There’s not much hidden anymore about the lack of safety in football at just about all levels of the game. Improved helmet structure and increased padding have done little to dampen the blows of an increasingly bigger, faster, and stronger set of athletes. In fact, the perception of improved safety gear may even have increased the rate of certain types of injuries, as players now feel more free to launch themselves full speed at their opponents.
But, is it really more dangerous than cage fighting?
The UFC has often promoted itself on the reputation of being one of the safest (if not the safest) full contact sports in the world. “In the 20-year history of the UFC...” Dana White said in a 2013 interview, “there has never been a death or a serious injury... because we go above and beyond when it comes to the safety of these guys. When you know you have two healthy athletes getting ready to compete, they get the proper medical attention before and after, it’s the safest sport in the world, fact.”
White was speaking directly of the NFL’s ongoing discussion over concussions when he made those comments. And while fight sports certainly have their own long history of traumatic brain injuries – and even deaths – former collegiate linebacker and current UFC middleweight Eryk Anders is in firm agreement with White’s stance that it’s safer than the NFL (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“Football is way more dangerous than MMA,” Anders said in a recent interview on the MMA Hour, in reference to the NFL’s injury rate. “Even if you get knocked out in MMA, it’s just one time, then you get up, you take a couple of months off, let your body heal. In football, you may not get knocked out, but you’re constantly getting hit, getting hit, getting hit, especially if you play that D line, linebacker, running back, offensive line position. Every play it’s a collision and your body doesn’t appreciate that.
“You see guys at 30 years old, their career is done just because of all the hits, all the contact. Just look at the shelf life of the average NFL player, three to five years if you’re lucky; MMA guys, they can play for much longer as long as they’re not one of those guys who play with their hands down and just chuck for the fences and take it to give it.”
And Anders spoke from his own experience. A member of the Crimson Tide from 2006 to 2009, Anders flirted with the NFL, CFL, and AFL, before eventually making the jump to MMA. Now standing an undefeated 10-0 in his pro career, Anders claims he’s never felt better.
“This is the best my body has felt since I started playing football,” Anders said. “We train pretty intelligently at the gym that I train at in Birmingham, Spartan Fitness. We only train once or twice a week. A lot of drilling, not really damaging my body.
“Football, it’s a collision every play. Car wreck, every play. But now my body, I don’t have to lift all those weights and eat all that food, it’s kind of the opposite. When I was in college, my back always hurt, my knees always hurt from bearing all the weight and hits and whatnot, but now that I’m doing MMA, my body’s never felt better. I’m walking around at more of a natural weight, my diet’s much better and the way we train I can go forever if I wanted to.”
‘Ya Boi’ is currently getting ready for the biggest test of his young MMA career. He’ll be facing off against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida on February 3rd in Belem, Brazil. Machida vs. Anders is currently expected as the main event for the fight night offering, which will also include the flyweight debut of former title contender Valentina Shevchenko, as she takes on promotional newcomer Priscila Cachoeira.