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Dehumanizing The Sport: The Strange Effect Of Injury Withdrawals On The MMA Community

The bizarre influx of injury withdrawals leading into UFC 133 has led many within the MMA community to question the merits of the new fighter insurance policy enacted by Zuffa this May. The now-infamous policy provides coverage for injuries sustained by fighters while in training, as well as external incidents such as car accidents.

Instead of forcing fighters to pay out-of-pocket medical expenses, the promotion now generously covers 100 percent of the necessary insurance premiums, saving their contracted athletes millions of dollars a year. For bottom-of-the-rung fighters struggling to make a living doing what they love, this new coverage is a godsend.

Yet, despite this altruistic fact, a common voice has risen among the consuming crowd, claiming that this new policy actually encourages fighters to ruin cards by pulling-out out of contracted bouts because of minor injuries.

With all the recent examples shoved in front of our faces, the accusation does make some sense. But is the reality as widespread as it seems?

Through 2011 there have been 14 official UFC events. Six of those 14 events (43%) have ended with an different headlining bout than originally scheduled due to an injury withdrawal.

Of the eight shows that maintained their original headliner, five still felt the heavy burden of injury replacements on their primary pay-per-view card (63%).

Thus, of the 14 UFC promotions this year, 11 have been drastically altered by fighter pullouts (79%). Admittedly, that number appears massive upon first sight.

But what exactly does it mean? While training camp injuries have been accepted as an inherent aspect of the game in the past, the current public sentiment seem to be that we are inching toward treacherous territory.

The past few months have contributed heavily to that, as countless withdrawals have crippled a number of high-profile cards. Certainly it seems as if the scales have been tipped to one side thus far, but is this new crisis really that new?

Last year the UFC put on 24 full-scale events. Of those 24, 19 suffered through the same series of injury-related pitfalls. In other words, 79 percent. The exact same result.

In anything, the trend has maintained itself to a tee. Any fight fan knows this isn't surprising. Injury pullouts are as much a mainstay of the sport as Joe Son Do and Art Jimmerson's legendary glove.

Besides, at this point haven't late withdrawals become the trademark shortcut for unheralded fighters to make their mark? For every wasted Rampage-Hamill clunker, there are countless Brenneman-StoryMasvidal-Noons stunners that invariably bring new, unexpected faces into MMA consuming limelight.

Because of this, the mass existence of injury pullouts are a generally accepted truth in the unpredictable world of MMA. Yet, as we have seen of late, an unfortunate result of any sudden string of bad luck is that it will inevitably bring in the flood screaming for change.

As a result of an athlete-fan relationship that is wholly dependent on an electronic screen, many subconsciously assume that fighters aren't actually real people; rather, they are gladiators with the sole purpose of general amusement. The disappointment of failing to live up to that standard is deemed unacceptable.

What usually follows is a downpour of unregulated cynicism that oozes through the cracks like tree sap on a hot summer's day. Faceless names questioning the commitment of professionals and their right to basic human security. The argument is not only absurd, it is emotionally cold and detached.

Does the new policy inherently create situations where fans may have to begrudgingly purchase mediocre shows? In some cases, yes.

Does that mean the policy is actually hurting the sport? Absolutely not. Concern for health and safety is never a legitimate problem. Every individual deserves the comfort of knowing that they and their families will be taken care of in an emergency. 

In the end, this is just the world we chose to follow. MMA's brutal nature, and the unparalleled premium it places on weight cutting, will inevitably lead to a larger percentage of high profile injuries. Sometimes they will even be bound to happen all at once, like we saw last week.

That doesn't mean we need to dehumanize the sport.