The tragic death of MMA fighter Saeideh Aletaha following a match in Southampton last weekend serves to remind us how dangerous ‘sports’ like mixed martial arts, and indeed boxing, really are. Aletaha died from a brain injury sustained in the fight. Given that the entire aim of these sports is to render the opponent unconscious, deaths like these are hardly surprising, are they?

Although I don’t watch cage fighting, I confess to watching the occasional boxing match on TV. I saw part of a bill on Friday on Channel 5. One fight ended as a majority draw with two of the judges unable to separate the two competitors. The fight itself was absolutely brutal and when the British boxer was interviewed his face was a bruised and heavily stitched mess. And that was just the damage you could see. His brain would have been bouncing around in his brain with each concussive blow. Who knows what he will be like after a few more fights like this?

The next fight featured an early knockdown where one boxer was knocked down. As he tried to stand up, his legs had turned to jelly and he sat down again. Then, he finally got to his feet and completed the round and then the fight. But the point is this: the punch to his head caused a reaction to his brain that made it hard for him to stand up again. Only in boxing and the new fangled mixed martial arts business is the stricken fighter sent straight back into battle.

In both codes of rugby, and in football and cricket, players are subject to strict head injury assessments following blows to the head. They are removed from play until a doctor is satisfied that the player has not suffered a brain injury. Only then is he allowed to resume playing. Sometimes, the doctor deems the player unfit to resume and he is made to made to leave the pitch, after which there is a concussive protocol that prevents the player resuming participation until he is deemed to be no longer at risk.

Imagine this in boxing. A fighter takes a heavy blow to the head, staggers around the ring but remains on his feet. He holds and tries to dance out of danger until the rest of the round until his corner men throw cold water over him to hasten his ‘recovery’. There is no full head injury assessment. We will be told by the TV commentator that the fighter, if he continues, has ‘recovered’. No one knows if the fighter really has recovered. In the worst case scenario, the first time we might realise something is wrong is when the fighter later collapses in his dressing room and is taken to hospital with a bleed on the brain. So, should boxing be banned?

The brain injury charity Headway certainly believes boxing, and presumably mixed martial arts fighting, should be banned, no ifs or buts. Purely on health grounds, how can anyone argue with them? I think it’s more complicated than that.

Certainly boxing does a lot of good for a lot of young people, particularly those who usually come from deprived areas. Few old Etonians appear in boxing matches. They learn discipline, they find a place in life, they are steered away from a potential life of drugs and crime, we are told. There is merit in all that. Are we talking about a balance between the obvious dangers of boxing and the social benefits? It seems almost like a class issue to me.

As with most things, what will happen with boxing and other forms of public fighting will be determined by events and education. We will continue to hear about terrible brain injuries and deaths through fighting and more of us may change our minds about its validity.

Saeideh Aletaha will either be another sad statistic in the long history of fighting in public or her death may prompt yet another debate about the wisdom of being hit in the head for a living. I don’t expect to see head injury assessments at the end of each round, something that would make each fight last several hours.

If nothing else, I hope it makes us think about the right and wrongs of fighting in public. Brain injuries, unlike many other injuries acquired in sports, don’t normally heal. There’s a debate to be had but I suspect the various vested interests will not want to have one. In which case, Saeideh Aletaha will have sadly died in vain.