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

November 15, 2012

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?