UFC Bloody Elbow Roundtable: Has Fighter Insurance Been A Good Thing?

The latest high profile UFC injury victim, Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. Photo by Esther Lin, via MMA Fighting

Just over a year ago, the UFC and Zuffa put in place a groundbreaking policy of insuring its fighters to help take the brunt of medical costs for injuries and ailments suffered while a fighter is in training. Since being implemented we have seen countless fights fall through, even marquee main events due to withdrawal due to injury, often gutting the quality of a card. Has the UFC fighter insurance been good for the fighters, but bad for the sport?

T.P. Grant: I think this is more of a function of fighters and gyms needing to learn how to train safely. The number of injuries is just getting absurd and it really begs the question of what exactly is going on at these fight camps? How often are big time boxing matches called off due to injury or NCAA wrestlers forced to pull out from major tournaments? Oh it happens, but not on the level we are currently seeing in MMA. Coaches in those sports have over a century of training wisdom to draw upon when it comes down to how to train and how hard to work their athletes.

Josh Nason: The amount of cards and overall fighters hurt makes it more glaring. I do think the insurance obviously prevents guys from competing when they shouldn't, but that's a good thing.

As long as the UFC doctors are verifying injuries, unfortunately there isn't much to change. It's hard to tone down training like most are assuming but perhaps re-examining things is a nod toward the sport's evolution.

Fraser Coffeen: I'm with both Grant and Nason on this one. If you say that the insurance policy is to blame, what you're essentially arguing is that these guys SHOULD be fighting injured, because if they didn't have insurance, they'd fight through these injuries. But that's not good. You could also be saying that guys are milking more minor injuries, but a lot of the more recent big injuries (Cruz, GSP) are major injuries, so that doesn't make sense, either.

The real question is the one already brought up - why are these guys getting so injured in training? And I think that's a fundamental issue that dates back to the early days of MMA. Some of the most legendary early camps, like Chute Boxe and Ken Shamrock's Lion's Den, were notorious for being brutally hard places to train. They went hard every single day, and yes, maybe that made them better fighters in the short term, but it's also not good for their long term health.

And perhaps that's just what we're seeing here. Perhaps MMA is just inevitably more like the NFL where your time as an active participant is relatively short for most people, as opposed to boxing or kickboxing where a lot of fighters have lengthier careers. So guys are going very hard to have a brief run of glory at the top rather than a sustained career.


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Josh Nason: In comparison to other sports, guys / girls do get injured pretty frequently but with team sports, you obviously have others to pick up the slack and step in. In an individual sport like MMA, it stands out more because the individual is removed.

This is one of those deals where there really isn't a good answer on how to solve it. It's unfortunate because I feel a lot of frustration with the constant shuffling, but less shows would definitely help ease that pain. (Sorry to beat that dead horse again.)

KJ Gould: I don't get the 'less shows' argument, it won't help any. Fighters generally in the UFC aren't fighting with any more frequency than before, with the odd exceptions. If anything UFC has more fighters on the books to fill out the shows they do have. Cutting the fat of the roster and having less shows doesn't address the injury situation, and actually leaves them with less replacements to draw upon not already under contract.

Maybe a lot of these fighters and even technical coaches have got suckered into the infomercial marketing of P90x, Insanity, Cave Man training or whatever you want to call it, instead of looking into what the other pro sports have tried and tested over decades. Maybe it's time for the MMA industry to start from scratch, make exercise sport specific, and embrace the importance of rest and recovery as well as nutrition in order to see progress.

Continue reading after the jump.

Josh Nason: Here's what I mean by that:

- Less shows will mean better top to bottom cards. With less opportunities, much of the flotsam and jetsam wouldn't be in the UFC.

- If someone gets injured, you can withstand it as you simply move fights up the card. Because they're of more quality, the public perception would be eased because you're still getting a great show.

If you combined the best fights from the July shows, you'd have a hell of a 12-fight event. Instead, you move Rich Franklin to a nothing late-June PPV, Shogun to fight Vera in August for a Fox show and Faber/Barao to headline an already thinned out Calgary show.

It won't lessen injuries, but it will lessen the financial impact of 'This looks great. Let's buy it!' to 'That card sucks.' I'm thinking of the casual fan instead of the hardcore one.

Fraser Coffeen: I see what you're saying here, but I think that's a short term decision that hurts you in the long run. The UFC really needs some new stars, but in order to do that, they need to be putting guys on their shows. You could have written Chan Sung Jung off after his WEC run and not brought him in, but if you had done that, you'd be looking at one less main eventer in the FW division. They need the roster to help them build talent.

Josh Nason: I agree, but with 30+ shows, you lose the relevance and importance for the casual fan dropping in. My prime example: the Fuel shows. I get why they have to do them, but with so few people seeing them, those fights (think Jung/Poirier especially) would be starmakers on more widely seen shows. Think of this: Brian Stann was on a Fuel show. You waste that feel good story for what? 120k viewers?

They have talent, but the 'call to action' of paying to watch guys is lost with all of the events.

KJ Gould: It's possible UFC have staggered too much of their talent, instead of clearly establishing who the A, B and C grade players are, and putting them in ascending order on Fuel, FX, Fox and PPV cards. There needs to be a clear theme to the cards, like 'this Fuel TV card is for no-name prospects, this PPV card is for proven draws, this Fox card is for top guys who aren't quite draws but should be'. Fighters on Fuel should be those looking to graduate to FX, and then to Fox, and then to PPV based on their success and connection with fans. But I think the business operations of UFC is best served for another roundtable, as we've been a bit off point regarding the original topic so far.

Brent Brookhouse: I'm just going to throw this out there, but the camp system might be a big part of the problem. With boxing, you have stars having camps built around getting them ready. They may have a session or two of sparring with another top level guy but the majority of their camp is built around working with guys who are paid to be in the gym specifically to help them get ready. Manny Pacquiao is sparring Kevin Hoskins and Roger Gonzalez, not other top level killers.

Of course, you can't do that for the lower card guys, and it's the same in boxing. But in MMA, championship level fighters going in there and working hard sparring and grappling and wrestling against other championship level fighters in the current "gym climate" of MMA poses a pretty big risk.

I get the whole "iron sharpens iron" mentality, but it's also very risky. And it's not like guys like Pacquiao or Mayweather or whoever aren't known for their intense workouts. They're just done in an environment more specifically tailored to them. That's really how it should be for every top level guy in the UFC as well.

As for the Fuel thing, more great "starmaking" fights on Fuel are exactly what the UFC needs. As it becomes a bigger deal that not having Fuel means missing great fights, it will lead to a bigger demand for the channel. Ultimately, that's the goal.

KJ Gould: The top fighters in Boxing have their camps paid for by the promoter though, right? Not so in the UFC. They have to do their best with what they have, and if Cesar Gracie's stories are to be believed, trying to bring in sparring partners from a particular field like Boxing has proven difficult with them allegedly upping their prices. When there's often such a mismatch in fight purses between a title contender and a champion like we famously saw with Shane Carwin vs Brock Lesnar, on top of not having a camp funded by the promoter (the UFC), the Fight Team way of doing things isn't going to change.

Brent Brookhouse: It's not just about paying for sparring partners, but use low level guys at the gym with the same physical characteristics or style as your fighter's opponent. You don't need top ranked guys working each other over. It doesn't have to be the exact same situation but the riskier the camp, the higher the chance of injury.

Fraser Coffeen: I think there's a lot of truth here. The fact that Freddie Roach can still hold the pads for fighters and not get hurt, while Mike Van Arsdale breaks his arm training Rashad Evans shows the different mentality each side brings to training.
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