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Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: The Curse of the Injured Champion

(Fact: This is exactly how Matt Serra sounds after consuming an 18-inch hoagie.)

By Rory Daniel 

The prospect of a new year with MMA is always a pleasant one. It won’t be like it was before. We’ve both matured, we know where we went wrong last time and we’re both committed to not repeating our previous mistakes. We’ve been wooed back in by big names – Jones, McGregor, Silva, Diaz, all in January alone – and, what a surprise, just as things looked like they were going to be different, better, lasting…BAM…we’re reduced to tears and calling mom screaming “why can’t anyone love me?” in the rain. Metaphorically speaking.

The news that Chris Weidman has been forced out of his UFC 184 title defence shattered any naïve assumptions that maybe this year would finally see the dastardly injury bug leaving our precious main events alone. Of course, the signs were there before Weidman’s injury. The end of last year saw us lose Dominick Cruz AGAIN *and* Raphael Assuncao in just a few hours, just as the bantamweight division threatened to start looking interesting. Cain Velasquez has been out so long that it’s not unrealistic to expect a significantly less impressive version than the wrecking machine we were used to, let alone the one we’ve been dreaming about watching face off against Jon Jones in the only true superfight worth making.

We’ve already seen main events crashing through with Fight Night 60: Brown vs. Saffiedine Thatch vs. Thompson Thatch vs. Henderson (?!) a prime example of what the UFC promised would not happen. We’ve seen Cowboy Cerrone fight twice and have been deprived of the opportunity to see how he would look at 185lbs in a third fight. Suffice it to say, putting any stock in White’s promise was foolish. They were just empty words, but I they were still real to me DAMMIT.

But now, a fight that was already postponed from its original postponement has once again been postponed, and any hopes the successful January had raised in our foolish hearts have well and truly been doused with concrete. The question remains though: Why can’t we have nice things? We deserve them just as much as fans of other sports, right? Why does it feel like every time the UFC books a true blockbuster main event (something Bellator still cannot manage, despite their improvements), we pessimistically expect it to be snatched from under our nose? Are we just bitter, or has recent history forced us to think this way?

Fortunately for anyone going to UFC 184, there was a second headline worthy fight on the card, but that’s hardly the point. We were promised two title fights. We were promised Weidman vs. post-TRT Belfort, supported by Ronda Rousey‘s latest showcase. And now we have 2015 Josh Koscheck vs. 2015 Jake Ellenberger in the co-main event. Yikes. Is it just bad luck that so many of the UFC’s biggest talents are as breakable as a new Apple product? Well I have a theory, and though I should stress that this is just wild conjecture, but it does make sense (at least in my oddly functioning cranium).

A fight gets the testosterone pumping and the adrenaline running. It forces you to be as competitive as you can, because if you lose it will hurt a lot more than just your pride, unlike other sports. You come in pumped up to training and, look, you get to spar with the champ today, the best guy in the world. Are you just going to let him beat on you? Or are you going to fight extra hard to try and prove to anyone watching, to yourself at least, that you can hang with the best guy in the world? That’s surely something to brag about at Dave & Buster’s on Friday. If, in the heat of the moment, you accidentally injure them, you can’t be blamed for going hard. They’re the champ, they should be able to handle it.

Then again, its often the ego of the trainer and/or the fighter that can get them into trouble. So often you hear fighters bragging that “no one trains harder than I do.” Obviously, this is testicle grabbing bullshit, but the possibility of overtraining and trying to push yourself too hard is very real. It’s the old gunslingers conundrum — as you get to the top of the sport, people start aiming up at you instead of looking past you. You feel like you have to do more than you had previously to stay ahead of these guys, to set an example of how hard someone really can work and to come in better conditioned than whatever opponent you might face. The high intensity, CrossFit-style workouts that many fighters favour are easy to injure yourself in, particularly if you’re only partially instructed when completing them. Pushing the weight your lifting and the reps your getting out are fine if you’re doing them the right way. Too often, however, fighters will focus on pushing through pain rather than listening to it. This is just a fighter’s mindset; pain is nothing.

When training, it is all to easy to ignore pains and expect them to be normal as part of the workout. You don’t want to appear weak by admitting to pain or giving an inch and thus you greatly increase your chance of injury. Personally, I’m a great advocate of CrossFit-style workouts, but you have to be doing things properly. Pushing through injuries is something that is all too common and can often simply lead to the injury deteriorating until pushing through is no longer an option.

These are just theories I have, but for the sake of us at home who still have hope and who still believe that MMA is the right sport for us despite our previous heartbreaks, I would ask anyone in even a decent upcoming fight to please be careful. I’m not sure I can take another long term layoff after a previous injury (looking at you, Pettis).

We want and deserve to see the fights we are promised; it’s a simple as that. Previous experiences have prepared us for potential heartbreak again, but it never gets easier. Already 2015 is looking just like those treacherous old flames 2014 and 2012, and despite all the hopeless optimism coming in, we look set to repeat our mistakes, letting ourselves be drawn in by false promises of fights never to happen. But such is the devilish nature of MMA. Half the enjoyment comes in the anticipation of exactly what would happen if, say, Anderson Silva fought GSP (LMAO, as if that’s ever going to happen), but if we’re constantly doubting these fights ever actually happen, we’re depriving ourselves of one of the true pleasures of sports.

Too often we let our pessimism get in the way of enjoying the fights we do get. It’s easy to despair when watching two Wiki-less jobbers for the majority of fight cards, but we must stay strong in our faith that the main events and the fights with the actually talented fighters will be worth it. We are surely owed that much after all these past disappointments. And surely 2015 can’t be as bad as years we’ve had in the past, right? Right?!

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