Fort Bragg will host a televised charity mixed martial arts card this week to help raise money for a planned $70 million research center for traumatic brain injuries, one of the most common combat injuries suffered by troops in Iraq.
Wednesday's Ultimate Fighting Championship event, billed as "Fight For The Troops," will be carried live on cable station Spike from the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville. It is the second sanctioned UFC fight at a U.S. military base, and tickets for the mixed martial arts event are available only to Fort Bragg soldiers.
The fight card features five military veterans turned UFC fighters. Luigi Fioravanti, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, said he wants to put on a good show for his former comrades.
He fought two years ago in the first sanctioned event on a military base, which drew thousands of Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.
"It was crazy the energy you got from them," Fioravanti said. "I felt like I was unstoppable."
The money raised from Wednesday's fights will go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the Fisher House, a national network of homes at military and veterans hospitals where family members can stay free.
The organizations are working with the Department of Defense to help build the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, a research facility in Bethesda, Md., that will be dedicated to treating troops who suffer from traumatic brain injuries.
The organizations have already raised $50 million.
"This will go a long way to reach our goal," said Arnold Fisher, vice chairman of Fisher House.
Fisher contacted UFC co-founder Lorenzo Fertitta, an old friend, about six months ago about raising money for the project.
Brain injuries caused by explosions are among the most common combat injuries suffered by troops in Iraq. Since 2003, about 30% of troops taken to Walter Reed Army Medical Center � the military's main hospital � suffered traumatic brain injuries, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.
The center, which is headquartered at Walter Reed, has seven facilities around the country that have seen nearly 2,700 brain injury patients between 2003 and 2007, but doctors believe many less obvious cases go undetected.
Fisher said the new research center could be built in a little more than a year after the funds are raised. The center will bring together advances in research, diagnosis and treatment from inside and outside the military, he said.
"There are a lot of universities that have been working on this for years," Fisher said. "This center will be the hub, the center for research on TBI (traumatic brain injury)."
In the last three years, the UFC has grown in popularity through pay-per-view events and its own reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, on Spike. Mixed martial arts events are popular at Fort Bragg, where a team of soldiers based at the sprawling Army base won the third annual All-Army Combatives Tournament in 2007.
Several UFC fighters are veterans who learned about mixed-martial arts in the military, said Spike spokeswoman Debra Fazio-Rutt.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski