Fightland Talks to: The Doctor Who Set Jon Jones' Toe

Fightland Blog

By Josh Rosenblatt

Last Saturday in Newark, New Jersey, Jon “Bones” Jones successfully defended his UFC light heavyweight title against Chael Sonnen in a lopsided fight that ended with a TKO late in round one. At first it looked like Jones had barely broken a sweat. It wasn’t until color-man Joe Rogan entered the Octagon to interview him after the fight that the champion realized he had actually broken his toe. Badly. “Let’s get a doctor over here to deal with this,” Rogan said into the microphone when he saw Jones getting woozy, ”and we’ll sit Jon down on a stool.”

[Ed. note: Check out a picture of Jones' fractured toe here and a gif here. Warning: Not for the squeamish, nauseous, or faint of heart.]

Enter Fightland’s own Fight Doctor, Michael Kelly, who was the first doctor inside the Octagon after the main event. It was Kelly who cleaned the wound and set Jones’ toe before the champion walked back to his dressing room and then into the post-fight press conference. Only then did Jones head to the hospital, a sequence of events that inspired some on Twitter, including a few doctors themselves, to question whether Jones had been given the best care available. We decided to call Kelly and ask him about the injury, whet effect it would have had on the fight if Sonnen had survived to the second round, and how he felt about the bizarre Internet debate his medical decision inspired.

Dr. Michael Kelly: It’s interesting: Jones didn’t feel pain in his toe at all; it was only when he looked down that he noticed it. And once the adrenaline wore off, then he was sore. It was a fractured toe. There wasn’t much for me to do except clean it up and have him get it set. It was a compound fracture so there was some bone exposed. 

I didn’t really hear Joe Rogan call for a doctor during the interview. I was on the side of the Octagon. I had just come out of the cage because I was looking at Sonnen, and I heard Dana White, who was right behind me, say, “I need a doctor.” I don’t really pay attention to the overhead sound system when I’m there because you’re concentrating on the fighters and the job you have to do. So I went back in and I looked down at Jones’ foot, and it was an obvious deformity.

He didn’t sit because he was woozy; he sat down so we could get the weight off it and clean it up. He didn’t really have any ill effects. In fact, you saw him walk out of the ring. I think there was a little bit of shock when he looked down at it but he was absolutely fine, even when we walked him to the back. 

I’ve read some of the criticisms that have been making their way around the Internet about what we should have done as doctors. I know there’s a doctor who writes a lot about MMA but doesn’t really cover any shows who always has a lot to say, and he derives most of his opinions from pictures on the Internet, which I think is somewhat irresponsible.

The treatment for a compound fracture is to clean up the wound, have it set, and then use antibiotics to make sure there’s no infection. I saw that somebody had said it was sutured and he was allowed to just walk on it. It wasn’t the case. It wasn’t sutured in the arena. Jones wasn’t walking on an open wound. That sounds like a silly quote from someone who doesn’t work many fights. Many fighters get cuts and wounds during their bouts and they’re cleaned up and covered or sutured and allowed to go about their day. The wound was cleaned, it was dressed; there were no sutures placed at the event. The injury was splinted and closed and covered with a dressing, and arrangements were made to have him taken to the emergency room.

As for the criticism that Jones shouldn’t have been allowed to go to the post-fight press conference before going to the hospital, everybody that practices medicine knows that a patient has a right to autonomy and to make their own decisions. You can’t force them to do anything. If he wanted to talk at the press conference, he had every right to, as does any other patient. You can’t force them to go to the emergency room that second. If they’re awake, alert, and oriented, and they can make a reasonable decision, they can decide when to go. It wasn’t a life-threatening issue, contrary to the nonsense I’ve seen on the Internet. It’s very funny when you’re there looking at something and then you see what propagates and how things get twisted and distorted. But it happens from time to time. Everybody plays Monday morning quarterback.

It’s interesting to think about, but if Sonnen had made it to the end of that round, and Jones had gone back to his corner and they had looked down and his foot was in that condition, the fight would have been stopped. And Sonnen would be the champion. That’s why MMA is such an exciting sport: because anything can change in a second.