Rookie Fighter Michael Kirkham Dies Following MMA Fight in South Carolina

Sad news from WRDW in Augusta Georgia: Michael Kirkham, 30 years old, from Gaston, SC died this morning as a result of a head injury…

By: Nate Wilcox | 13 years ago
Rookie Fighter Michael Kirkham Dies Following MMA Fight in South Carolina
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

Sad news from WRDW in Augusta Georgia:

Michael Kirkham, 30 years old, from Gaston, SC died this morning as a result of a head injury during his MMA event at USC Aiken Saturday. He was pronounced dead this morning at Aiken Regional Medical Center.

Kirkham was transported to Aiken Regional Medical Center after he was struck several times in the head. He was unresponsive when transported and never regained consciousness. He died of a brain hemorrhage.

This was Kirkham’s first professional match. He had fought in MMA events 6 times previously as an amateur.

More from MMA Fighting:

Kirkham, a lightweight nicknamed “Tree” for towering at 6-feet-9, was 30.

Kirkham competed on a Dash Entertainment and King MMA co-promoted “Confrontation at the Convocation Center” event at the USC Aiken Convocation Center, a card regulated by the South Carolina Athletic Commission.

“Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with his family, other than that I have no comment,” Sam King, a promoter of Saturday’s card, told

…Kirkham was the captain of his own MMA team and according to his “Fayetteville Independents” teammate John Yox’s Facebook page, had “severe bleeding in the brain” and had been kept alive with the help of a machine. A message left on Yox’s voicemail was unreturned.

The South Carolina Athletic Commission requires that all boxers and MMA fighters submit an original or certified lab report indicating that the competitor is HIV, Hepatitis B and C negative. Also, the fighter must complete an ophthalmologic (eye) exam as well as a physical by a doctor.

This is tragic news and Bloody Elbow sends our sincere condolences to Michael’s family and friends.

Kirkham becomes the second fighter to die in regulated MMA competition after Houston’s Sammy Vasquez. As our own Luke Thomas wrote at the time:

The inevitability of death or serious injury in combat athletics does not absolve those responsible for safety from self-examination. We cannot simply say, “Well, we knew this was coming. Let’s move on. Nothing to see here, folks.” At every interval of tragedy, we must try to make sense of the loss to see how it can be prevented going forward. It may turn out that Vasquez’s death signifies nothing meaningful about the screens he ostensibly passed, but if one believes in “fighter safety first” then getting expert opinion on potential shortcomings or improvements seems beyond appropriate. This sport has in part created a rules system that developed from a guess-and-check method. When a situation goes horribly wrong, I find it hardly controversial to suggest that we not brush this issue aside and reevaluate what it is that we’re doing to ensure fighter safety.

It is of the utmost importance that the Kirkham case be thoroughly investigated and discussed so that we can do everything possible to prevent and minimize tragedies.

MMA is inherently dangerous and there will be accidents and injuries, and yes, sadly, deaths. But we owe it to Kirkham and to get to the bottom of what happened and do what we can to improve fighter safety.

More in the full entry.

Rest in peace Michael.

Here’s a photo of Michael from the Fayetteville Independents site:

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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