Injuries spoiling important fights is one of the hottest topics in MMA today. Just last week, Yoel Romero was forced to pull out of his co-main event with Ronaldo Souza at UFC on FOX 15: Machida vs. Rockhold on Saturday in Newark.
The list of potential main events the UFC has seen go down the toilet within the last few years is too long to even detail. Even UFC president Dana White blamed the promotion’s financially troubled 2014 on injuries to top-drawing fighters.
Brian Stann, a former fighter himself and current FOX Sports analyst, believes there is indeed a problem with injuries. He would just prefer to look at it from the athlete’s perspective — and how much money competitors stand to lose from being sidelined.
“Cain Velasquez is an extreme example, because he’s the heavyweight champion of the world,” Stann told MMAFighting.com. “When he fights and wins, he makes millions of dollars. So all the fights he’s missed out on having, he’s probably left $ 10-$ 15 million on the table due to injuries. It’s not necessarily his fault. You never know. I don’t know the nature of all his injuries. But that’s how much money he could have made in this time he’s been out.”
Velasquez, 32, has not fought since defending his title successfully against Junior dos Santos at UFC 166 in October 2013. By the time he gets back in the Octagon against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 on June 13 in Mexico City, he will have been out for 20 months. UFC champions typically fight twice a year, so Velasquez probably missed out on three to four bouts — and paydays — in that span.
It’s not Velasquez’s fault, nor was it the fault of other current and former champions who have been sidelined recently by injuries, like Dominick Cruz, Chris Weidman and Anthony Pettis. Of course, they want to fight and make money. Stann blames the culture of MMA and believes it’s up to coaches — and not fighters — to curtail too much intensity in the gym.
“When you look at the mental makeup of what kind of person it takes to do this for a living, they’re always going to want to go hard,” Stann said. “And when you go in there and you nod at your sparring partner, ‘hey, we’re going to be real controlled today,’ that lasts until one guy catches the other guy and the competitive juices get flowing. Then it becomes a full-on fight.”
Stann said just this week he spoke to a fighter competing at UFC on FOX 15 whose teammate is a UFC champ in the same weight class. Stann, who preferred not to disclose the fighter’s name, said that fighter told him he goes hard in sparring with his champion training partner multiple times per week.
“I asked him, ‘Have you ever asked yourself if that’s taking time off your career by sparring that hard with a guy that good?’” Stann said. “‘That’s putting mileage on you in the gym that you’re not getting paid for necessarily.’ His exact response was, ‘I never really thought about it that way.’ And most fighters won’t. We have a culture in this sport where it tells you that you don’t feel right unless you train that way. Unless you overtrain, unless you’re so tired all the time, you don’t go to the event thinking you put in enough work. And that’s a problem.”
Which is where coaches have to step in, Stann said. The former WEC champion doesn’t want to point fingers, mostly because MMA is still a very new sport with a lot of evolving to do. But injuries need to be prevented and fighters won’t stop themselves from overtraining.
“I really think these coaches have to look at their fighters and the longevity of their careers,” Stann said. “They have to look at it on an aggregate scale and say, ‘How much money can these fighters make over a career?’
“We’re very insecure when we prepare for a fight. We really lean on our coaches to tell us why and how we’re going to win all the time during our camps. They’re influential. They can tell a guy to dial it back. They can show a guy.”
Boxing training has grown and improved over the years. Very rarely do you hear about a big boxing match being called off due to injury. That’s mostly because coaches gear an entire training camp on one individual boxer and getting him or her to be in peak condition by the time the bout comes.
“It’s about them showing up perfectly trained,” Stann said. “Not well-trained, not beat up, not 70 percent or 80 percent. But they show up perfectly trained. Whereas in mixed martial arts, you go to these camps where really half your day sparring is focused on you. The other half is focused on other guys.”
Another part of it, though, is that boxers only have to worry about boxing. MMA fighters train in a host of other disciplines, including wrestling and grappling, and have to meld it all together. Wrestling training seems to be particularly hazardous in training camp.
Eventually, MMA will catch up to boxing and training camps will be more efficient. Until then, though, Stann thinks fighters and coaches need to be wary of the long-term affects of going too hard in the gym.
“When we get to that level, I think we’ll see less injuries,” he said. “It’s always going to be a part of it, because there are so many different arts. But I think guys do need to look and see how much money they leave on the table when they spend half the year or three-quarters of the year on the shelf.”
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