MMA Fighter Appreciation 101: Blood, Bruises and Broken Bones
Every once in a great while, we as fans and enthusiasts forget just how dangerous the sport we love is for those fighters who entertain us.
I have often wondered just how much blood the fighters in the sport of MMA lose every calendar year, both in training and active competition. Yes, it’s a morbid curiosity, but it’s these kinds of questions that make me remember that even a little bit of blood is quite a bit, especially when it occurs outside the ring to a non-combatant.
When it occurs inside the ring, we as fans seem to have nothing more than a superficial reaction; it ceases to be anything more than a possible obstacle for the injured fighter to overcome.
We as fans talk at length about fighter injuries; mainly about how they are used as a crutch for poor performances or reasons to pull out of a fight and so on. We’ve seen fighters bleed so often that we expect more from them than we have a right to, but it’s something we've learned from them, given that they expect more from themselves than anyone else.
And then, there is the shocking safety record the sport of MMA enjoys. It’s touted so often, by fans and fighters alike, that sometimes we don’t remember that fabled line by Brutus: “Plebs love to see their betters fight. It’s cheaper than theatre and the blood is real.”
In that spirit, here is an accounting of blood, bruises and broken bones, all of it real and honestly earned in the theatre, although it never comes cheap.
Vitor Belfort vs. Marvin Eastman
When: June 6, 2003
Where: UFC 43 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
This is an oldie but a goodie that never fails to remind us of two things: that Vitor Belfort can mess up a fighter quick, and that it takes a special kind of badass to climb back into the cage after seeing that gash crawling across the eyebrow every morning in the mirror for months while recovering.
Marvin Eastman has long been a journeyman in the game, but I gained new respect for the man based on how he handled this injury.
He saw it on the big screen above, and then again on what looked to be his friends cell phone, right in the cage.
Eastman waived it off as if it were nothing at all instead of a huge open wound that, for some reason, was not bleeding nearly as much as I thought it would have.
Either way, Marvin Eastman can rest easy in the fact that his man card will ever be secure in his back pocket.
Miguel Torres vs. Joseph Benavidez
When: March 6, 2010
Where: WEC 47 (Columbus, Ohio)
This one never ceases to make me scratch my head and groan at the notion of having a laceration this large and then having to do everything in your power to keep it clean without reopening it.
This wasn’t just a cut; it was a wound so ugly that it seems almost offensive. As if it is not a cut but some foul alien organism that’s attached itself to Torres’ head—like the face hugger in Alien, maybe.
Proof positive that you have to be either a certifiable madman or a legitimate walking whoop-ass factory to take a wound like that and never think about changing your profession.
Dale Hartt vs. Corey Hill
When: Dec. 10, 2008
Where: UFC: Fight for the Troops (Fayetteville, NC)
In case you didn’t notice, this is one of those injuries that’s so damn nasty that just looking at it makes you cringe in empathy.
While many fans indulge in fantasies of a fistic nature, the sight of Corey Hill’s shin snapping and from there watching his leg do the rubber noodle from the knee down…well, it makes you glad you’re not a fighter.
Corey Hill rebounded from this, just like we knew he would. Still, I don’t see how you could go through all that recovery time, then come back and ask for seconds.
Renato "Babalu" Sobral vs. David Heath
When: Aug. 25, 2007
Where: UFC 74 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
God, this was a bloody mess.
Heath talked some smack, Babalu took it personal and from there spent most of the fight trying to paint the octagon floor with Heath’s blood: two coats.
When you look at the picture above, those pools of blood are standing: they can’t soak into the canvas because the canvas is already full.
But Babalu, ever the artist, was not satisfied, and proceeded to choke all the blood out of Heath that he could, like rolling up a tube of toothpaste.
The UFC brass—shockingly enough—didn’t appreciate his Lady Bathory impression and handed Babalu his walking papers.
Stefan Struve vs. Denis Stojnic
When: June 13, 2009
Where: UFC 99 (Cologne, Germany)
Head wounds are always nasty. It can have the length and breadth of a toenail clipping, but if it’s on the forehead or scalp, it can gush blood like a lacerated milk carton gushes milk.
In his fight against Denis Stojnic, the cut Stefan Struve suffered was serious and it ran from his upper forehead into his scalp, and it was deep.
But being a tall, skinny badass—no doubt born of a long line of tall, skinny and equally badass men—Struve swam through an ocean of his own blood to find the victory.
