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Should Michael Bisping have been cleared to fight Kelvin Gastelum three weeks after a hard loss to GSP?

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Michael Bisping fought and lost to Georges St-Pierre in the main event of UFC 217 earlier this month. He was knocked down with a left hook in the third round and choked unconscious via rear-naked choke submission.

Over the weekend, Bisping was right back in the Octagon, headlining UFC Shanghai against Kelvin Gastelum. Exactly 21 days after falling to St-Pierre, Bisping was knocked out by Gastelum at 2:30 of the first round.

Bisping, 38, has now been knocked down more times (12) than anyone in the history of the UFC. The British middleweight has been with the promotion since 2006 and he’s been a pro fighter for 13 years.

Bisping being allowed to compete just three weeks after the hard loss to St-Pierre has come under scrutiny. Dr. Tad Seifert, a neurologist and member of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports (ABC) medical committee, told MMA Fighting on Wednesday that he believed Bisping fighting at UFC Shanghai was a “grossly negligent” decision by multiple parties.

“I found it very, very worrisome that this is a fight that the UFC allowed to go off in the first place,” said Seifert, a member of the Kentucky Wrestling and Boxing Commission board and medical advisory panel and former presenter in front of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP).

After being finished in violent fashion by GSP at UFC 217 on Nov. 4, Bisping was given a 30-day medical suspension by the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC). That typically means a fighter cannot train or compete for 30 days unless cleared by a doctor.

When Gastelum’s initial opponent in China, Anderson Silva, failed a USADA drug test and was pulled from the card Nov. 10, UFC president Dana White said Bisping called him saying he wanted to fill in. White said at a media lunch Tuesday in Las Vegas that Bisping could replace Silva, but he had to fulfill all his medical requirements to do so. Bisping, White said, protested because he just did them to fight at UFC 217, but to no avail.

“I said, ‘I don’t give a shit,’” White said. “We’re gonna go through the medical testing again and the doctors are gonna tell us whether you’re OK or you’re not OK. So then once it came back that the doctors had cleared him to fight again, we sent the stuff to New York and showed them and New York let him off the suspension.”

The UFC, on behalf of Bisping, requested a review of the medical suspension, which was then sent to NYSAC chief medical officer Dr. Nitin Sethi, per a statement sent to MMA Fighting by New York State Department of State spokesperson Mercedes Padilla. The commission told the UFC that it would need additional medial records and “information demonstrating fitness” and the suspension would be reduced.

Per the statement, the UFC sent those medical records, including a neurology clearance, which was reviewed by Sethi “in consultation with commission medical staff.” The determination made was that Bisping’s condition “warranted reduction of the suspension imposed.”

The commission statement also noted that Bisping was evaluated again by doctors before the fight with Gastelum in Shanghai on Nov. 25 and those doctors came to the same conclusion as the NYSAC medical team. The UFC acts as its own regulatory body in foreign countries that don’t have athletic commissions.

Bisping, as White said, wanted the fight and expressed no regret, nor fear for his long-term health afterward. White said Tuesday that he had no qualms about letting Bisping compete again so quickly after the GSP loss.

“He wanted it,” White said. “Bisping wanted that fight. Again, the guy is another stud that always wants to fight and will fight anybody. He called me and said, ‘I want this fight.’”

In the light of recent news and more knowledge gained publicly about concussions and the neurological disease CTE, though, the situation has come under scrutiny. UFC color commentator Joe Rogan said on his podcast Saturday that Bisping fighting again so soon was “not smart.”

“You really have to protect the fighter from themselves,” Rogan said. “You really can’t be letting a guy fight three weeks after an absolutely brutal fight like that. It just does not make sense. It does not make sense.”

Former UFC broadcast Brian Stann said Monday on the Anik and Florian Podcast that he felt having Bisping fight at UFC Shanghai was an “awful, awful decision.”

“I understand where Mike is coming from,” said Stann, a former fighter and former Bisping opponent. “If I poked Mike in the chest right now, we’d fight right away. He’s a true fighter. It’s in his blood and he’s been one of the best fighters and characters for the UFC in the last decade. But this was an awful decision to allow him to fight. He was rocked badly against Georges St-Pierre. He wasn’t just choked out. The human brain does not recover that fast and I fear decisions like this moving forward in the sport are going to cause a litany of problems.

“We’re gonna see it soon. It’s already happening and we don’t realize it. If you talk to other retired fighters, you can see the onset of CTE. It doesn’t just exist in the NFL. You can see the onset of brain damage. Guys are slurring their words.”

Seifert, a neurologist for more than 10 years and a longtime combat sports fan, believes the UFC, the New York commission and Bisping’s team were negligent in letting him fight Gastelum. He said that the way Bisping lost to St-Pierre likely resulted in a concussion. That, compounded with Bisping’s history of taking damage to the head and his age should have raised red flags for the parties involved.

“I just think it’s incumbent upon us that are involved with commissions to be vigilant in fighter health and safety,” Seifert said. “That’s gotta be our utmost priority. And a guy that’s 38 years old and historically been downed more than any other fighter in the history of the UFC, that was at least visibly — through the eyes of what the videos tell us — concussed 21 days prior, to lift that suspension I think was a bit reckless. I try not to be critical of other scenarios like this, but I think this is one of those that I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”

The NYSAC has been no stranger to controversy recently when it comes to fighter safety. New York State recently settled a personal injury lawsuit, paying out $22 million to the family of boxer Magomed Abdusalamov, who suffered brain damage in a 2013 fight at Madison Square Garden. Abdusalamov’s family sued the state, claiming recklessness, gross negligence and medical malpractice by the commission, its staff and its ringside physicians.

(Correction: The original story stated that Dr. Tad Seifert was a member of the Association of Ringside Physicians. He is a member of the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports medical committee and former presenter in front of the Association of Ringside Physicians. MMA Fighting regrets the error.)

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