CTE: The Case For Smarter Sparring

Alvin Ang
5 min readSep 15, 2019

“Punch drunk.” It is a colloquial term well known in boxing, long applied to prizefighters who have taken too many shots. The symptoms are easy to spot. They slur their words and are often forgetful.

They may have trouble with their coordination and fine motor skills. At its early stages, being punch drunk may not seem like a huge deal. It could be brushed off as yet another cruel but normal affliction of old age — something to be endured. But it isn’t.

The symptoms do not get better. On the contrary, they get progressively worse over time. Perhaps most insidiously, symptoms typically appear years after the initial brain trauma(s) occurred, and by then it is far too late.

As of 2018, it can only be diagnosed post-mortem with a brain tissue analysis. There is no known cure.

Image Credit: Concussion Legacy Foundation

Better known now by its scientific name, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease caused mainly by repeated sub-concussive impact to the brain.

It is marked by a buildup of tau protein in the brain, which disrupts neural pathways, leading to the symptoms stated above.

It is no secret that the majority of the damage a fighter takes in their career isn’t received in the fight itself

Personally, as a fight fan and amateur MMA fighter, the topic of CTE is one that is very close to my heart. I have closely followed the careers of several great boxers and it is impossible not to notice a disturbing trend- they would retire only to be crippled years later by a degenerative disease with dementia-like symptoms. Several names that come to mind are Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Joe Frazier and Joe Louis.

All these boxers were legendary champions, and they all passed away battling a host of…

Alvin Ang

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