So, a while back I made a post to bring together some highly respected community members in for a community roundtable based off of the ones occasionally featured on the front page. I assembled a crew, and although I kind of made it up as I went along, I'm happy with the final product. The group consisted of me, Jim America (helped me a lot with setting this all up), Our Bovine Public, Dangalvan, BVandDietPepsi, and Patrick Wyman. The topic of our discussion was injuries in MMA and what can be done about them.
If you have any suggestions or want to be a part of the next one, please just leave a comment. Prerequisites to being a part of it are: being a member of Bloody Elbow for at least 8 months, having 1,500+ comments, and having an email account you check regularly.
Also, TC Engel was supposed to contribute but never got back to me with an initial statement nor did he reply during our discussions. I assume something came up, so no hard feelings.
Continue reading for the discussion:
This is definitely the worst run of injuries I have ever witnessed in my time watching the UFC. It's hard to put a finger on why exactly it is happening and it's possible it's just really bad luck. I do feel however that there are a number of factors which are contributing to the spate of injuries we have seen lately.
As Dana mentioned earlier in the week a large number of fighters are training together in a small number of camps. Camps like Nova Uniao, AKA, Greg Jacksons and ATA all have a number of highly ranked fighters training together often in the same weight classes. Because these fighters are at such a high level, the training must be pretty intense and this is going to cause injuries. I'm really not sure what the solution is though. Fighters need good training partners to ensure they are continutally improving. Coaches could tell fighters to not train quite as hard but that is hardly ideal for a fighter training for a fight.
Another factor which I believe has contributed not necessarly to the number of injuries, but to the number of fighters that have dropped out of fights, is the health insurance policy the UFC introduced a while ago. Before fighters weren't covered so they felt that had to fight their fights to make the money. Now that they are getting covered they are more willing to drop out of the fight and don't have to worry about the cost. Dana suggested that this wasn't part of the reason there have been so many drop outs but the numbers would suggest otherwise.
The final thing I think has been factor is the number of shows the UFC has attempted to put on this year. Something like 38 cards? That's crazy. With that many cards there is bound to be more injuries. It's just really unfortunate that most of the fights that have been cancelled have been main events or co-mains. It also means that full cards have to be rearranged to make up for people dropping out.
To the issue of fighters getting injured in training, I'll keep my solution to this short and sweet: Do not a damned thing.
Yes, it is true that injuries have taken down the Bantamweight, Featherweight, Welterweight, and Heavyweight champions as of late, not to mention the dearth of other fighters lately, on an unprecidented string of arrows to the knees; but my question being, what would you suggest?
Would you go up to Dom Cruz, Jose Aldo, Georges St. Pierre, and Junior dos Santos, they of a combined record of 77-5, and tell them to alter their training rituals? These are guys, not only those four, but fighters worldwide, who have been fighting since their tiny bodies could fit into gloves, kickpads, or singlets. Asking them to change or alter something they've done all their lives only takes away from their process that has made all of them top-flight fighters.
So what, then? Shrink the number of events? Noooooo no. When the UFC signed on with FOX, their message was clear. They had a network deal. Like other mainstream sports with network deals, you need content, and a lot of it. By signing a network deal and affiliating with its second-tier cable channel (FX), AND its third-tier cable channel (Fuel), Dana and company didn't want the question to be, "When's the next UFC card?", they wanted it to be, "Who's fighting this week?", much like "Who's playing tonight?".
My point being that the UFC can't back down from their number of events, and they can't tell lifelong fighters to alter their schedule and camp, so how can they overcome injuries? Strikeforce. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has seemingly forgot that they own the #2 MMA promotion IN THE WORLD with fighters teeming to get a shot. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why Mousasi wasn't pegged to fight Shogun on FOX. Does the ever-important "casual fan" remember when Vera was kind of a big deal four years ago? When Rick Story was losing opponents left and right for injury, you couldn't have dialed up Jason High, a guy who fought in front of 45,000 fans at Dynamite with UFC and Strikeforce creds? I'm all about gettin regional guys like Brock Jardine experience, but it seems the UFC would have a much, much easier time with injury replacements if they merely remembered they have an extremely talented roster on the other side of their desk.
