The MMA Fighters Have Gone Crazy: ‘Mayhem’ Miller the Latest in a Long Line of Psycho Pugilists

Ex-MMA fighter Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller live-tweeted a standoff with police over domestic violence charges. ‘War Machine’ beat porn star Christy Mack to within an inch of her life. Josh Grispi sicced his pit bull on his wife. Is a combination of head trauma and PEDs to blame?

10.10.14 1:40 PM ET

Over the course of a little more than four hours on Thursday afternoon, the retired mixed martial arts fighter and former host of MTV’s Bully Beatdown, Jason “Mayhem“ Miller, provided a blow-by-blow account on Twitter of his standoff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in an attempt to stave off being served an arrest warrant for felony domestic violence.

Following along was like watching the inside of a person’s mind tear apart in real time. All in all, there were 38 tweets and retweets posted on his timeline until he surrendered at 2:13 PST after the police had broken through, gaining access via a “remote door breach.”

At times he sounded fearful and paranoid: “Just don’t let them shoot me,” “They tryna murder me.” In other moments, he begged followers to come to his home and witness what he saw as a serious injustice, posting his address and leveling defiant, politically, and racially charged accusations, “This is the state of American Justice. I feel you black men,” and unhinged bits of an internal monologue gone awry: “They have threatened me with a dog bite,” “ol dirty bastard is gone, it is mayhem miller now.” [sic]

This isn’t the first bizarre run-in with the law for Miller. In 2012, he was discovered naked sleeping on a couch after breaking into an Orange County church and was arrested on a prior domestic violence charge for assaulting his sister. During a radio interview he pulled a full Andy Kaufman, refusing to drop the character he was playing in the movie, Here Comes the Boom, before storming out of the studio. He later would claim that his motivation for the stunt was to see if the “MMA community would open its arms and support a fighter who appears to be going through mental health issues” or “rip him apart.”

But Miller is far from the only MMA fighter that’s showing up on police blotters in 2014, especially for acts of domestic violence. Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver was arrested after a weeklong manhunt. He attacked girlfriend Christy Mack “multiple times over 15 months.” According to Mack, he nearly killed her, broke 18 of her bones and, “sawed much of my hair off with [a] dull knife.”

Ex-UFC star Thiago Silva was arrested for aggravated assault and battery during yet another showdown with police when his estranged wife, Thaysa Kamiji, alleged that, “Silva had previously held a revolver inside her mouth, then later threatened to shoot up [her partner] Popovitch's school.” The charges were subsequently dropped after, according to the Broward Country Attorney’s office, “The victim was uncooperative, and investigators determined that she has likely moved out of the country.”

And then there’s the case of a lesser-known UFC combatant named Josh Grispi, who was finally arrested after beating his wife twice in the course of one week, the final straw coming when he sicced his pit bull on her. Yes, in case you’re wondering, he actually trained the dog to attack her.

“Inside the house police found handguns, rifles, an assault rifle and ammunition all belonging to Joshua [Grispi],” according to an article in the Taunton Gazette. “Most of the guns were unsecured and some were sitting in boxes inside their bedroom, police said. Next to their bed was a playpen with their 1-year-old daughter inside."

Does this sound familiar? Dropped charges from a scared witness, the presence of massive caches of weaponry, endangered children, women beaten beyond recognition by massive athletes at the peak of physical conditioning. That’s right, folks. These are exactly the kinds of incidents that have plagued the NFL of late.

And while there’s no conclusive link between chronic traumatic encephalopathy—a degenerative disease brought on by multiple concussions and head injuries—and domestic violence, the symptoms of CTE include impaired judgment, impulse control problems, and increased aggression.

With PBS/Frontline’s revelation that researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain depository “found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined,” and the league’s own reporting that at least 3 in 10 former NFL players will eventually suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s surely worth wondering about the sanctioned violence and repeated trauma of MMA fighting, and whether their employees are heading down that same path.

Naturally, Dana White, the President of the UFC, has resisted any and all attempts to be lumped in with the NFL, touting their safety regulations and going so far as to claim that, “it's the safest sport in the world, fact.”


Jon Koppenhaver, aka "War Machine."

I spoke with Leigh Cowart, a journalist that has written extensively on the traumatic effects of combat sports. “The idea that MMA is safe is ludicrous. Of course the participants of the sport are at higher risk for the cumulative effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Period,” she said. “Even a child can see that Dana White is full of shit.”

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Additionally, an extensive investigation by the Newark Star-Ledger exposed multiple, horrific instances of fighters suffering from memory loss and yet returning to the ring, long periods of nausea and disorientation following fights, and even rigorous sparring sessions, speech impediments, loss of motor skills: basically your textbook definition of post-concussion symptoms. Dr. Vincent McInerney, an expert on head trauma, said of the sport, “I'm stunned—stunned—that they've been allowed to do this. This is absolutely barbaric. It's like bare-knuckles fighting again. And they're using elbows and knees. This is crazy beyond belief.”

It’s not just the repeated blows to the head. Like all major sports, the UFC prohibits the use of performance enhancing drugs, but the rules haven’t been much of an impediment to rampant use. And whether the current drug of choice is human growth hormone combined with testosterone, or old school anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and the abuse of painkillers, there’s plenty of clinical studies that show a connection to increased hostility and aggression.

On top of all that, MMA (and yes, pro football too) is exactly the kind of sport that’s going to attract the hypermasculine, as in the clinically hypermasculine; those that are known to exhibit: (a) calloused sex attitudes toward women, (b) violence as manly, and (c) danger as exciting.

A 2003 study by Daniel Parrot and Amos Zeichner found that, “high-hypermasculine men displayed higher levels of aggression on the laboratory paradigm and reported to have assaulted women more often than their low-hypermasculine counterparts. These results suggest that hypermasculinity may be a risk factor for perpetrating violence against women and that these men may have a lower aggression threshold.”

Add it all up, and of course we’re going to see more Mayhem Millers in the years to come. Like dead wrestlers, this is a natural by-product of the sport itself.

As Cowart told me, “We know so little about CTE as it is. But the cocktail of CTE, PEDs, and mental illness is like putting 80 cats into a bag and letting them fight to the death.”