So many injuries, so little time.
If there is one major problem that plagues mixed martial arts today, it is injuries to fighters. But this isn't about injuries inside the ring or cage, rather this is about injuries that take place before the fighter is even able to compete.
Sure, the injuries that are suffered inside the ring or cage can be brutal. They provide cringe-worthy moments and point out the same brutal aspect to this sport that every contact sport possesses. But those obvious injuries aren't as common as injuries suffered in competition that don't become visible until later. Did anyone who watched UFC 149 believe Faber had a rib injury until they were told so later? A lot of injuries in MMA these days are internal or we simply don't see the full extent of them until after the fight. The main reason for this is that viewers, analysts, commentators & announcers, etc. are so focused on the fight itself that if an injury isn't clear as day, it usually isn't even identified until after the fight or unless it reappears during the fight.
But what I'm talking about here are the injuries that happen without cameras rolling, the ones that take place outside of the ring or cage. These injuries provide the same cringe moments, but only to those who can visualize what these injuries are. Broken bones, torn ACL's & MCL's, hand injuries, leg injuries, and so on. These are all common injuries in the world of sport and it is in other sports that people can come to appreciate that an injury is just as brutal outside of competition as it is in competition. Just look up any clip of an ACL injury or a broken bone injury or any similar kind of injury in football or baseball or basketball and just imagine that happening to an MMA fighter when he's simple in preparation for fighting. Because that is where this plague is coming from: there are injuries in competition, but the more costly injuries are occurring in training.
Last month's UFC 149 was a perfect example of what I'm trying to get across. At first this card looked like a spectacular one, fitting for the promotion's debut in a new location, in this case Calgary, Alberta, Canada. But over time, the card was diminished when each of the top three fights on the card had to be remade due to injuries. Dominick Cruz was set to defend his UFC bantamweight title against Urijah Faber, but had to drop out due to an injury he suffered in training. Michael Bisping was going to be fighting Tim Boetsch, but also had to pull out due to an injury suffered while training. And Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was Cheick Congo's original opponent on the card, but during training he was forced to come to the conclusion that his broken arm (suffered at the hands of Frank Mir last December) hadn't healed to the extent that he could be cleared to compete.
And UFC 149 wasn't the only example of a UFC event's main card having to be a restructured due to multiple injuries. If I had to pinpoint where this injury plague began, I would say it would be the UFC card that began 2010, UFC 108. That card still sets the standard for necessary restructuring due to injury with several main-events being scheduled at the top of the card and then having to be scrapped or rescheduled due to injuries. Also, almost every fight on the card had to be restructured due to some kind of injury. Unfortunately, it seemed to just be the beginning.
So is over-training the cause of this injury plague? I honestly think it is the most likely explanation. It's not as though injuries didn't happen in the days of yesteryear in MMA, but they certainly didn't happen at the volume that MMA fans have had to deal with in recent years. Not even close.
Many people may believe that the fighting itself is more dangerous than training, but in reality both carry the same risk of injury. Think about this: if you don't train enough you are likely to get hurt in competition whether because you're not ready for the fight or because you're not in proper condition for the fight, but if you train and train and train for six, eight, or ten months without a fight and get injured, what's to blame then?
Another factor to remember, one Dana White brought up in an interview last month, is that in the days of yesteryear in MMA there weren't as many camps jam packed with top-level fighters. Today, you have to be in such a camp to have an easier road into the sport. But along with that is the fact that top-level fighters are training together in numbers never seen in the sport. In the old days, there was a more obvious difference in camps between the experienced fighters and the younger, less seasoned fighters. But nowadays, the majority of camps are full of very experienced fighters, all training with the same intensity they've always trained with. What has resulted are more and more name fighters, fighters routinely in the main card or main-event getting injured in preparation for fights. Those fights are then rescheduled or simply don't happen and everyone is robbed: the fans, the injured fighter, and the fighter who remained healthy.
Competition is a good thing. While injuries do come to fighters that compete more regularly than others, there are plenty of examples of fighters (Jeremy Horn and Dan Severn being two of the best) that fight more than regularly (6 or more fights a year) at various points in their career and escape injury, whether major or minor. It's all about finding a good balance between training and competition.
Other sports have training camps before their seasons and practices between games, but MMA doesn't have an off-season and their fights aren't on a set schedule. When you have only 2 or 3 fights a year, it creates an amount of training that outweighs the fighter's time in competition, meaning the risk for injury in training increases greatly along with the risk of injury in competition.
So how is this problem going to be solved? Well, and I'm not saying this should be mandated by promotions, but I believe it's not a bad thing for fighters to be fighting 4-6 times a year. Even if it's four, that would mean once every three months for a fighter and I believe that provides a perfectly adequate time for rest and training between fights where a fighter will be capable of performing to his potential with a decreased risk of injury. If a fighter can visibly make due with less time and be competent in defending himself or even excelling in competition, that can't be a bad thing.
It's not an exact science. Some fighters can fight that many times without any injury issues and some fighters can only fight two or three times a year because of injuries in training or in competition. But the philosophy that more fighting can only lead to injury needs to be revised to include more training because when the great majority of injuries that are keeping fights from happening and fighters from fighting is in training, it's pretty hard to simply blame the competition alone.
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