Fatal MMA fight in Aiken almost did not happen

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Depending on your perspective, fate did everything to separate or bring together Carlos Iraburo and Michael Kirkham.

Both were amateur mixed martial arts fighters making their professional debuts June 26 at USC Aiken's Confrontation at the Convocation.

The match quickly ended as Kirkham lay unconscious with head injuries that ultimately would be fatal, but the fight between the two almost didn't happen.

Kirkham almost didn't make it from Gaston, S.C., to Aiken in time for the initial weigh-in. After several canceled flights and a vehicle breakdown, Kirkham managed to get a ride and make it to the fight..

Kirkham was not scheduled to be Iraburo's opponent. Three others dropped out because of injuries, and Kirkham filled the vacancy.

The first meeting between Iraburo and Kirkham was at a hotel for pre-fight publicity photos. Iraburo said Kirkham approached him and struck up a conversation about their tattoos.

"You could see in his eyes that he was a good guy," Iraburo said.

The two lightweights were the second-to-last of 12 fights that night. Because both were amateur fighters, Iraburo didn't have any tape of Kirkham's previous matches to study. But he did know that Kirkham's lanky, 6-foot-9 frame would give him an incredibly long reach and kick.

His plan was to bring Kirkham to the mat early in the match to equalize the odds.

Iraburo's plan worked, and within seconds of the match's start the two were grappling on the mat. With Kirkham pinned beneath him, "I pushed his head down and just began punching," Iraburo said.

Within seconds the referee broke up the fight, and Iraburo said he climbed off Kirkham and waited for his opponent to stand up, too.

But Kirkham lay there, his eyes half open, his breathing slow.

As medics swarmed over the fallen Kirkham, Iraburo said he had a bad feeling.

"I got really emotional and thought, 'What have I done?' " Iraburo said.

He went home that night to his wife and two children still worried about Kirkham. He tried calling the hospital in Aiken, but no one would give him any information.

When he read online the news of Kirkham's death, "it was overwhelming," Iraburo said.

"I have to admit, it's not an easy feeling. I'm going to be messed up inside for a while."

Jake Miniard, a senior at USC Aiken, attended the event to support friend and fellow communications major Kelly Cook. He sat in the front row and enjoyed cheering Cook to victory in an amateur bout.

"An unfortunate part of human nature is people like to see other people fight," Miniard said. "The crowd gets into it, and it's more exciting than boxing."

Staff Writer Matt Middleton contributed to this article.

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curly123053 07/03/10 - 08:01 am
I compare MMA bouts in the

I compare MMA bouts in the same way as cockfighting, dogfighting, and hog/dog fighting. Cockfighting, dogfighting, and hog/dog fighting are all illegal as they inflict injuries and sometimes death as these beasts battle it out in a ring. As you can see the same thing happens in MMA bouts. You have human beasts pummeling each other and inflicting pain on their opponents that can result in death. The human body can only take so much abuse no matter how big and mean you think you are. The MMA is a barbaric and inhumane event that only sick people get turned on to watching. Many of the same spectators would surely be appalled at seeing dogs fight, or would they? The ONLY thing that makes this MMA legal is the fact that they are not using weapons in the ring. Well, you know certain blows to the head or torso with kicks and punches can inflict the same damage as a weapon can as we saw at the USCA Convocation center. This is not a sport and should be banned. This is no different than cockfighting and it should be treated as the same. I will be contacting my state senator and representative asking them to work to ban this barbaric activity from SC.

corgimom 07/03/10 - 09:42 am
"An unfortunate part of human

"An unfortunate part of human nature is people like to see other people fight," Miniard said."

Not me! Curly, great post.

txholdemfool 07/03/10 - 09:49 am
The comparison between

The comparison between dog/cock/hog fighting and MMA is not accurate. First, in MMA, there are two adults making a conscious decision to enter the cage or ring. Secondly, the sport is regulated and licensed. There are rules in place to protect the fighters. For example, rules that limit the type of contact to a downed opponent, require a fighter to be able to intelligently defend themself, as well as requirements in respect to weight classes to ensure that opponents are not mismatched.

There have been more deaths related to highschool sports in the US than there have been in MMA. In a 4 month period in 2008, there were two deaths in North Carolina alone due to head injuries that occurred on high schoool football fields. There is long term damage inflicted on kids growing up playing soccer due to hitting the ball with their head. Should we stop these kids from playing sports?
I understand that you do not enjoy MMA. I respect that. However, that does not mean that it should be illegal. I don't enjoy soccer, (which has been more deadly than MMA over the same period of time), however, I do respect the right for all to take part in or enjoy viewing the sport.

mahalo ke akua
mahalo ke akua 07/03/10 - 10:02 pm
Great Post txholdemfool!

Great Post txholdemfool!

ErikWhynot 07/18/10 - 02:49 pm
Curly...your statements are

Curly...your statements are over a decade old and have been proven to be inaccurate over and over again. I would not offer up an opinion on the sports of Curling, NASCAR, or Base Jumping without first educating myself on the sports, the rules, the athletes, the training, the science, the strategy, etc, etc. The "human cockfighting" argument is a red herring used to shake and aggravate the bees nest of MMA "critics" who have never once, 1) read the unified rules of MMA, 2) spoken with a professional MMA fighter, 3) stepped on the mats and actually trained in the sport, or 4) actually done their research rather than screaming ignorance.

Hear are some quick stats:

MMA - 2 confirmed, direct, competition related deaths in the US in the sport's @ 17 years of existence.

High School Football - Averages 4.3 direct deaths and 9 indirect deaths PER YEAR. According to a 1998 stat researched by the Univ. of North Carolina, there are an average of 13 catastrophic injuries, i.e., paralysis, per year.

What is amazing to me is that the same people who scream about the perceived brutality of MMA may be the same people who cheer for Lance in the Tour, bet for the trifecta in the Kentucky Derby, or enjoy watching the rugby world championships. All three of these sports (Rugby, Horseback Riding, and Cycling) produce EXPONENTIALLY more sport related fatalities in 6 months than have resulted from MMA competition in 17 years.

Professional MMA fighters are HIGHLY trained, skilled, intelligent, and technical athletes. Stating that the UFC and similar MMA promotions are nothing but "human cockfighting" is just as ridiculous as stating that the NFL and similar football leagues are no more than sandlot rumbles between two rival street gangs. Both athletes are HIGHLY trained and knowledgeable of the technically intricate minutia of their respective sport allowing them to compete at the professional level.

People should really just learn to hold their tongue until they attempt to fully understand what they are talking about.

What angers me most about this tragedy and resulting "article" posted by Kyle Martin and Matt Middleton is the quote at the end of the article.

"An unfortunate part of human nature is people like to see other people fight," Miniard said. "The crowd gets into it, and it's more exciting than boxing."

This statement plays to the absolute LOWEST common denominator of MMA fans and practitioners. I have been training in Brazilian Juijitsu, submission grappling, and MMA with American Top Team in Orlando, Florida for 6 years. I have been a fan of the sport for about 10 years. I also manage a number of professional MMA fighters.


Playing to lowest common interest is a sad journalistic game that never does anything to promote a cause or prompt intelligent debate. The inclusion of this idiotic quote not only shows the authors lack of understanding of the sport it is also HUGELY disrespectful to Kirkham and his family.

Erik Whynot

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