Jose Aldo vs. Uriah Faber
When: April 24, 2010
Where: WEC 48 (Sacramento, California)
Everyone thinks a few bumps and bruises are no big deal.
Well, they become a big deal when they’re the size of most of your thigh.
In his fight with Jose Aldo, Faber found his legs getting blasted so frequently that he must have thought he’d gone back in time, all the way to the finals of UFC 7.
The beating Aldo gave his legs was brutal, perhaps more so than when Pedro Rizzo did his best Paul Bunyan impersonation on Randy Couture.
Anyone who doubts the importance and validity of leg kicks has never had to be in there against a fighter like Jose Aldo.
When Uriah Faber finally decides to retire, he can do so with the knowledge that he’s got enough heart and grit for any five fighters. How he kept on coming out for more is something Stephen Hawking could ponder for a while.
Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann
When: March 3, 2011
Where: UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann (Louisville, Kentucky)
When the decision was announced that Diego Sanchez had defeated Martin Kampmann, many people were left scratching their heads. After all, it’s not often that the defeated look a bit roughed up while the victor looks like they fell down every set of steps in the arena.
No one has ever doubted that Sanchez loves to be in a brutal brawl, but in this fight he proved that you can have your face turned into a Halloween mask and still win the fight if you just keep on swinging.
Still, one has to think that the way judges score damage should be revisited because Sanchez took such a walloping that you’d think he used nothing but his face to attack Kampmann.
Evan Dunham vs. Sean Sherk
When: Sept. 25, 2010
Where: UFC 119 (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Sometimes, a single blow can make a fighter look like they went dunking for apples in a shark tank.
In his fight with Sean Sherk, Evan Dunham suffered a nasty cut that was so deep and ragged that it needed more spackle than Vaseline.
Wounds like this would give anyone due cause to rethink their career path, but Evan Dunham is a fighter who freely embraces all the pitfalls in his quest for glory and the title.
And that makes him one bad hombre.
Jose Aldo vs. Mark Hominick
When: April 30, 2011
Where: UFC 129 (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
This is one of those wounds that makes viewing audiences cringe, because more than a few of them are horrified by the question: What if that hematoma bursts open?
When so much swelling occurs, with the area filling with so much blood that it goes from a bruise to a balloon, such morbid questions are only natural. For a while it looked like that hematoma was going to develop its own personality and start talking.
Mark Hominick was game through out his entire fight with Jose Aldo, and even came back to win the final frame in dominant fashion, which speaks volumes about his desire and mettle.
Most men would have seen that thing growing on their head and found themselves developing a split personality.
BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson
When: Jan. 19, 2008
Where: UFC 80 (Newcastle, England)
As a fighter works his way up the ranks, he dreams of a title shot. It’s his greatest aspiration, and when he gets it only to be blown out of the water, it’s heartbreaking.
When Joe Stevenson got blitzed by BJ Penn, it was not only the shocking amount of blood he lost due to a cut, but his broken heart as well that caused him injury.
Some people might laugh when a fighter weeps in defeat, but Stevenson has nothing to be ashamed of. A loss to BJ Penn is nothing to be ashamed of, especially when having to contend with a cut that was gushing so much blood that it looked like, in Joe Rogan’s words: A broken fire hydrant.
Odds are his cut healed far before his heart.
Frank Mir vs. Tim Sylvia
When: June 19, 2004
Where: UFC 48 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The first time we saw Frank Mir prove he’s an arm breaking machine, it was in part due to the gift given to him by Tim Sylvia.
Perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls of big men is hubris, and Sylvia was the much larger man between the two of them.
Had he kept the fight on the feet, he might have been able to use his size advantage, but instead he went to the ground with Mir and successfully shot himself in the foot.
Mir seized his arm that final time, and from there all he need do was exert a little leverage and Sylvia’s forearm snapped like Joe Theismann’s leg.
Sylvia, being a true badass from a camp of badasses, either didn’t register the damage or simply tried to sell to Herb Dean that the arm was fine, but come the replay, we all saw the break.
What still lingers in the mind is the question: How far would it have gone had Herb Dean not seen the break?
BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz
When: Oct. 29, 2011
Where: UFC 137 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Everyone who had followed the careers of both BJ Penn and Nick Diaz found themselves drooling like fools when this fight was announced, and with good reason: both fighters were brawlers who put it all on the line.
By the end of the fight, both men were roughed up, but BJ Penn looked far worse for wear.
