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HBO Real Sports unearths disproportionate rate of domestic violence in MMA

The amount of domestic violence arrests involving MMA fighters is more than double the average national rate, according to a study conducted by HBO Real Sports.

Public records research done by the show found that, per 100,000 U.S. men, there was a domestic violence arrest rate of 360. In that same sample, HBO Real Sports found 750 MMA fighters and 210 NFL players. There was no comparison listed between UFC fighters and NFL players, however.

The segment, which aired Tuesday, featured interviews with several prominent names in MMA and the first on-camera interview conducted with Christy Mack, who was allegedly beaten nearly to death by her ex-boyfriend, former UFC and Bellator fighter War Machine, last year.

Mack, a well-known adult-film actress, said the first time War Machine, whose birth name was Jonathan Koppenhaver, abused her was just four months into their relationship.

"I knew I should have left from the very beginning," Mack said. "But I don't always do the right thing."

That first alleged assault set off a pattern of behavior. Mack said Koppenhaver also raped her and then bragged about it on Twitter. She said that she could tell when he was on steroids and when he was not. When he was on them, Mack claimed, Koppenhaver had a higher sex drive and got more agitated. She said she witnessed him use steroids on multiple occasions.

Kendra Schnell, another ex-girlfriend of Koppenhaver, said he abused her as well. Schnell and Mack both said Koppenhaver used chokeholds on them on several occasions. Schnell said she didn't believe MMA promotions did enough to deter domestic abuse.

"They like characters," Schnell said. "They like interesting fighters and they like the controversial character. Like with Jon, his character was him. That's who he was outside the ring and inside the ring."

Bellator actually signed Koppenhaver while he was in jail on a felony assault charge in 2012. After his alleged attempted murder of Mack in August 2014, Bellator released him.

"Bellator MMA has a zero tolerance policy for domestic abuse," Bellator said in a statement. "As an example in the case of War Machine, his contract was terminated swiftly."

Mack retold the story of the alleged attack, recalling the first blow and an alleged kick to the side that ruptured her liver.

"I couldn't breathe," she said. "I couldn't catch my breath. I started convulsing. At that point it felt like I was going to die."

Koppenhaver, 33, is currently facing life in jail on 32 felony charges, including assault charges from an alleged beatdown of Corey Thomas, the man who Koppenhaver found with Mack that night. Koppenhaver wrote in a note to Real Sports from prison that he denied the charges and that he had been "ambushed."

The report also brought up allegations and convictions against other MMA fighters, including ones currently in the UFC. Kyacey Uscola, a The Ultimate Fighter alum, was found guilty last year and sentenced to 10 years on domestic abuse charges. Josh Grispi, a UFC and WEC alum, was arrested last year for allegedly siccing his dog on his wife, among other allegations.

Thiago Silva, who was with the UFC at the time, was arrested after a standoff with police for allegedly menacing his ex-wife with a gun. Anthony Johnson, who fought for the UFC light heavyweight title in May, was suspended last year by the UFC last year after domestic abuse allegations and has been accused of it three times by three different women, including a no contest plea.

UFC president Dana White has said that fighters "never bounce back from" charges of hitting women, yet Abel Trujillo, a UFC lightweight, has been convicted twice of domestic abuse and Anthony Lapsley, who fought for the UFC in May 2014, has three separate convictions.

"The prevention of domestic violence and the education of the athletes is of the utmost important to the organization," the UFC said in a statement. "UFC holds its athletes to the highest standard and will continue to take appropriate action if and when warranted.

"UFC requires all athletes to act in an ethical and responsible matter, as mandated by the UFC Fighter Conduct Policy. The organization will not tolerate domestic violence, sexual assault, or any other violation of the policy. Every athlete is deserving of due process and all official allegations will be duly reviewed and thoroughly investigated by an independent party."

Most recently, UFC heavyweight Travis Browne was removed from UFC International Fight Week events earlier this month following assault accusations from his wife. Browne has denied the accusations through his manager. Browne did not make the HBO Real Sports report.

Rener Gracie, a decorated Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor and member of the famous Gracie clan, believes there is a domestic violence problem in MMA because of the people who have started to take up the sport, including those who were bullied and people who grew up fighting on the streets.

"You look at the potential of MMA and say, 'Holy cow I can make money fighting people and I can be famous and I can win a gold belt and be recognized and respected around the world for being one of the best for fighting? Where do I sign up?'" Gracie said.

Jason Miller, who has also been arrested on domestic violence charges, told Real Sports that MMA promotions still hired him to fight despite knowledge of his past arrests.

"There's no requirement, really," Miller said. "You don't get vetted. 'Hey, are you willing to fight, can you pass this CAT scan? Do you have AIDS or hepatitis?' No? OK, you're in.'"

Miller also doesn't think there should be a stringent process to compete in MMA.

"I'm not a f*cking librarian," Miller said. "I fight men in a cage."

The report noted that the rate of performance-enhancing drug abuse and head trauma in MMA could also play a factor in the disturbing trend.

Gracie finds the whole thing frightening.

"If they hit a switch and they get aggressive, get ready because the damage is going to be exponentially worse than the untrained counterpart," he said.

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