As the sport of Mixed Martial Arts slowly inches its way into mainstream media with emerging UFC stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, an issue that’s becoming more prominent, or more realized, is injury in the sport.
Time and time again, fans will hear of canceled fights mere weeks before the scheduled pay-per-view events due to injury of fighters. Most famously, a UFC pay-per-view event, UFC 151, was scheduled for Sept. 1, 2012 at the Mandalay Events Center in Las Vegas, was canceled on Aug. 23. The headlining bout was UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson. The UFC announced Dan Henderson was unable to fight due to an injury. Usual practice is to find a quick replacement. However, in this circumstance, Jon Jones refused to fight a replacement on short notice, prompting the UFC to cancel the event entirely.
More recently, UFC 189 was meant to feature Featherweight Champion José Aldo defending his title against Conor McGregor. The event was scheduled for July 11, 2015. On June 23, the UFC’s Facebook page reported Aldo had suffered a rib injury and may pull out of the fight. Following controversy regarding the severity of the injury, Aldo pulled out of the fight and was replaced by Chad Mendez. Another highly anticipated fight was cancelled. Since 2011, Aldo has pulled out of five championship bouts due to injury.
It was recently reported that former WWE superstar and current UFC prospect CM Punk suffered a shoulder injury in training and will have his debut fight delayed.
Bennie “The Jet” Little, former three-time kickboxing champion, current MMA trainer, head of CT Academy of Kickboxing in Danbury, CT, and former kickboxing trainer of UFC light heavyweight title challenger Glover Teixeira, offered his insight on the frequency of injury in combat sports.
“It comes down to how these guys are training. At night, during the day, how hard they’re pushing themselves. Sometimes you push yourself past that limit to where you need to back off sometimes,” he said.
While Bennie says the solution is to simply back off and let yourself time to recover, he also says it’s not that simple.
“As an ex-fighter myself, [I know that] you’re not gonna back off because you’re thinking the other person is training harder.”
So a fighter might know better, but they don’t necessarily listen. So what happens when they train too much?
“Your joints get a little worn out or a little weak, and you’re not giving your body that rest to recuperate…you’re tearing your body down little by little every fight you have, no matter what happens. But eventually, if you ain’t taking supplements and trying to recover and getting good sleep and all that, of course you’re gonna break your body down. You’re gonna get injuries all the time.”
So what advice, if any, does Bennie have to prevent such frequent injuries?
“Take two, three days off, and come back. If you ever go in the gym and train really hard and then you’re sore and you take two or three days off and you come back, you feel like a new person. Your body tells you what it needs. If you don’t listen, eventually it’s gonna shut down. Whether it’s broken bones, pulled muscles, anything. It can happen to anybody.”
Not only does he say it’ll lower risk of injury, but it’ll improve your performance.
However, Bennie says over-training isn’t the only risk for injury in combat sports.
“The biggest thing right now is fatigue. These guys cutting weight – that’s dangerous. You’re cutting so much weight, what do you think you’re doing? You’re breaking down your body. You got a guy that’s 185 cutting down 135, 145. That’s not gonna do any harm to him? Yeah, you’re messing with your organs. Your organs are used to pushing out a certain amount of nutrients and energy. Now it’s pushing out hard, trying to keep up with that metabolism.”
Weight cutting is a common, across-the-board practice in combat sports. It’s not uncommon for fighters to cut over 15 pounds before a fight, but this is notthe same as dieting. It is swiftly losing weight and draining your body of nutrients, like water.
“What do you think’s gonna happen? You’re gonna end up breaking something, because sooner or later your body is just wearing down. You’re depleting your body, which you shouldn’t be doing. That’s why I don’t cut weight. If I can’t fight in my weight class, I’m not fighting at all.”