Eyewitnesses Speak on Fighter’s Death; Commission Launches Investigation

By Mike Sloan Jun 30, 2010
The South Carolina Athletic Commission and Aiken County Coroner’s Office have both launched separate investigations into the death of Michael Kirkham, who was injured in his first pro bout last Saturday at the the USC Aiken Convocation Center in Aiken, S.C., and was pronounced dead at nearby Aiken Regional Medical Center two days later.

An autopsy report released Tuesday said that Kirkham had died from “a subarachnoid hemorrhage of the brain due to injuries and blows to the head that he received” during the bout, acccording to WLTX.com.

The event, co-promoted by King MMA and Dash Entertainment, was sanctioned by the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA). Mixed martial arts became a regulated sport in South Carolina last summer. Fighters are required to submit to pre-fight physicals, eye exams and blood before bouts, said a statement released by the athletic commission on Tuesday.

Eyewitnesses told Sherdog.com that the lightweight bout, which pitted the 6-foot-9 Kirkham against Carlos Irabura, looked to be nothing out of the ordinary.

“It was the co-main event and it was the beginning of the first round,” said trainer and former World Combat League fighter Steve Dement, who was at the fight. “I think it was the first real exchange when Carlos landed four or five head punches while standing. Michael went down and Carlos went after him, in true MMA fashion, and probably landed three or four more punches from either side control or full mount. The ref stopped the fight then.”

However, the 30-year-old Kirkham, who carried a 3-3 amateur record into his first pro bout, did not respond to attempts to revive him.

“I thought it was a good stoppage and to be honest there was nothing unusual until that point,” said Dement. “The EMTs went in and evaluated him and were assisting his breathing. It wasn't good.”

Kirkham’s opponent, Irabura, was devastated by the turn of events, said his trainer Mark Greubel, of Greubel’s Mixed Martial Arts.

“The fight was real short,” said Greubel. “Carlos took Michael down and maintained mount, but Michael was trying to wall-walk up the cage. When he did so, he put his right hand on the ground to help push himself up and when he did, it left an opening for Carlos to throw a couple of shots. Carlos hit him with four or five shots and Michael was knocked out. After that, he laid there for a while and we just expected him to get back up like we’ve seen a thousand times before, but he just never did.

“Carlos was immediately concerned for Michael after he didn’t move for a few moments,” continued Greubel. “He was just pacing back and forth saying, ‘Oh man, I hope I didn’t hurt this guy, maybe I should have submitted him.’”

Greubel said that after a few moments, he leaned over the cage to check on the downed fighter, still motionless on the canvas and surrounded by medical personnel.

“I realized that Michael was having a real hard time breathing,” said Greubel. “It was several seconds between breaths and he was taking short gasps of breath. After a while I didn’t see his chest move at all. They put him on a stretcher and took him to the hospital.”

Greubel said his student Irabura is being consoled by family and friends, and received a call from former UFC champion Randy Couture, who lent his support.

“I’ve talked to Michael’s father and brother and they both said to me that they want Carlos to know that they don’t hold him liable at all and that Michael loved MMA and he’d never want to see the sport banned in any way,” said Greubel. “He knew the inherent risks of the fight and Michael’s dad was saying that he in no way wants Carlos to not fight again.”

The trainer said there were no signs that the promotion, commission, or sanctioning body couldn’t have done any more to try and assist Kirkham.

“I didn’t see any foul play whatsoever. I didn’t see any wrongdoing by the commission, the sanctioning body,” he said. “Everything I saw there was legit. It was in a great venue. We were all treated very well and in fact, it was the best venue I’ve ever taken my guys to.”

Kirkham reportedly has five kids and was about to get married. A fund to assist Kirkham’s family has been set up at www.MichaelKirkhamMemorialFund.viviti.com
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