No one had ever seen Penn so bruised and bloody. A natural lightweight who gave up a considerable reach advantage to Diaz, Penn was understandably dispirited at the end, retiring briefly to enjoy the sweeter things in life.
But like we all knew would happen, Penn is fighting again, because some men are simply built to scrap.
Joe Stevenson vs. Yves Edwards
When: July 8, 2006
Where: UFC 61 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Yves Edwards has always been a gamer, but when he suffered a cut in his fight with Joe Stevenson, you could see the disappointment on his face.
Like so many others on this list, Edwards knew the problems that come when your head is leaking blood like a storm drain.
And, like so many others on this list, he returned to the game undaunted, eager to hop right back on the horse, a little wiser and holding onto those reigns just a little bit tighter.
Sean Sherk vs. Kenny Florian
When: Oct. 14, 2006
Where: UFC 64 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
What do you get when a little (but deep) cut on the head happens early in a title fight?
You get a five round blood bath that is more akin to a scarlet slip-n-slide party or hot oil wrestling that MMA fighting.
In many ways it was very unhealthy for both fighters that the bloodletting went on as long as it did. Florian spent so much time under Sherk and that bloody faucet that it looked like some kind of bizarre Asian torture regimen.
After the fight was finally done, it did give me an odd sense of fulfillment, however; like I really got my money’s worth out of a title fight.
Either way, both Sherk and Florian should be commended for dealing with a sticky situation as best they could.
Ricardo Arona vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
When: June 26, 2005
Where: Pride Critical Countdown 2005 (Saitama, Japan)
It’s tragic how many times Kazushi Sakuraba has been thrown against the wall of bigger, stronger fighters in his career. It’s almost as if the Asian companies he works for think if they just throw him hard enough, he’ll knock them all down and become a champion again, which, you know, is more important than the man's health.
When Sakuraba fought Ricardo Arona, it should have stopped such thinking before it began.
Sakuraba has enough heart and determination for any 10 men, but beatings of this level shouldn’t be repeated. For Sakuraba, they’re occurring so much that before too long he’s going to start showing up at bus stops not knowing his own name or how he got there.
Hasn’t it gone on long enough?
BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez
When: Dec. 12, 2009
Where: UFC 107 (Memphis, Tennessee)
I know that Diego Sanchez is a special individual, and usually fans either love him, hate him, or just stare at him, unsure of how to quantify that which they are seeing.
BJ Penn seemed to look at Sanchez, deem him ill and then proceeded to knock the whacky right out of him.
Sanchez may have been screaming “Yes!” at all corners before the fight, but as soon as Penn started laying the smack down, right after the first bell sounded, it had to be more like “No, no, no.”
This was a full scale, down home, six degrees of merciless ass kicking that any lesser man would have happy bailed on well before the first round ended, but when you’re doing it Diego Sanchez style, that ain’t how it’s done.
You have to stay in there for the entire beating, so you make sure you get every square inch of your ass kicked, and then you have to come back in your next fight like nothing happened.
And that’s why Diego Sanchez won The Ultimate Fighter contest; he loves fighting so much that he’s willing to endure more than just about anyone.
Josh Koscheck vs. Chris Lytle
When: July 5, 2008
Where: UFC 86 (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Another nasty cut on the head, another modern art masterpiece painted in blood all over the octagon floor.
Chris Lytle has always been a fighter’s fighter, so when the cut happened, the question wasn’t “Will he quit?” because we all knew he wouldn’t. It quickly became “Just how much blood does that freaking fireman have in his body?” because it was going all over the place.
Maybe it’s like the shirts say: firemen really do do it better, even when it comes to fighting as you're bleeding like a stuck pig.
Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira II
When: Dec. 10, 2011
Where: UFC 140 (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
It wasn’t supposed to go this way—that had to be what Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was thinking as he looked at his broken arm while Frank Mir walked around the octagon pointing to himself.
Before the UFC was the biggest MMA show on planet earth, Nogueira was kicking the asses of some of the baddest men in the sport under the Pride FC banner.
If you could get into a time machine, go back to 2002 and tell the MMA fans of that time that Frank Mir would beat Nogueira via knockout, they would have laughed in your face and dismissed you as an utter idiot.
If you would have further pushed your luck and told them that Mir would defeat Nogueira via submission in the rematch, they might have just gone into a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions.
This was one of those times when you were reminded that upsets in the fight game are simply a matter of perspective.
