ABC News' Alexander Mallin reports:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. John McCain often find themselves in opposite corners of the political ring, but the two senators teamed up today with professional fighters from four separate fighting organizations to support a new study on the effects of the sport on athletes' brains.
"If we don't do this, then I'm afraid that support for these incredible entertaining sports will wane on the part of the American people," McCain, R-Ariz., said at a news conference today. "We owe it to the future of the sport, and we owe it to the future of the men and women who want to engage in it."
The study will be run by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and will be the first to measure brain health in professional fighters. Boxing entities Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Boxing, as well as mixed martial arts programs Ultimate Fighting Championship and Viacom's Bellator MMA and Glory kickboxing, committed a total of $600,000 towards the clinic's research.
The new study comes at a time when the National Football League is under scrutiny for revelations about long-term brain damage as a result of concussions.
"Most head injury does not produce brain injury," said Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. "But some head injuries produce a brain injury that starts a process that ends up in something that looks like Alzheimer's disease."
Cummings and fellow clinic officials sat alongside several of the country's top professional fighters, just a few of the 400 active and retired fighters the clinic enrolled in its multi-year study.
"As fighters, we don't really think about the consequences as much, so we appreciate that there are people working behind the scenes for us," former MMA champion Michael Chandler said. "At the end of the day, I'm excited to become the best lightweight in the world, but I'm more excited to be able to play football with my kids one day."
Clinic officials said they hope to enroll at least 200 more fighters to undergo MRI imaging and other clinical tests that will contribute to the study's findings.
Though the two senators played nice at the news conference, Reid, who was an amateur boxer long before his career in the Senate, jokingly highlighted one of the political jabs McCain has made at him during their time together in the Senate.
"I've had the good fortune of serving in Congress with John McCain since 1982, and I've suffered a few of the blows rendered by him," Reid joked. "It was just a month or two ago when I ran into John right outside the elevators and he said 'I'm going to go out on the floor and kick the s*** out of you.'"