The Association of Boxing Commissions has issued a statement following the death of martial artist Justin Thornton.

On Tuesday, the ABC medical committee issued a statement to MMA Junkie, which condoned what it sees as common malpractices culturally embedded in the rising sport of bare-knuckle boxing. Among the perceived issues are the age and skill demographic of fighters commonly involved in American bare-knuckle events, as well as booking fighters returning from long periods of inactivity.

“Therefore, the Association of Boxing Commission’s Medical Committee is especially concerned that athletes competing in BKB may be at higher risks for acute and chronic injuries due to these and other factors,” the statement reads.

Thornton, 36, died Monday after being hospitalized. In August at Bare Knuckle FC 20, Thornton was reportedly paralyzed as a result of his 18-second knockout loss against Dillon Cleckler. As of Sept. 23, he was on a ventilator with a tracheotomy and IV drip. In a statement Tuesday, Cleckler stated Thornton died from pneumonia.

In July, the ABC established a committee to examine bare-knuckle boxing and provide suggestions pertaining to unified rules and other aspects of the sport as it develops in the U.S.

“Disturbingly, and despite our recommendations, some jurisdictions regulating these events are still not following the minimum medical guidelines set forth by the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) and the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP),” the statement reads. “More concerning is the fact that many commissions still do not require any imaging studies (CT scan or MRI scan) in a sport where individuals are at risk for acute and chronic head injuries.”

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Despite its efforts, the ABC only serves as a guiding body when it comes to bare-knuckle boxing, ABC president Mike Mazzulli explained Tuesday to MMA Junkie. He voiced disappointment in the unwillingness of promoters and regulatory bodies to use caution when licensing fighters and matchups – a sentiment he has openly shared to MMA Junkie and others in the past.

“Every state and tribal commission needs to address safety and the process to how they do it. The ABC is not here to tell you how to do it,” Mazzulli said. “We’re here to help you do it, but (this situation has been) really disappointing. … These guys are recycling these MMA fighters that shouldn’t be fighting any more. They will not pass tests to be an MMA fighter so they go to bare-knuckle boxing. … This is a fine example of what is wrong with bare-knuckle boxing and what they are doing to these fighters. It bothers me. We talk about fighter safety and protecting the fighter at all costs. … This has got to stop.”

As a result of Thornton’s death, the ABC reiterated its stance and recommended “enhanced screening of individuals considering participation in such events,” which includes additional medical testing not currently required.

“Given the limited data regarding the medical risks of (bare-knuckle boxing), the ABC medical committee implores commissions who are considering licensing these events to proceed with caution,” the statement read. “Furthermore, we encourage those jurisdictions who are still deficient in these minimum medical recommendations and guidelines to immediately update and revise their requirements to include a CT scan, MRI scan and/or neurological clearance performed by a board certified neurologist prior to clearing a fighter to compete.”

You can read the ABC’s full statement here.


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