Kedzie Willing to Give Brain to Help Scientists Understand Fighting’s Impact

November 17, 2023
3 months

Julie Kedzie studied the landscape of people doing research on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and noticed something was lacking. Most of the high-profile athletes who had agreed to participate in the study were male. Few of the major studies had stopped to consider how CTE may impact female athletes.

Some of that perspective is starting to shift. Australian Rule football standout Heather Anderson became the first professional athlete to be diagnosed with CTE. Women who were involved in combat sports seemed like a natural place for scientists to study the impact on the brain. Kedzie wanted to help out.

With women’s professional sports growing across the globe, there will be a lot more focus on the impact of concussions in various women’s sports as well. MMA news sites are saying that Kedzie’s offer is the first by a major former women’s star.


Who is Julie Kedzie?


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Kedzie was one of the first women involved with women’s MMA. Kedzie, 42, was born in Chicago, Illinois. The 5-foot-5 fighter moved with her family to Indiana as a child and got a degree from Indiana University in English Literature.

She built her background for a career by competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She made her debut against Terry Blair in 2004 at a HOOKnSHOOT event. Kedzie would win her first fight by armbar.

HOOKnSHOOT was the promotion where Kedzie would find her most success. She won the 2005 HOOKnSHOOT Grand Prix by beating Molly Helsel in a split decision. Kedzie would end up bouncing through a number of MMA promotions throughout her career.

UFC CEO Dana White contended for a long time that he would never allow women to fight in the UFC. As such, opportunities for women were limited. Kedzie would take on fellow women’s MMA pioneer Gina Carano in 2007 as part of the Elite XC brand. Kezie lost that fight during a split decision.

However, Kedzie’s fight with Carano was considered one of the early important moments for women’s MMA. Carano, who has gone on to a career of acting in Hollywood, was one of the early mainstream stars thanks to her combination of looks and fighting ability. When Carano and Kedzie fought in EliteXC, then a majorly backed promotion, it made a lot of people take notice.


More Mainstream Exposure and Retirement


Kedzie would end up continuing to build her reputation until she defeated Kaitlin Young at Jackson’s MMA Series 4 in April 2011. At that point, Kedzie had a 16-9 career record. By that time, strikeforce had started to build a competitive women’s division centered around star Ronda Rousey.

While Kedzie would never get a shot at Rousey, she would fight a few more future UFC champions. Kedzie battled with Miesha Tate, who would later win gold in the UFC, losing by armbar in August 2012. When Rousey’s success proved to be so great that White welcomed women into the UFC, Kedzie would be part of the first wave of women’s fighters.

However, Kedzie would never end up getting her hand raised in the UFC. She lost her first fight in a split decision to Germaine de Randamie. Kedzie would follow that up with a split decision loss to Bethe Correia. Kedzie ended her career with a four-fight losing streak before retiring.

Kedzie came along at a difficult time to have an impactful career run. Women’s MMA was still in its infancy when Kedzie started, and she was too old to ride the wave created by Rousey once the UFC started promoting women’s fights. Kedzie finished with a career record of 16-13, according to MMA news sites.


Kedzie Finds a New Role


While Kedzie left in-octagon action after the Correia loss, she didn’t find her way out of the sport entirely. Kedzie was chosen to be the matchmaker for Invicta FC back in 2013. Invicta is an all-women MMA promotion that has served as a feeder system for top women’s MMA fighters to the UFC.

Kedzie has still been trying to help break down barriers with Invicta. She was recently part of the first all-female broadcast. Aly Trost Martin was the play-by-play announcer and joined Kedzie and Megan Anderson, a former UFC title challenge and Invicta featherweight champion, to call the fight.


What is CTE?


Anderson died last year at the age of 28. Her family donated her brain for medical research to better understand her death. CTE is a progressive and fatal brain disease that is associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries.

Those injuries can include concussions, as well as blows to the head. CTE has many symptoms, including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and problems controlling impulses, as well as aggression, depression, and anxiety. Kedzie has noticed plenty of issues since she retired.

Kedzie said she suffers from depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and a lack of sleep. When Kedzie had the opportunity, she pledged the opportunity to use her brain for post-mortem research.


The Sports World is Changing


The impacts of CTE have been well-known for many years. Most previous studies into CTE had been surrounding the National Football League, which is a physical sport that has a lot of repeated contact to the head for some players. Sports leagues have had to adjust to improve player safety.


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In the NFL, every game now has a spotter who will send a message down to the field to remove a player for evaluation if they have been concussed. The NFL has been under a lot of pressure to change, especially after an incident in 2022 where the Miami Dolphins let quarterback Tua Tagovailoa go back onto the field after he was clearly on wobbly legs after being hit.

NFL teams are being pressured to stay on top of player concussions and help players get treatment. It has been an imperfect system so far, but the league and teams are starting to show more urgency in getting players more help.

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