Can the UFC Stem the Tide of Injuries or Is It Simply the Cost of Business in Combat Sports?

November 15, 2012
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Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin at UFC 131At one time, training injuries in mixed martial arts was just one of those things that happens from time to time. Now, however, it’s become a problem that derails big business and clouds fan perception and trust.

Over the past year, the UFC alone has lost “something like seven out of 11 main events” due to injury, according to UFC president Dana White, who was a guest on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Thursday morning.

The UFC even cancelled its first event due to injury under the Zuffa regime, when Dan Henderson injured his knee and had to withdraw from his UFC 151 main event challenge of light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. The promotion tried to hold the event together, but decided to pull the plug without a suitable replacement for the main event.

Dan Henderson isn’t the only fight to take a seat on the sidelines. As White mentioned, several of the promotion’s top fighters, from Georges St-Pierre to Dominick Cruz to Frankie Edgar to Jose Aldo and several others, have been bitten by the injury bug.

Just this week, Shane Carwin dropped out of his TUF Finale main event bout due to a blown out knee, Gray Maynard had to withdraw from his UFC 155 bout, and Eddie Yagin’s UFC on Fox 5 fight was derailed when he was hospitalized.

White knows all too well that injuries have become a problem; he’s just not sure what to do about it. The UFC, of course, does its best to have replacements waiting in the wings, ready to step in and keep fights together, and is fairly successful in its attempts to do so, but White thinks there’s got to be something more that can be done.

“This is one of those sports; it’s very intense and just keeps evolving. If you look back in the day of Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture and these guys, those were the toughest guys in the gym,” explained White in his SportsCenter interview. “Now these gyms are packed with all the best fighters in the world.

“Something needs to change. I don’t know what the answer is to this question, or how we fix all the injuries, but we need to come up with something soon.”

In a sports league like the NFL or the NBA, it’s a little easier to put systems and rules in place to try and avert unnecessary injuries. And let’s face it, the point of most sports isn’t to inflict damage on your opponent, at least not in the same literal sense that a combat sport necessitates.

Couple that with the fact that fighters are basically independent contractors that are in charge of their own training and preparation. Whether they train in a conservative manner or push themselves into dangerous realms is largely up to them.

So what can the UFC do to slow the staggering number of injuries? Is there anything they can do or is it just the cost of doing business in combat sports?

  • disqus_1vlWNfdPOM

    Not claiming its responsible for all injuries, but surely the use of growth hormone and testosterone is a factor. Fighters need to train their flexibility, not just focus on strength and adding muscle mass.

  • DHK#1

    If Dana & the UFC wants to see the popularity of the sport grow as they say they do then they need to look to & emulate the big players in the sports industry.
    Part of the problem with injuries come from the fact that you have events & fighters fighting year round.
    The athletes have an extended period where they can have surgeries performed then rest up & come back fresh next season.
    There are other things that mma promotions could learn from other big time established sports leagues as well.
    Instead mma is stuck in the stone ages emulating the same principals of boxing then expecting different results.
    1.Create a season that you will fight during. If you’re smart you will start your season away from peak NFL season. Many MMA fans including myself are also NFL fans. You don’t want to leech away viewership during this time. Once the season is over fighters can take extended time to recover & heal.
    2.Have pre-set schedules for the season with backup options on hand. Every other major sports org has a pre-set schedule they follow. They way MMA is now cards are setup piecemeal & on the fly. How is this different from boxing? Bob Arum & Don King must be proud right now.
    In summary: MMA should have a defined season with a pre-set schedule. It should use a tournament to decide the current Champ for that year. Much like a playoff system that every other sports org currently has.
    I hate when the current “Champ” has not fought in over a year or has been hurt so they do this interim thing.
    With a tournament system fighters have to fight a schedule & if you win the title you are the Champ for that that year. If you want to hold onto the title when the tournament again. This prevents an injured Champ from holding onto the title for 1+ years do to injury.

    • Milosc

      This is absolutely right, you can’t burn a man’s body from both ends and expect brilliant results, although you don’t need to make everyone observe the same ‘season’ either

      It may make the matchmaking algorithms a little more involved; but fighters could be grouped into individualized seasons, with reliable time on/off expectations so they can take better care of their health. I see them competing with far better performance this way, as well

  • Lucky

    Maybe go back to the old way and have a fight every two months. It makes for a lot of excitement for the fans and would reduce injuries. The sport is saturated and became so boring.

  • Lucky

    that coming from a ufc fan since the beginning

  • Wes

    Most of these ideas just won’t work. It has to do with the WAY these guys train. Even if there was a season or more time between fights, these guys push themselves to the limit to get ready. Even if a guy fights only once a year, he could still easily hurt himself, because these guys are ultra competitive fighters who are preparing to compete against another very high level fighter. If you don’t train hard, you’ll probably lose.

    It is the grappling that is causing most of these injuries. With everyone so well rounded, you at least need great takedown defense and it’s these scrambles that are doing most of the damage..