Kim Couture vs. Kim Rose
When: June 20, 2008
Where: Banner Promotions: Night of Combat (Las Vegas, Nevada)
God, this is nasty and brutal.
For a long while now, I have always suspected that women take pain better than men. This confirms it, without a doubt.
Kim Couture basically fought for over 10 minutes with her damn jaw snapped cleanly in two.
Un-freakin’-believable. What more can you say?
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Renzo Gracie
When: Aug. 27, 2000
Where: Pride 10 (Saitama, Japan)
Before Kazushi Sakuraba became everyone’s favorite ragdoll and stepping stone in Japan, more than a few fans would be surprised to know the he looked damn near unbeatable for his division.
The MMA world watched and held their breath as time and again he fought some of the best Brazilian fighters the sport had to offer, breaking hardly a sweat as he went through them and then happily and jovially wiped his feet on Gracie after Gracie until he had walked all over the first family of MMA like a rug.
Good times, great oldies.
This was the last moments of his fight against Renzo Gracie, who not only put up one hell of a fight, but was quite possibly leading on the scorecards. In the picture, you can tell that Sakuraba is more alarmed than Gracie is, which tells you just how much of a warrior Renzo is.
Jose Aldo vs. Cub Swanson
When: June 7, 2009
Where: WEC 41 (Sacramento, California)
Sometimes it’s a damn rough gig being the guy standing across the cage from Jose Aldo.
If you’re there, you at least want to make an accounting of yourself; you don’t want to give away any free lunches.
Then, like Cub Swanson learned, you discover that Aldo is just so damn fast that he already ate your lunch in the kitchen and is now just handing you back the dirty silverware.
But unlike Swanson, most men would say “To hell with this!” after being knocked out in short order and suffering the addition of a second mouth above the eye.
Shinya Aoki vs. Mizuto Hirota
When: Dec. 31, 2009
Where: Dynamite!! 2009 (Saitama, Japan)
Who knew that Japanese men wearing tights with all the colors of the rainbow could be so mean and nasty?
When grappling standout Shinya Aoki broke Mizuto Hirota’s arm early in the first frame of their fight, and then proceeded to flip him off, followed by the crowd, you’d have thought that Hirota had talked dirty about Aoki’s mother.
In truth, the slight was far less, having a little to do with avenging the loss of a teammate and a little to do with Aoki feeling that he’d been slighted when Hirota had been given to him as an opponent.
But mostly, it looked like he did it because he’d been waiting for a reason—no matter how slight—to go off half cocked.
Junior Dos Santos vs. Shane Carwin
When: June 11, 2011
Where: UFC 131 (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Shane Carwin has always been one tough son of a gun, but in his fight with Junior Dos Santos, he got cut up, badly.
Doing his best Arturo Gatti impression, Carwin took a beating and kept coming forward, blood streaming into his eyes and down his face, never for a second thinking of anything but landing that big knockout blow.
That never came to pass and in the process, Carwin suffered bad cuts both above and below his eyes.
Still, there is little doubt that the next time Carwin steps into the cage, he’ll come forward, looking to trade heavy leather, because that’s what fighters do, and that’s why we love them.
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Marius Zaromskis
When: Dec 31, 2010
Where: Dynamite!! 2010 (Saitama, Japan)
It’s bad enough when a fighter has taken enough brutal beatings in his career to give just cause for any three other fighters to retire, but when said fighter actually begins to come apart…someone needs to step in.
In his fight with Marius Zaromskis, that’s exactly what happened to Kazushi Sakuraba—he started to fall apart.
However, it’s doubtful that Sakuraba will retire anytime soon. His countrymen and their desire to live vicariously through him keep inspiring him to fight again, no matter how detrimental the results.
Instead of wrapping his head with the towel to keep his ear on, they need to learn how to throw it into the ring before it gets any worse.
Shigeyuki Uchiyama vs. Masaya “J-Taro” Takita
When: June 5, 2010
Where: Pancrase – Passion Tour 5 (Tokyo, Japan)
What’s worse than almost losing your ear in a fight?
You guessed it: having the damn thing taken off in a fight you were winning, by the ropes, no less.
Some things speak for themselves, and much like the sight of Evander Holyfield’s ear lying on the canvas, when the ref saw a large portion of Shigeyuki Uchiyama’s ear rolling around at his feet, he had the good sense to know enough was enough.
And to think that back in the day some thought the fights in Pancrase were all works.