Can we stop UFC injury plague?
UFC president Dana White saw the injuries roll in last week.
The first alteration to the UFC on FOX 8 card scheduled for Seattle on July 27th was caused when heavyweight Matt Mitrione went down. Then came news welterweight Siyar Bahadurzada and lightweight Bobby Green were hurt.
“After last year, nothing can shake me now,” White told FOX Sports.
In 2012, injuries altered several cards throughout the year. One card (UFC 149 in Calgary last July) had nine changes due to injury, and another (UFC 151) was canceled altogether after Dan Henderson hurt his knee in training and was unable to fight light heavyweight champ Jon Jones.
The main event for UFC on FOX 8 — the flyweight title fight between champ Demetrious Johnson and challenger John Moraga — remains intact as does the co-main (Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger).
“The main event is still there, so as long as that doesn’t change there’s no comparison,” White said. “If that happened, it’d have the feel of Calgary.”
There remains no easy answer to the injury bug as fighters get dinged in training.
“Training is very demanding,” MacDonald told FOX Sports. “To stay at the top level, you have to stay hungry. That’s means a lot of practice at the gym. You have to be disciplined. If you’re not committed, you fall behind.”
The downside: If the workouts are too strenuous (and dangerous), fighters risk injury.
“I don’t know any way around it,” said Javier Mendez, founder of San Jose’s American Kickboxing Academy who trains UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez and several other top fighters.
Mendez had his share of his fighters get injured and decide to take the fight anyway. That included Velasquez, who sprained his medial collateral ligament days before he was set to defend his title against Junior dos Santos at the inaugural UFC on FOX event in November 2011.
Velasquez, who was unable to kick or maneuver effectively due to the injury, lost by TKO a minute, four seconds into the bout.
Velasquez’s pride — not his pocketbook — let him to press on despite a bum knee. Mendez, however, said he’s seen more than his share of other fighter press on for financial reasons.
“Quite a few of my fighters have gotten injured and still fought because they needed the money,” Mendez said. “They took fights they shouldn’t have. When they lose, they never blame their performance on the injury. They are still responsible because they took the fight.”
Mendez said it’s not always a guaranteed loss.
“Sometimes, a fighter goes in there and wins,” Mendez said. “That’s not out of the question.”
The exact nature of some of injures that forced changes to the UFC on FOX 8 card were not disclosed. White told FOX Sports that Green broke his hand in training.
Bobby Voelker, former Strikeforce product, will take Bahadurzada’s place against Robbie Lawler. Tim Means was tapped to replace Green in a bout against Danny Castillo. The Mitrione vs. Brendan Schaub bout will take place at a later date.
Continuing the streak of injuries, Josh Koscheck was forced to drop out of his scheduled bout with Demain Maia at UFC 163.
On Friday, the UFC announced TJ Grant would be unable to fight lightweight champ Benson Henderson at UFC 164 (Aug. 31) due to injury. He was replaced atop the card by Anthony Pettis.
“I think we are in the early stages of finding the proper recipe when it comes to training,” said MacDonald, who has had to drop out of three fights due to injury in his UFC career. “We are getting more and more advanced every year. I mean, the sport is still in its infancy. In 50 years, you are going to see less injuries because everybody is going to be more aware of proper training techniques. We are already ahead of where we are 10 or 15 years ago.”
Mendez, for example, makes sure his fighters are always in headgear when they spar, something he didn’t mandate in the early days of AKA.
“It’s safer, but not by much,” Mendez said.
One thing that hasn’t happened is UFC’s mandating changes to the training practices of their fighters.
“I don’t think I’ve had anybody ever tell me not go as hard as I go,” said Liz Carmouche, who takes on Jessica Andrade at UFC on FOX 8.
Added Mendez: “Nobody has ever told me how to handle the safety of our fighters. We take it seriously. We understand it’s important.”
As training practices evolve, White — and other UFC officials — will have stretches like last week as word filters down from various gyms about injured fighters.
White all but expects it now.
“Nothing surprises me,” he said.