he was lost to the sport.
I hope the sport finds a way to keep him.
Some Photographs courtesy of William G Strain – click here for about William