*Subject to change due to injury.
Can you asterisk an entire promotion? An entire sport? You can when it's the UFC and MMA in 2012.
The latest shreds of evidence arrived Tuesday, when the UFC announced no less than three major fighter injuries. First, UFC 153 co-main-eventer Quinton Jackson bit the dust. Then, supremely injury-prone featherweight champion Jose Aldo withdrew from his UFC 153 main event with Frankie Edgar, himself an injury replacement. Then, Vladimir Matyushenko announced he could no longer compete at UFC 152 following a torn Achilles' tendon.
What do I have to do to watch a nice, normal, injury-free sporting event? I work hard in the salt mines all day so I can plunk down $49.99 to watch Dave Spiwack fight the cotton candy guy? I literally work in the salt mines. You're taking my salt money.
And you know what? It's driving me nuts. This thing is out of control. And in the fashion of the Internet, I am now looking for someone I can loudly and repeatedly blame.
Oh, here's something. A new insurance policy took effect June 1, 2011 for all Zuffa fighters. The policy essentially covers the injuries fighters sustain during training. I like to call it Danacare. Or, if you prefer, The Smoking Gun.
Do I have to draw you a map? Boy meets insurance policy, boy trains, boy skins knee, boy cancels fight, boy cashes insurance check, boy sips lemonade on sandy beach where there are no salt mines.
I know it's just a formality and all, but before I go much further with these assumptions, I figured I should do some, what's that called...research. I'm no scientist, but I looked on Wikipedia and elsewhere, tallied up all the injuries and events from the past three years, and did a few back-of-the-envelope calculations. It may not hold up in a court of law, but it will serve as a useful guide.
Danacare took effect June 1, 2011. For all the events that happened in 2011 up through UFC 131 on June 11 (I postdated it a little bit, figuring UFC 131 injuries were probably the last ones, more or less, to occur before June 1), there were 35 injuries in a total of 11 events. That's 3.18 injuries per event for the pre-Danacare part of 2011. For the post-Danacare part of 2011, there were 46 injuries from June 2011 to December 30 over 16 events, for 2.88 injuries per event.
Great, so the Danacare apologists hacked Wikipedia for 2011. Fine. How about 2012 to date? So far, there have been a whopping 62 injuries after 21 events. That's 2.95 injuries per event, which is on pace for about 90 total over the 30 events scheduled for the year.
If these ballpark estimates are even generally accurate, they would appear to absolve Danacare of any culpability. But when you go back to 2010, there were 54 injuries over 24 events—or, only 2.25 injuries per event.
So what does this prove? It proves that injuries are on the rise, but not along the same timeline as Danacare.
In all fairness, though, are fighters less apt to fight injured now that the insurance policy is in effect? Well, yeah. That's common sense. And that's a good thing, given that it wasn't/isn't a good idea for fighters to fight injured in the first place.
And it probably affects all fighters. There's no question that undercard fighters probably find all that sweet, sweet Danacare cash more tempting than do the main-eventers. But that doesn't mean the top guys are immune to its siren song. If you get injured during training, why fight if it means potentially doing further physical damage or putting on a bad performance that could ruin your reputation? There's more on the line than just one payday—every pro fighter has to take the long view. So, yes, I think any and all fighters could be lured in here.
Danacare, then, probably plays a role, but not the lead role. My guess for the true prime culprit is that boring dude Occam and his razor. The culprit is overtraining. As the sport continues to evolve in its ever-evolving mainstream popularity and appeal, the stakes are higher and margins for error thinner. A need to be more well-rounded means more disciplines to learn means more training overall.
Take that and add in the fact that the fight cards are thinner as well. The figures above show that injuries are on the rise, but so are the number of fight cards. So the loss of a fight to injury (or any reason) is felt more acutely.
So what can the UFC do? They can reduce the number of cards. They don't seem to want to do that, but they could. Again, no expert talking here, but it would seem to these untrained eyes that this route could provide a lot of problem-solving for the situation. But what do I know.
One thing they can't do is repeal Danacare. That would, for several reasons, be draconian. So what can they do? Well, how about a little fighter education? Maybe their supply of sticks is limited in this case, but what about carrots? How about constant reminders stressing the dangers of overtraining, and perhaps discouraging the practice? "Train smarter, not harder"—that kind of thing. How about taking durability into account in matchmaking? How about designating understudies?
There is another possible solution that I hesitate to bring up but will do so anyway: a fighters' union. If collective bargaining happened, both the fighters and the UFC would have more leverage. The UFC could more easily stipulate that fighters shouldn't ride motorcycles and do other stupid things. It could help, even if it would have the unfortunate side effect of turning everyone into a bunch of drooling, soulless communists.
Injuries are a problem made all the more vexing because of the simplicity involved in the problem and the complexity involved in the solution. But unless you're a rabid conspiracy theorist, the notion that Danacare is the lone gunman behind the injury bug doesn't hold up to those pesky things called facts.
Follow Scott Harris on Twitter @ScottHarrisMMA.