Even after the rebranding of the UFC and tightening of safety rules, MMA is still a violent sport, and that means there’s a high probability of injury for any fighter. Which injuries are the most common? Here are the top five.
Athletes in any sport that involves frequent head trauma are likely to pick up concussions, and MMA definitely has more than its fair share of blows to the head. Punches, kicks, knees, and elbows are legal, and even during grappling exchanges, there’s always the threat of strikes. While concussions are most likely during fights when both fighters are going full speed looking for the knockout, many of them also happen during sparring sessions. Fighters who experience concussions need to wait for months before another fight or even regular workouts.
The hands have some of the most vulnerable bones in the human body, as they’re small and tend to break easily. The 4-ounce gloves worn by MMA fighters don’t provide much protection, so one misplaced punch that lands on the forehead can cause a broken hand. Urijah Faber got particularly unlucky in his rematch against Mike Brown, breaking both his hands. He switched to elbow strikes for the rest of the fight.
One would think that dull, padded gloves wouldn’t behave like a sharp knife, but cuts are quite common in mixed martial arts. Any strike can cause a cut, but elbows are the strikes that are most likely to open up a fighter’s skin around the eye socket, according to a Utah eye surgery expert. Whether a fighter gets cut depends in large part on their skin. Certain fighters, such as Anderson Silva, seem to never cut even after taking all kinds of punishment. Others, especially those with scar tissue in their faces, cut easily even from glancing blows.
Between all the explosive movements they make and the possibility of taking a strike to the knee, MMA fighters are very susceptible to ACL injuries. These injuries are most common in training, with Georges St. Pierre and Dominick Cruz being two of the bigger names who have been sidelined by ACL tears. They can also occur during fights, as Conor McGregor found when he fought Max Holloway.
Anyone who has trained understands how easy it is to get a staph infection, as a number of bacteria on the mat and on people’s bodies poses a major risk. Staph infections almost always occur during training. While they’re treatable, if the fighter doesn’t know about a staph infection, it can cause serious complications. Fighters and jiujitsu-shi can protect themselves from these by cleaning mats and equipment and wearing rash guards.
Advances in training have helped reduce the risk of some injuries, at least during fighter camps. However, with the amount of wear and tear MMA fighters have to put on their bodies, injuries are always going to be a part of the game.