Josh Thomson's mistaken advice to Anthony Pettis: Just rest and let it heal

USA TODAY Sports

UFC lightweight Josh Thomson takes issue with Anthony Pettis's decision to have surgery on his knee, alleging that he fought with the same injury. Must we now push fighters with similar injuries to be treated exactly the same?

UFC lightweight fighter Josh Thomson recently made some interesting comments concerning lightweight champion Anthony Pettis's decision to have his torn posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) surgically repaired.

In an interview with Steph Daniels posted on BloodyElbow.com, Thomson essentially surmised that he "worked through" a torn PCL and kept fighting, and therefore Pettis should have done the same. More recently, he repeated this accusation on the MMA Hour:

"I kind of figured that he was going to back out of the fight, just given that he had pulled out of the fight with (Jose) Aldo, miraculously got better to fight in his hometown against Benson (Henderson), and now he's pulled out again. So I can understand. You just won the title, you want a little time off."

Thomson's implication seems to be that Pettis's reason for pulling out of the fight, and ultimately having the knee surgery, was to get "a little time off." There are a couple of points in his argument that are worth addressing.

In the Steph Daniels interview, Thomson states "I've talked to some of the best doctors and surgeons, and they've said trying to repair a PCL is kind of pointless. Rest and letting it heal is the best way to deal with it." First, if it were truly pointless, then no one, from elite athletes to Joe Schmoe, would ever have a PCL surgically repaired. The doctors that he supposedly visited did nothing more than give a medical opinion. I wonder if those same surgeons would acknowledge research that points to the damage that a chronically PCL-deficient knee is subject to? One study shows that the cartilage on the medial (inside) knee joint of a PCL-deficient knee is subject to increased deformation with a simple single-legged lunge, compared to a normal knee[1]. One can only imagine what stress an MMA fighter's PCL-injured knee could incur.

Just because Thomson chose to compete with a torn PCL does not mean that others with a similar injury should make the same decision. Anthony Pettis is an exciting, popular UFC fighter. I'm sure that he has access to equally well-respected surgeons, like the ones Thomson purports to have seen. Pettis undoubtedly consulted with the UFC, and probably more than one doctor, and ultimately came to a decision that he feels is in his best long-term interest. This is the essence of informed medical decision-making. A fighter's years of peak performance are few. Who is Thomson to say what any fighter should do regarding their own physical health?

Ultimately, I think that Thomson's interest is a selfish one. He commented that "The most upsetting thing for me is that the title opportunity has been taken away." This sentiment is understandable. But judging a fighter's choice to heal their body in a way different than yours is not fair, Mr. Thomson.

1. Voos, JE, Mauro, CS, Wente, T et al. Posterior cruciate ligament: Anatomy, biomechanics, and outcomes. Am J Sports Med. 2012;40:222-231.

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