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Colby Covington’s broken jaw: What is a non-displaced midline mandible fracture?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It is confirmed: Colby Covington’s jaw was indeed broken during his fight with Kamaru Usman at UFC 245. “Chaos” self-diagnosed the injury in his corner between the third and fourth rounds, and it didn’t take long for fans watching at home to pinpoint the punch Usman landed that did the damage. Take a look:

After the fight, Covington was taken to the hospital. A few hours later the UFC released a short update on his condition: “Following an addendum medical report completed regarding Colby Covington, it has been determined that he has suffered a non-displaced midline mandible fracture.”

Well those are some fancy $10 words, ain’t they? What exactly is a non-displaced midline mandible fracture? Fortunately, we can turn to Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation MD Brian Sutterer for some answers.

”The mandible just means the jawbone, and ‘non-displaced’ means the two ends where the fracture is at are not out of alignment,” Sutterer said in a YouTube video he made specifically about Covington’s injury. “Basically the bones are still lined up, there’s just a fracture going through them. ... The specific location of Covington’s fracture was the midline of the mandible, and so this was basically the very front if you were looking straight on at the face right down in the lower portion in front of the chin.”

It’s good news for Colby that the mandible didn’t separate completely and displace, which we have actually seen in the UFC before. Tony Ferguson broke Aaron Riley’s jaw down the middle and you could see exactly where half his teeth suddenly dropped a quarter inch lower than the rest.

If you want to see a particularly nasty example of a displaced midline mandible fracture, check out what happened to former UFC fighter Alan Patrick when he took a huge knee to the face in training. We’re warning you, though: it’s gross. Looks like someone threw a bunch of tic-tacs into a bowl of Spaghetti-Os.

So what’s the treatment for the less severe version Colby suffered?

”One of the techniques we see commonly used in more simple fractures is MMF, or Maxilo-Mandibular Fixation,” Sutterer explained in his video. “This involves putting a series of plates and screws and wires on the top of the gums, sort of anchored to the bone below that then allows you to fix the mandible, which is the jaw, to the maxila, which is the bone kind of in the upper lip and behind the nose. Your maxila is not moving, it’s rigid with your skull. So what they’re trying to do here is anchor the jaw to the maxila to prevent the jaw from moving.”

Yes, that’s right: Colby Covington could indeed end up having his jaw wired shut. According to a bunch of other UFC fighters that have suffered similar injuries, it’s not a fun time.

”There’s variations on the exact techniques, whether they put a plate across there or if they put a bar and a bunch of wires, basically wiring the jaw shut,” Sutterer continued. “But this is one of the more commonly employed methods, especially when it’s a simple fracture and can be tolerated well. The problem with this, of course, is you can’t open your jaw.”

”Thankfully with most mandible fractures the bone is healed after around four to six weeks, so these are by no means long term fixation types of things where someone like Covington is going to have their jaw wired shut for months on end,” he concluded. “This is nothing I would expect to be career ending for someone like Covington, but it’s certainly going to be a pretty bothersome month or two here as he recovers from this injury.”

Don’t get too excited just yet, haters. Some non-displaced midline mandible fractures are minor enough to require just medication and soft foods. But considering the shot that caused the fracture ... and then the extra dozen or so punches to the jaw that Covington endured after, AND the amount of nasty swelling we witnessed over the last two rounds, we’d be amazed if they didn’t have to MMF Colby’s mouth shut for a month or more.