MMA Doctor: Behind the Iron Chin
Fighting Insider reveals the myth behind the 'iron chin', and if it can really make a MMA fighter invincible to punches in the head.
Tito Ortiz recently had his victory over Ryan Bader at UFC 132. Looking at the MMA veteran, one of his awe-inspiring qualities is his unbelievably mammoth head. But despite its aesthetic qualities, his cranium’s superhuman proportion can make him almost invincible in the Octagon. However, a strangely enlarged cranium doesn’t give a fighter infallible protection against knockout.
But if it’s not the said ‘iron chin’ that can make a MMA fighter invincible in the cage, what then? The answer lies on Sternocleidomastoid Muscles.
The sternocleidomastoids, or SCMs, are paired muscles found on each side of the neck. They are composed of sternomastoid, which are found immediately behind and under the ear, and the cleidomastoid muscles that runs from the clavicle to the mastoid. The SCMs are prominent, as can be seen when you look in front of the mirror.
Shaking your head to a ‘no’ can flex your SCMs, while flexing the neck forward and extending the head can resist a punch on the face. That is the reason why a fighter seems to be ducking in a punch. However, there are no other prominent muscles that support the sternocleidomastoids when resisting a backward movement in the cranium. In addition to this, muscles used to throw a punch like calves, gluts, lats, pecs, triceps and many more are arrayed against them.
A punch on the face accelerates the front of the cranium back into the frontal lobe of the brain, causing brain injury. A gentle blow can stun a brain for a while, while a heavy punch can shut the brain off. When a punch in the head comes from a different angle aside from straight on, only one SCM resists the blow. Thus, the damage is greater. Even worse, when a fighter is struck on the chin, the mandible magnifies the force and the damage. This is an argument why fighters with large heads, like Tito Ortiz, have theoretical mechanical disadvantage in withstanding punches in the head.
Finally, a blow at the back of the head is particularly dangerous. The hindbrain controls respiration, heart rate, swallowing and blood pressure. That said, fighters who sustain such injuries never grow to be old.