Occupy The Throne – Edition #16

In this weeks Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi & I talk about the run of UFC injuries that have affected upcoming events.

Jeremy Lambert: Injuries are part of any sport. Athletes go down all the time and when they do, it drastically changes how scenarios play out. If Derrick Rose didn’t blow out his ACL in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs, maybe the Miami Heat aren’t in the Finals right now. If Sidney Crosby didn’t miss most of the season with concussion issues, maybe the Pittsburgh Penguins would’ve secured a higher seed. If Peyton Manning didn’t miss the entire season with neck problems, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Indianapolis Colts wouldn’t have finished with the word record in the league.

Injuries have always impacted MMA as well, but right now we seem to be on a historical run of drop outs. Thiago Alves, Thiago Silva, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Vitor Belfort, Jon Fitch, Brian Stann, Michael Bisping, and plenty of undercard fighters have gone down in recent weeks, thus drastically changing the make-up of many upcoming UFC events.

Samer Kadi: The phrase “bad for the sport” is often thrown around by trigger-happy MMA fans who are paranoid about the most miniscule of occurrences somehow having a long lasting negative effect on the sport they love. However, if there is anything that is truly bad for the sport, it’s the ridiculous injury bug that just can’t seem to go away. On one hand, it is a major hindrance to our enjoyment of MMA, and robs us of the fights we want to see. On the other hand, it is costing the UFC significant PPV dollars with one big fight falling through after the other. Unfortunately, it is the one problem that cannot be cured.

Injuries are a part of any sport, let alone one as physical as MMA. The more the sport keeps on evolving, the more injuries are going to become prominent. Practice sessions are constantly increasing in intensity, and fighters are on the continuous lookout for ways to improve their training methods. That however, comes with its perils. Georges St-Pierre is a prime example of a modern day mixed martial artist whose training methods are considered some of the most advanced in the sport, yet the same methods have been blamed for his recent injuries. And while he, like others, can always make the necessary adjustments, the risk of getting injured is ever present.

The sheer number of cards these days makes injuries seem more frequent. Simply put, more fights will equal to more injuries, and therefore, more card shuffling, more underwhelming fight cards, and less PPV money.

Jeremy Lambert: While injuries are bound to happen in MMA, it’s troubling just how many top fighters have been forced to pull out of fights, thus robbing fans of scraps we’ve been clamoring for for months. Nowadays, when a fight is announced, it’s actually tough to get excited for it because, until they step into the cage, it’s very possible that someone goes down with a hurt shoulder, a bum knee, or an inflamed vagina.

Right now the UFC has four big fights remaining this year. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen 2, Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez 2, Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson, and Georges St. Pierre vs. Carlos Condit. I’m going to go ahead and say that at least one of those fights won’t happen in 2012 because someone will go down with an injury. If UFC loses one of those fights, they’re irreplaceable in terms of drawing power. Condit vs. Martin Kampmann or Johny Hendricks isn’t doing GSP numbers, Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum isn’t a money fight, Henderson vs. Gustafsson (as long as Dan isn’t “ducking” the Swede) won’t pull 500,000 buys.

As Samer pointed out, with so many cards, it leaves less depth when someone goes down. UFC 147 might be the worst card in UFC history (although to be fair, it was pretty bad before Belfort went down, but at least Belfort/Silva was a relevant rivalry fight while Franklin/Silva is just irrelevant), UFC 148, which looked like an outstanding card when it was first announced, has now been reduced to being a one fight card with a couple of nice filler fights, UFC on FOX 4 is being headlined by Brandon freaking Vera, and UFC 149 lost three draws (Aldo, Rua, Bisping) and only got one in return (Faber).

Samer Kadi: Well, there are already serious rumors about Anderson Silva picking up a knee injury, putting his fight with Chael Sonnen in jeopardy. And while this has been denied by Dana White, it is an all too familiar story that unfortunately prevents me from getting fully excited about any fight until being absolutely certain that it is going to take place.

The UFC can’t catch a break. Their biggest ever PPV star, the now retired Brock Lesnar, missed a combined two years of his career due to a battle with diverticulitis, while the company’s remaining active golden boy, Georges St-Pierre, has been on the sidelines for over a year with no return in sight until at least November.

Finding a rational explanation for these injuries beyond intense training isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t as simple as Dana White’s suggestion of “these guys need to take it easy in training.” However, one possible reasoning would be that with so much on the line, fighters are now less likely to go into a fight with a significant injury hampering them than they would have a few years ago. If you’re a mid-card fighter and have lost two in a row, would you really risk getting cut (and losing out on your win bonus) by stepping inside the cage injured? Likewise, with so much at stake, would Jose Aldo risk losing his title by competing when he’s not close to 100%?

Jeremy Lambert: If Dana White wants guys to take it easier in training, I say they start training with strictly dummies, stands, and other non-human objects. If you get injured because a grappling dummy breaks your arm, then maybe MMA isn’t the sport for you.

There’s this theory out there that steroid abuse has led to this run injuries. I don’t quite buy that, but would it really shock anyone if it were true? Even if it’s not abuse that is causing these injuries, it’s possible that guys aren’t cycling properly, know they may fail the test, so decide to pull out of the fight due to an injury that otherwise may not hamper their performance. We’d all be naive to believe that MMA is 100% clean, so it’s not out of the question to think that steroids may be directly or indirectly leading to fighters pulling out.

A bigger reason likely has to do with fighter insurance, which was instituted in 2011. Almost immediately after fighter insurance was announced, we started seeing guy drop out of fights because they were now medically covered. Prior to the insurance, if a fighter pulled out of a fighter with an injury, he wouldn’t be covered and would lose the revenue he would generate from the fight, which led to a lot of fighters fighting injured, claiming to be hurt during the fight, and then get the surgery paid for that way. Now that they’re covered prior to the fight, they can get their injury fixed on the UFC’s dime and not worry about losing the fight and money.

Samer Kadi: It is better not to leave room for too much conjecture – albeit a plausible one – about potential steroid abuse leading to fighter injuries. However, one thing for certain, simply “taking it easy” is not the answer. MMA is a contact sport, and an intense one at that. Injuries can occur during conventional rolling sessions. Rashad Evans was forced out of a scheduled title bout with Mauricio Rua last year due to Diego Sanchez falling awkwardly on Evans’ knee during a routine wrestling drill. Moreover, it is unreasonable to expect fighters to have the risk of injury in the back of their mind, and significantly alter their training accordingly. It is a performance-hindering distraction that fighters are better off without.

Unfortunately, the issue of injuries isn’t going away, and there is very little that can be done about it. It is by far the most troubling problem in the sport at the moment, but there simply is no realistic solution on the horizon. “Fighter X pulls out of his scheduled bout with injury” will remain a menacing headline that MMA websites will continue to use on a semi-weekly basis, and we will continue to lament injuries every time we read about them.

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