The issue with Strikeforce isn't that the UFC doesn't want to bring those guys over from Strikeforce - they certainly do, as the transfers of Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, and Maximo Blanco attest, and one of their stated reasons for purchasing the rival promotion was the need for fighters to fill cards - but that part of their new deal with Showtime prevents them from doing so until the end of the contract (this year). Once that deal runs out, we'll see all of those guys in the UFC, which will go some way toward allaying the problem. Let's not forget that we're in the first six months of a long television deal: the UFC's organization and scouting haven't quite caught up with their level of exposure just yet. Give it a little time, and I think they'll have a better sense of how to handle injuries.
Now, as to the incidence of injuries themselves: Wonderfulspam did some digging into the numbers (bless his Danish heart), and here are the preliminary results; I'll go into in more depth another forum later. First of all, yes, there have been a lot of injuries since the introduction of the insurance policy. Most of those fights, however, have been guys competing on the preliminary cards. The incidence of injuries in co-main and main events is the same (13) in the year since the introduction of the insurance as it was in the year prior. It actually represents a smaller percentage of total scheduled main and co-mains in that period.
With that said, the last five months have been absolutely awful. 52 of 134 scheduled fights (39%) have been reshuffled, as compared to 59 of 198 in the preceding seven months (30%). Essentially, I'd argue that this has been an unlucky period: that's not to say that there aren't deeper causes of the increased injury rate (training methods, aging fighters, who knows what other variables), but this should right itself. The influx of Strikeforce fighters, presumably at the end of the year, should also provide some more name value and quality fighters. Hopefully, the UFC will have invested more resources into scouting as well, thus providing better injury replacements when fights are inevitably called off.
One final point: the injury bug hasn't all been negative. Exciting fighters who otherwise might not have had a chance to headline an event got to do so (Poirier and KZ, Gustafsson, Jim Miller), and perhaps that'll pay some dividends. The UFC has been able to bring in a ton of prospects, and some of them might turn out well.
I tend to agree with my counterparts here that, in large part, the injuries are unavoidable, at least at this stage and time. Luke makes some great points about the need for the increased number of fight cards given the network deal that is now in place with the UFC and Fox. The fact that there's anywhere from 6-10 more events per year going forward is going to mean the overall number of injuries affecting fight cards is going to increase. In addition, this expansion has occurred before it itself has had an impact on the sport. Thus, the increased exposure has not yet affected the size and quality of the stable of fighters from which to fill the cards. Due to this, the percentage of fight-affecting injuries has increased over the short term. If the network deal has the intended effect of growing the sport, this aspect will naturally subside.
Similarly, whether or not the year old insurance policy in place has had an effect on the increased incidence of fighters pulling out of events is immaterial to me. The net effect will be to make the profession more attractive to prospective athletes, growing the size and quality of the stable of fighters. Is it the case that a guy fighting in a preliminary bout who would have no source of income or way to pay his medical bills in the past would have been more likely to fight with a moderate to serious injury? Probably so, but that's a positive change in the sport.
On the question of overtraining, I definitely think the old Lion's Den mentality that Frank Shamrock left behind is pervasive in some fight camps to this day, but it is a question of balance in training regimens. Having boxed, there is no question in my mind that hard training and brutalizing one's own body serves to toughen a fighter up, but this has diminishing returns. I think everyone can agree that punishment accumulates over a fighter's career, combined with the natural aging process, leading to an increased incidence of injury much like great chins become glass jaws in due time. That is inevitable to some degree. I think certain aspects of MMA training can be improved...Crossfit is stupid for fight training, allowing one's body to rest is necessary to achieve maximum gains from training, etc. I also think as the sport grows, money will increase, allowing for better and bigger facilities to limit some of these injuries...like when Rashad Evans had a nearby teammate fall into his knee.
Pretty much the only thing I would change right now in order to limit injuries would be to scale up the padding in the gloves as the weight classes increase. It makes no sense that a guy like Mighty Mouse has the same 4 ounces of padding across the knuckles on his little hands that Bigfoot Silva has to cover the Butterball turkeys at the end of his arms. Another ounce or so is not going to suddenly turn 265 pound bangers into pillow fists...people will still end up stiff and snoring on their backs.
I'm of the opinion that training can be tweaked in order to keep injuries to a minimum. I think it is silly when training for fighters to not at least be wearing some kind of protective equipment. It's training, it's supposed to emulate a fight, not be exactly like one. While certain equipment may hinder a fighter's performance in sparring sessions or what have you, it's better to have that than to risk a broken rib, leg, etc. Fighters should be less aggressive and be more technique centric when focusing on full on MMA sparring, as there's a whole slew of things that can go wrong in full on sparring, and in my opinion, technique should be of the utmost importance anyway.
