MMA: Are Fighters Just Bad at Risk Management in Training?

James MacDonald@@JimMacDonaldMMAFeatured ColumnistOctober 12, 2012

Courtesy of Cage Potato
Courtesy of Cage Potato

Much has already been written about the injuries and withdrawals that currently plague the UFC. Fewer column inches, however, have been dedicated to discussing the cause of these afflictions.

I previously argued that health insurance has played a fairly prominent role in the recent rash of withdrawals, but this fails to explain the injuries that precede fighters pulling out.

What is it that makes mixed martial artists so susceptible to injury? Either they have been cursed with an inherent fragility, or their issues relate to flawed training methods.

Your average MMA fighter is no more brittle than your average boxer. The difference lies in how each prepares for a fight.

While boxers focus relentlessly on honing their hand skills, the mixed martial artist engages in a more eclectic approach, refining their grappling and the art of eight limbs.

So few boxers withdraw from contracted bouts—relatively speaking—that one can deduce that striking very likely isn’t the major source of injuries. Rather, the most notable difference between the two sports is that MMA requires grappling.

Fights occasionally fall through due to cuts, but grappling injuries appear to be the sport’s greatest saboteur. We so often hear about fighters blowing out knees or injuring their shoulders as the result of an overly-enthusiastic wrestling session.

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This points to a related issue, which is indicative of particularly counter-productive mind-set that is almost systemically pervasive at this point: many athletes within the sport of MMA believe that one must train as one means to fight.

Just consider that point for a moment.

Many of these athletes are fighting at full pelt almost every day for six to eight weeks. Is it any wonder that they so frequently get injured?

If you believe that this mindset isn’t a mainstream notion within the sport, I would urge you watch this clip. Some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping, discuss this suicidal approach to training.

Given how open fighters are about engaging in training methods that are so obviously flawed, it is astonishing that Dana White has not yet sought a solution. Admittedly, that is easier said than done.

How exactly do you police the way that a fighter trains?

The short answer is that you can’t.

Instead, it seems like incentives should be offered to those who manage to maintain a clean bill of health or fulfill their contracts.

Those who routinely fail to show up to agreed bouts needn’t be punished, but the fighters who demonstrate their reliability most certainly should be rewarded. Their ability to effectively manage risk in training is something that the UFC must attempt to spread to its other fighters.

Show up to all of your contracted fights in a calendar year? Here’s a little Christmas bonus from Uncle Dana.

Rest assured, if the UFC sufficiently rewards good risk management, fighters in training might think twice about putting all their body weight behind the next power double they attempt or cranking on the next armbar they secure.

Until fighters are encouraged to better manage risk in training, we can expect to see this injury trend continue for the foreseeable future.