Decoding Fighter Injuries

As someone who enjoys studying MMA fighter injuries, I have been fascinated by the reluctance of most fighters to disclose injuries, especially when recovery from the injury involves surgery. In my March 1 piece on Mark Hunt’s knee injury I had to do a little digging and educated deduction to determine the type of injury and which knee was involved. Another recent example of this unwillingness to divulge details involves Bobby Voelker.

Voelker is set to fight Patrick Cote at UFC 158 on March 16. He is coming off an 18 monthhiatus from the cage, and part of that time away, as it turns out, was due to a knee injury. Volker revealed the knee injury during an interview with George Garcia of Radio on March 5th. There was a fascinating exchange between Garcia and Voelker in the course of this interview that I think highlights this hesitancy to discuss physical weaknesses. Voelker began by addressing his 18 month layoff from fighting, and that he had pulled out of his Strikeforce fight due to injury. The discussion then proceeded as follows:

Garcia: "What was the injury?"

Voelker: "I had ah… I hurt my knee."

Garcia: "Serious or minor?"

Voelker: "Ah… it was pretty serious."

Garcia: "Torn ACL? It’s not that one, is it?"

Voelker: "Ah… all that good stuff."

Bobby seemed uncomfortable discussing his knee at all, and his initial mention of the injury seemed more of a throw-away comment in explaining his 18 month absence from fighting. When first asked about the nature of the injury, Voelker stopped in mid-sentence, seeming to correct himself. Maybe he was about to reveal his injury with too much specificity? When pressed for details about a possible ACL injury, he seemed to dismiss this while at the same time acknowledging a "serious" knee injury. Furthermore, there was never a hint of which knee was injured. Immediately after this exchange, Voelker eagerly commented that his knee "was fine", and even suggested that his injured knee feels better than his good knee.

I think that interactions such as this are little pearls that help me understand the mind of aMMA fighter better. The easiest explanation of a fighter's reluctance to divulge injury details probably has to do with competitive advantage. Revealing which knee was injured could possibly give his opponent a focal point for attack. Acknowledging the type of injury and/or surgery would possibly allow an opponent's training team to anticipate potential technical weaknesses to exploit.

But maybe there’s more. Or maybe not. Maybe there is a deeper barrier that leads a fighter to keep his injury close to the vest. Is admitting that one’s body is not impervious to injury akin to admitting failure as a fighter? Is there a fear that divulging injury details will lead to less lucrative fights, or matches with fighters that one considers inferior competition? Or, are questions such as these merely hyper-analytic rantings on my part? Analysis of this depth is beyond my acumen, so I welcome any comments on this topic.

I am a physical therapist offering MMA injury analysis and commentary at the MMAInjury blog. Please follow me on Twitter @mmainjury.

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