Another thing that really irks me is when fighters work with training partners well above their weight. Brian Stann recently got injured because apparently Shawn Jordan slipped and landed directly on his shoulder during a training session. To me, a fighter should be training with someone no more than 25 pounds away from their own weight. It isn't something crucial to have, because if you're a middleweight, you shouldn't have to worry about a guy with the physical attributes of a heavyweight. If there's nobody at your gym suited for your weight (when you're in the UFC this shouldn't be that big a problem anyway), you need to find someone, or visit another camp. It isn't fair to anyone in these cases.
A final point on training safety is that I believe gyms should have a low maximum number for people on the mat at a given time. From what I understand, grappling next to another group can be pretty bad if one group bumps into the other. When in on a takedown, the fight for control shouldn't take you out of a set area and into one where other groups are grappling, reset and continue, the battle wasn't that important anyway.
As for how the UFC can keep fans happy despite injuries, I believe they should be more willing to scrap more fights. Instead of making me scratch my head at an odd mismatch, I'd like to see the UFC take apart an existing fight to provide a newer one. For UFC 149, they could've bumped up Hatsu Hioki or Chan Sung Jung to fight Erik Koch. Instead, now we have to wait for Jose Aldo to return, and I'm sure at least one of the three fighters I just mentioned will be disappointed when their name isn't called.
I also feel that the UFC should offer some kind of reimbursement to fans that buy tickets to a card that was drastically changed. Maybe they don't have to give a full refund, but maybe a portion of the money back on the ticket and a free code to stream the fights on UFC.tv or something. Maybe they can just give everyone a t-shirt. I understand that cards are subject to change, but when a fan buys tickets to what looks like an amazing card but turns out to be a whole lot of nothing, they will definitely become bitter, warranted or not.
A final point I'd like to make is for the UFC is for them to pressure fighters to fight more often, or perhaps encourage it. Give a healthy bonus to a guy like Jon Jones, Donald Cerrone, or Daniel Pineda for being ready and willing to fill in on a moment's notice. I feel like fighters that fight more often get injured less. Sure there is the point that maybe if more fighters were healthy more of the time they would also be active, but even without speaking about injuries, a more active roster has a lot of benefits for the company. A fighter being more active leaves less to chance in a gym, and allows them to stay fresh and avoid rust for as long as possible. It'd be beneficial for a fighter to get as many fights in if an injury could be just around the corner.
Clearly injuries are at all time high, but that should come as no surprise because of the amount of shows are being run. It'd be interesting to get a per capita number to see how this year contrasts with others.
I think the UFC should investigate the injuries and see if there is a pattern that can be prevented. From the outside, it appears as though the injuries are a result of overtraining.
I understand its hard to tell a champion fighter to take it easy in the gym, but overtraining may be the worst thing a fighter can do because an injury will lead to them not even strapping on the gloves at all.
Luke, while I do agree with your idea about using Strikeforce in cases like this, I just don't think that's practical. Also, it just seems way too passive to let things continue like they are and not say or do anything.
There has to be something that can be changed in a fighter's routine that won't put them at such risk of injury. Lower the intensity, work with different people, there must be something they can switch up if they really don't want to sit out so much. And if the UFC has reason to believe that they are doing something stupid in training, they should be harsh on them. Just like in a fight, they have to be willing to change up some of their routine to get where they want to be.
The fighters health insurance is brought up quite a bit as a major reason for the constant amount of pullouts. In order for the policy not to be abused, the UFC should manage it to where a fighters privilege of the insurance can be revoked if he is believed to be abusing it.
I couldn't possibly disagree more with this: "In order for the policy not to be abused, the UFC should manage it to where a fighters privilege of the insurance can be revoked if he is believed to be abusing it." The whole point of insurance is to ensure that guys don't have to fight hurt; they still need to fight to get paid.
I don't know if people didn't read the statistics I cited earlier, but main card and main event injuries haven't gone up since the insurance was introduced; overall, the numbers are up, but it's preliminary-card fighters who are pulling out at higher rates than before.
Maybe we've just made it seem worse than it actually is? I just can't remember a time where I've been so disappointed with all of the card shuffling that's gone on. They're spreading cards much thinner with real talent, so when one guy pulls out it can be critical, maybe that's what we're noticing?
So, there it is. I would like to thank all of the other people that contributed, and I want to apologize for the slight confusion. This definitely isn't perfect, and I will take the blame for that for not being organized. Either way, I'm happy with how it turned out. I will happily consider any suggestions.