Blaming the spate of fighter injuries on the UFC's insurance policy is misguided (Yahoo! Sports)


There's probably been twice the number of theories regarding the UFC's astonishing amount of injuries as there have been actual fighter injuries in 2012.

That's a huge number considering the sheer volume of injuries and card adjustments they've caused this year. On Tuesday, the UFC announced that featherweight champion Jose Aldo (ankle) and ex-light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (elbow) had to pull out of their fights at UFC 153, set for Oct. 13 in Brazil.

On Wednesday, UFC president Dana White announced middleweight champion Anderson Silva would meet Stephan Bonnar in a three-round light heavyweight bout as the card's main event, replacing Aldo-Frankie Edgar. Edgar is now off the card and will await Aldo's return to health for a shot at the featherweight title.

Jackson's spot against Glover Teixeira has been taken by Fabio Maldonado. At the pace the injuries are coming, the UFC may wind up the year with over 100 of them.

White speculated that part of the reason for the uptick is that because the fighters make so much money, they don't have the need to fight hurt just to collect a payday. And those sitting out see little sense in accepting matches on short notice if they aren't desperate for an extra check.

[Related: Anderson Silva-Stephan Bonnar fill in as UFC 153 main event]

Another theory that is gaining momentum is that the fighters are training far too hard for far too long and it's taking a significant toll on their bodies.

The reason for the spate of injuries is hard to pinpoint. But the one thing that is unquestionably not a viable explanation is a point that is becoming increasingly popular among some MMA media and the UFC's fan base: The accident insurance policy the UFC extended to the fighters in 2011.

Last year, the UFC announced that it would offer the coverage to all of the fighters under contract. If a fighter suffers an accident – whether he is hurt in training or slips and falls on a banana peel at home – the insurance policy will cover those costs.

Prior to that being implemented, the cost of the injury would be covered by the individual.

The fighters are independent contractors who only get paid when they compete. If an individual got hurt prior to May 2011, he suffered a double whammy. Not only would he not receive a paycheck, but he'd have to pay out of pocket to get his injuries treated.

The UFC put the policy in place 16 months ago and pays all of the $1 million annual premium. What that has done has lifted a financial burden off injured fighters, not given them an excuse to pull out.

It's mind-bogglingly naive, yet there are some in the media who point to that policy as the reason for the increase in injuries.

The reality is that a fighter who gets injured and pulls out of a card still doesn't get paid. Vladimir Matyushenko pulled out of his match against Matt Hamill at UFC 152 on Sept. 22 because he tore an Achilles tendon, and he'll lose a paycheck for that.

He will, though, have all of his medical bills relating to the Achilles tendon injury paid for by his UFC-provided policy.

By dropping from the card, Matyushenko is not cashing in. His medical bills to treat his Achilles will be paid, but he isn't being given money to pay his mortgage, feed his family and save for his retirement. That's money he's out and won't recover, unless he can take a couple of fights in quick succession when he returns.

"They can't use accident injury insurance as a way of making a living," UFC chief operating officer Kirk Hendrick said. "It wouldn't create a source of income to be a multiple claim sort of guy. What it does is, it helps them from having to reach into their wallets and spend more money to pay their medical costs."

[Related: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dave Herman slated to fight in Rio]

The insurance policy is a critical benefit, which also provides for coverage in case of long-term disability. For fans and media to suggest it be taken away so that fighters would be forced to either fight injured or pay their own bills is nonsensical and despicable.

I'm not sure I'm buying White's theory about money, though it could have merit in some isolated cases.

He said that because there are more fighters making significant money now than there were seven years ago, and that those fighters are more apt to pull out of a show. That same fighter, he said, would have fought seven years ago because he needed the money.

He said the UFC has paid $50 million in purse money since 2005 to fighters who have come off its reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter." The numbers paid to non-TUF fighters is far beyond that. However, White's figures are impossible to check because the UFC doesn't release all of the compensation its fighters are paid.

"These guys are rich and there are a lot of multi-millionaires that we have created," White said. "It used to be, guys were desperate to fight. When we were struggling and couldn't pay them like we can now, guys needed to fight to pay the rent on time. Well, the rent is paid now if you fight in the UFC. That's not an issue."

The injuries, though, aren't simply occurring to the highest-paid fighters, so White's premise doesn't fully explain it.

Once studies are conducted, it's likely going to be shown that the fighters are working way too hard in training. It's significant to note that the National Football League Players Association pushed very hard during last year's talks for a collective bargaining agreement on reductions in practice time and practicing in pads.

Mixed martial arts is a young sport and the training techniques haven't been refined over years of working out as they have been in other sports.

That potential answer, though, needs much more examination.

But it's time to stop the nonsense about the insurance plan. It's a great benefit that helps fighters and has nothing to do with the spate of injuries the UFC has suffered this year.

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