The Rear Naked Column 05.27.11: Injury Wave
Posted by Samer Kadi on 05.27.2011
Major UFC stars like Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones and Frankie Edgar have pulled out of their scheduled fights with injuries! 411’s Samer Kadi takes a look at the increasing number of injuries in MMA as well as the reactions they trigger among fans!
Whether it's the roughest of contact sports or the most docile of athletic competition, injuries remain an unfortunate but prominent reality in the world of sports. When the sport in question happens to be one where athletes punch, kick and grapple their way to victory, injuries become an even more redundant issue. "Fighter X pulls out of scheduled fight with Fighter Y" has turned into an inevitable staple headline MMA websites are bound to use at least once a week.
Every year, the UFC endures a seemingly obligatory injury crisis where multiple main events, co-main events or simply meaningful undercard fights fall through. In late 2009, the injury bug delivered one mighty blow after another, causing a huge drop in PPV buy rates. It reached its apex in January of 2010 at UFC 108 , which to date remains one of the most cursed MMA shows of all time. A little under eighteen months later, UFC 130 is here to give it a run for its money.
Of course, the main story unfolded two weeks ago when UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar pulled out of his scheduled title defense against Gray Maynard, citing a lingering back injury. For his part, Maynard opted out of a proposed replacement bout with Anthony Pettis due to a knee injury. This ill-fated piece of news accompanied another major mishap as former UFC heavyweight champion and current coach on season 13 of "The Ultimate Fighter", Brock Lesnar, pulled out of his anticipated fight with Junior Dos Santos next June due to a reoccurring bout with diverticulitis.
Curiously, many injuries – particularly the one involving the aforementioned Lesnar – have been met with skepticism and worse yet, criticism, among MMA fans. The bickering varied from "he's ducking Dos Santos" to "the UFC screwed the fans over." Ignoring the fact that by now, people should be aware that cards are always subject to change, these bizarrely peculiar rumblings help accentuate their selfish – and sometimes spoilt – nature.
In order to make a living, mixed martial artists have to fight. These fighters have families to feed and bills to pay, and the only way to ensure that happens is to step inside the cage to compete. If they decide not to, chances are they have an imperative reason for doing so. According to Mike Chiapetta of "MMAfighting", Brock Lesnar made a combined six million dollars for his two fights with Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez last year. Would Lesnar really pass up on the opportunity to bag over two million dollars for his upcoming fight just because he's worried about tasting "Cigano's" right hand? Fighters prove their testicular fortitude by merely stepping inside the cage time and time again; it is unfair to have their guts questioned whenever injury forces them to bail out.
The hazards of being a prizefighter come with the job description. The aspect that many seem to neglect however, is the "prize" part. Above all else, fighters are competing to make a living. Whenever you wonder "why would fighter X take a fight with fighter Y? It's a no win situation", think of the word "prize" and you'll have your answer. Yes, Matt Hamill is clearly below Quinton Jackson in terms of name value, rankings and superstardom, but "Rampage" would much rather take the fight and make a healthy chunk of money out of it rather than wait for the UFC to provide him an opponent "on his level."
The ever-increasing number of injuries may well have a surprisingly simple explanation. Simply put, the growing number of MMA shows per year leads to more fights taking place and more fighters in action, which in turn leads to more injuries. Long gone are the days where the UFC would limit itself to five cards per year. Between Fight Night cards, Ultimate Fighter finales, and numbered PPV's, the UFC puts on over twenty shows per year. This makes for over 240 fights in a twelve months span, and the law of averages would suggest that the number of injuries can only increase.
However, it would be shortsighted to justify more injuries with more fights and leave it at that. The reality is, there simply is much more on the line nowadays for fighters to risk competing with a potentially performance-hindering injury. Would Frankie Edgar be smart to risk losing his title by stepping into one of the biggest fights of his career with a long-existing back injury? Did Jose Aldo not make the right choice by pulling out of the Josh Grispi bout last January in order to get his shoulder fixed? Jon Jones' haste to pull out of the Rashad Evans fight might have backfired, but had he not been the champion of the division, he may well have decided to take that bout anyway. Potentially losing his newly-capture light heavyweight title however, is something he was not prepared to risk.
Of course, pulling out of a fight with an injury due to the stakes at hand is not exclusive to champions. With his livelihood on the line, a fighter riding a two-fight losing streak is unlikely to take a bout while injured and risk being handed his UFC walking papers. With so many shows on the horizon, he would be much better off pulling out of a fight knowing that he could just as easily find himself in action the following month.
Earlier this month, the UFC announced that it would be providing out-of-competition accident coverage for its roster of fighters. Insurance for training-related injuries is for my money, the biggest story of the month and a major step in the right direction for MMA fighters and the sport in general. Let's not take a step backwards by questioning the heart of the fighters who risk their health by stepping inside the cage and get punched in the face for a living.
REMINDER: Be sure to check out the latest edition of thr 411 Ground and Pound radio show. Mark Radulich was doing his usual hosting duties and was joined by Scott Kuczkowski. Unfortunately, I was not able to be on the show this week but of course, it's worth a listen anyway. We'll be back next Sunday at 11 AM Eastern Time and we will look back at UFC 130.