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Lowered expectations: UFC injuries and canceled fights are here to stay

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

When I first heard that a careless training partner of Jose Also managed to fracture the champion's ribs with a pointless spinning back kick while sparring, I made like Dana White and had to "take a knee."

It's a depressingly recurring theme in the modern UFC, as each time your favorite fighter is announced for a card you begin the breath-holding countdown to arrival. But, no matter how many rosaries you carry, how many prayers you send upstairs, how many blood sacrifices you make, inevitably somebody is going to get hurt and ruin everything.

As Jake Hughes observed on Fightland, Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor was "always too good to be true, wasn't it?"

Take the increasing rate of injuries in mixed martial arts (MMA), add in the salaries and rankings that are on the line, and it's no surprise that fighters are refusing to take any chances of competing with a serious injury. And as Hughes notes, Aldo has never been one to take chances.

It's hard, however, to argue that this has been a bad thing for the Brazilian's career. Aldo has only fought seven times in the promotion since early 2011 when Zuffa absorbed the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC)'s lower weight divisions, pulling out of no fewer than five title contests through injury. And yet the argument "better safe than sorry" seems to have paid dividends. Aldo is UFC's No. 1 pound-for-pound ranked fighter, who has been undefeated in 10 years through nine title defenses.

The good news, as pointed out by Greg Savage at Sherdog, is that Aldo has eventually made good on fighting four men against whom he initially backed out of title fights against, defeating them all. So, chances are that we'll eventually get our much-anticipated grudge match with Aldo and McGregor.

That all depends very much on the performance of one brash-talking Irishman, however, who is taking every opportunity to denigrate the formidable No. 1-ranked contender Chad Mendes (or at least, he was number one when the fight was announced) who is undefeated (17-0) against men not named Jose Aldo.

Should McGregor fail to capitalize on the opportunity, he runs the risk of going down the career path of Josh Grispi and Erik Koch, two Featherweight fighters who opted to fight somebody else while waiting for Aldo to heal to the detriment of their careers.

Although statistical evidence isn't readily available (you'd have to go through hundreds of UFC cards and make an excel spreadsheed), the anecdotal evidence seems to be that fighters are no longer willing to "walk it off" when it comes to injuries. As Quinton "Rampage" Jackson intimated recently on Instagram, he would never fight injured again as he claims he did against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

The modern era's 100+ UFC fighters injured every year has thrown many a fight card into chaos and caused frustration to bubble to the very top of the UFC. In 2012 when Dan Henderson pulled out of a title fight with a torn MCL on two weeks notice, Dana White lashed out at Jon Jones and Greg Jackson for "murdering" the card when the former Light Heavyweight champion refused to fight Chael Sonnen as a last minute replacement.

Lashing out, but perhaps for good reason.

There is a proverbial shitload of cash on the line. The pay-per-view (PPV) buys for Aldo vs. McGregor would surely have been far higher than whatever it is Mendes will pull in. According to a report by credit agency S&P (Standard and Poor) in Nov. 2014, the injury bug has taken a huge chunk from UFC parent company Zuffa's earnings, attributing canceled fights and watered down cards as the reason for a 40 percent drop in earnings.

The report said the steeper decline is "primarily due to a change to a marquee fight card in the fourth quarter of 2014, a result of another fighter injury causing anticipated pay-per-view buys and event ticket prices to decline further, as well as higher remarketing expenses for the event, and additional costs related to the company's international expansion."

So, what's with all the injuries? White says fighters are going too hard with "stone age" techniques, but a blog entry by UFC Lightweight veteran Joe Lauzon paints a different picture:

"I am coming off a win over Mike Chiesa. 'I am "healthy.' I have 5 weeks to prepare for the fight. We take the fight. Two weeks in, I badly injure my ribs in sparring. Had safe training partners. Had lots of protective gear. Was not overtraining. Was being very smart about what we did. Still got hurt. Injuries happen. I can't train at all for 2+ weeks. Fight is in 3 weeks. Not possible to prepare. Pull out of fight. Internet ERUPTS with disappointment."

There's no magic bullet for fixing UFC injuries and with the risk of fighting hurt and losing your spot in the rankings outweighing the reward of victory, we're likely to see no slowdown in cancelled fights. The best thing we can do is brace ourselves and remember most big fights that get canceled because of injuries are eventually rebooked.

To paraphrase Hyman Roth from Godfather 2: When he turned up injured, I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the sport we've chosen.

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