The injury bug in mixed martial arts has reached epidemic status over the past few weeks.
Let's take a look at just a few of the major summer fights that were canceled, postponed or changed due to injuries suffered by one or both fighters:
- Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva, UFC 147: Belfort broke his hand and was replaced with Rich Franklin.
- Michael Bisping vs. Tim Boetsch, UFC 148: Bisping re-injured his knee and was removed from the fight. Bisping was replaced with Hector Lombard and the fight was moved to UFC 149.
- Thiago Silva vs. Mauricio Rua, UFC 149: Silva suffered another back injury. Rua was moved to the FOX show in August to face Brandon Vera.
- Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Thiago Alves, UFC 149: First, Akiyama was injured and replaced by Siyar Bahazurdada. Alves then suffered his own injury and was replaced by Chris Clements.
- Jose Aldo vs. Erik Koch, UFC 149: Aldo was injured, and Koch elected to wait for him to heal. The fight was canceled and replaced with Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao
- Brian Stann vs. Hector Lombard, UFC on FOX: Stann suffered a shoulder injury. Lombard was moved to the Boetsch fight at UFC 149, and the new FOX main event is Shogun Rua vs. Brandon Vera.
- Chad Griggs vs. Phil Davis, UFC on FOX: Griggs was forced to pull out of his light heavyweight debut and was replaced by Wagner Prado.
That's quite the list of major televised fights that were changed dramatically due to fighter injuries. And that list doesn't even include all of the preliminary fights that underwent alterations of their own.
Is the UFC's fighter insurance policy to blame? Perhaps. In the old days, fighters were forced to fight through injuries because they needed a paycheck or a way to pay for surgery. That's no longer the case. Nowadays, the UFC pays for any medical procedures needed due to injuries suffered in training, which means that fighters have a much easier time pulling out of a bout than they used to.
But fighter insurance can't be held responsible for all of the blame.
On any given day, there are hundreds of really good fighters in gyms around the country who are going toe-to-toe with friends and training partners. We hear teammates talk about not fighting each other all the time, but the reality is that most of them are fighting very intense battles against their teammates in the gym each and every day.
I've seen it firsthand during visits to gyms such as Xtreme Couture and American Kickboxing Academy. These gyms are packed with elite fighters preparing for fights, going nearly as hard as they would come showtime on a daily basis. And as the quality of fighters around the world improves—and as more of them join the bigger, name-brand camps—the potential for injury is much greater.
UFC president Dana White agrees, stating, "I think what's happening, too, and me and Joe Silva were talking about this tonight, you have so many talented guys out there now all in the same camp, going at it like they're fighting for the title. These guys need to tone it down in training a bit and stop hurting each other."
So what's the answer? Asking fighters to tone down their training is an impossible task. They're preparing to win, and they're doing it the only way they know how. That includes going head-on with training partners, at full volume. They're hitting each other with everything they've got, and they're executing takedowns at full force.
It's standard operating procedure in almost every MMA gym, and I don't see it changing any time in the future. And why should it? What happens if one fighter decides to take things a little bit easier, but their opponent is going full-bore in preparation to dismantle them? They're not going to take the easy way out. They're going to go hard because their opponent is going hard, and they want to keep a level playing field.
That's unfortunate, too. Because until major changes are made in the way training is approached, these injuries will continue to affect UFC cards.