MMA Injuries: How Hard Must a Fighter Train?

Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE

The past few days have probably been maddening for Dana White and the UFC brass. There has been a rash of fights cancelled or reworked due to fighter injury, and there is a common theme with most of these injuries. I'll discuss that later. For now, here is a summary of notable MMA injuries recently revealed.

There are other recent injuries, but these are a few of the ones that stand out to me. A couple of things deserve mention when looking at all of these injuries.

First, congratulations and a big thank you to TJ Grant, for putting his ego aside and taking his long-term health seriously. Just like a football player who wants to get back on the field soon after getting his bell rung, I'm sure TJ wanted badly to get this title shot against Henderson. While I understand the excitement over the new bout between Anthony Pettis and Henderson, it was interesting that some were calling shenanigans on Grant about the timing of his injury. His Tweet on the topic says it best.

Secondly, the number of injuries suffered in training is eye opening. On one hand, it stands to reason that most injuries will occur during training, as a fighter spends much more time in training than in actual competition. Still I wonder if the drive to compete and succeed at an elite level in MMA is causing some fighters to push beyond a safe limit when training.

I first thought seriously about this when I read an article about Junior Dos Santos. He suffered from rhabdomyolysis in the aftermath of his UFC 155 bout with Cain Velasquez. This condition is caused when skeletal muscle starts to break down, releasing a substance called myoglobin into the blood. Myoglobin can cause kidney damage[1]. One of the causes of rhabdomyolysis is severe exertion. If nothing else, training (or over training, in Dos Santos' case) would definitely qualify as "severe exertion." When asked if he would quit, or at least change his training methods if he knew his job could create health issues that would last the rest of his lifetime, he responded,

"You know, I think it's worth it. This is my life. This is everything I have... MMA athletes train so much, you know... I want it so badly. I want to give everything I have to this. This is everything to me."

In my profession, I work with people to help them recover from injury. Maybe that's why this is such a sobering response to me. I don't pretend to know what it takes physically to compete in MMA at an elite level. However, it's my experience that the body is more likely to be injured when one is fatigued. Continuing to push and push with a training regimen when the body is saying that it needs a break is tempting fate. If I had the opportunity to ask injured fighters one question it would be "how long had you been training/exercising that day when you injured yourself?"

The next logical question is, how much is too much? I don't have an answer for that, but I suspect that the trainers that work with the fighters would definitely know. "Too much" is going to be different from one fighter to the next. Trainers are in a perfect position to pick up on the subtleties that could indicate that a fighter has reached their limit. Whether the fighter would listen to a trainer telling them to stop and go home to rest is another story. I just hope that fighters and trainers realize that there is a limit for the body, even at this elite level.


1. MedlinePlus. Service of US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. Accessed July 12, 2013.

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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