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Blood chokes are dangerous; Floyd shouldn’t have been proof

Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin wasn’t just pinning George Floyd to the ground. This wasn’t simply restraining a person. This was incapacitation with intent to harm. Autopsy results are still pending as of this writing, but what I see in the video, is an officer with his knee on the side of Floyd’s neck, suppressing Floyd’s jugular vein and carotid artery. This is called a blood choke, and various forms — arm triangle, rear naked, guillotine — can be seen in mixed martial arts.

There are two theories behind the blood choke. One is that the choke is cutting off blood circulation to the brain. The other is that the choke confuses the brain into thinking blood pressure has risen when it hasn’t. Blood vessels then widen but for no actual reason. Either way, a blood choke is not a position you want to be in.

When executed properly, a person can lose consciousness in about 10 seconds. After four to six minutes, the person will suffer permanent brain damage. Blood chokes are some of the most dangerous submission holds.

When Ben Askren fought Robbie Lawler at UFC 239, Lawler was landing some good punches in the first round. However, Askren sunk in a bulldog choke on the former champ. A few seconds go by, and Lawler’s right arm appears to go limp. Ref Herb Dean stops the fight, but to everybody’s surprise Lawler wasn’t unconscious. Askren’s choke wasn’t actually on Lawler’s neck. It was on his chin — uncomfortable, but not life threatening. Lawler was visibly upset for a short moment, but he understood that Dean was just trying to protect him.

“It’s an understandable call, but a bad one,” announcer Joe Rogan said. Rogan also initially believed Lawler was out.

In 1985, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T were guests on the short-lived talk show “Hot Properties.” Host Richard Belzer invited Hulk to perform a wrestling move on him. Hogan put the much smaller man in a guillotine-like sleeper hold. After about seven seconds, Belzer passed out. Hogan let him go, and Belzer dropped to the floor, cracking his head. Hogan slapped him in the face a couple of times. A few seconds later, Belzer was back up and normal.

See, if the choke doesn’t last long; you can bounce out of it pretty quickly. However, the only things that keep blood chokes safe in MMA are the rules and officials. That’s why, if a fighter knows they can’t get out of the hold, they tap out. Or if the fighter does lose consciousness, a ref is there to stop the action.

A lot of the greats have tapped out to these chokes — Conor McGregor, Dan Henderson, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn.

Floyd couldn’t tap out. His hands were cuffed behind his back and he was belly-down on the concrete. What fight could he put up in this position?

Floyd didn’t have a ref. Multiple people who recorded the killing told the police to stop handling the situation in such a vicious manner, and the officers ignored them.

In a recent series of tweets, UFC Light Heavyweight champ and top pound-for-pound fighter Jon Jones voiced his frustration and disgust with the police involved in Floyd’s death.

“Anyone who has practiced the very basics of jujitsu recognizes a #bloodchoke when they see this. That was as clear as day #murder #torture,” he said in one tweet.

Jones knows how dangerous a blood choke can be. In his title defense against karate expert Lyoto Machida at UFC 140, Jones put the Brazilian native in a deep standing guillotine choke after delivering a big left hook. Ten seconds later, ref John McCarthy knew Machida was in trouble and called off the fight. Machida, the blackout-before-tap-out type, slumped to the floor with his eyes rolled back.

“I wouldn’t wish the way George Floyd was murdered on my worst enemy. That officer applied just enough pressure to keep him alive for almost six minutes in that chokehold. In all my years of fighting I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything close to that level of torture,” Jones said in another tweet.

He may be an eye poker, a steroid user, a criminal and a generally unlikable guy, but Jones has a point. A blood choke has to be practiced with extreme caution. What Chauvin did and what the three other cops allowed was excessive, brutal and deserving of conviction. In a sense, the bell had rung, the fight was over, but they kept going.

Griffin Kelly lives in Pearl River and is a former Enterprise reporter.

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