Injuries are obviously a fact of life in the UFC. It’s a brutal sport that puts tremendous strain on the bodies of participants. Those injuries frequently lead to long layoffs as the fighter tries to recover and get back into fighting shape. Bettors need to be very aware of those layoffs and what they mean – how the fighter is likely to look in their first fight, and how the public will respond to that fighter’s return. Here are five factors to consider:
What was the injury? – There is no such thing as a good injury, but there are some that are unquestionably better than others – at least in terms of how easy they are to recover. There are a few ways to look at this, but the way I prefer to think of it is how much the fighter is likely to be favoring the injury until he gets comfortable with how well it has recuperated. For example, a knee injury is almost always going to challenge a fighter of any style because it is the key to the fighter’s foundation whether standing or on the ground. A shoulder injury, on the other hand, could be much harder to overcome for a guy who relies on leverage and pressure than one who relies more on speed and legs. By looking at how key the injured part is to the success of the fighter you can get a sense of how hard it could be for him to come back from the injury.
What style of fighter is he? – This is an extension of the last point, but it is so important that it is worth looking at in isolation. Fighters have to be versatile if they want long term success, but each fighter has a prefered style – a way of fighting that they would embrace if given the opportunity to control a fight. You need to take the time to consider how fundamental to the success of that style the injured part is. If they aren’t likely to trust their injured part then they will have two choices – not commit fully to the fight for fear of what could happen, or try to change their style to minimize the chances of re-injury. Neither one is going to have a positive effect on how the fighter responds, and will make them harder to trust in their return.
Has he dealt with an injury before? – Regardless of the sport athletes will tell you that the biggest part of coming back from a major injury isn’t the rehab, but rather overcoming the mental challenges. Fear, uncertainty, boredom, frustration, and more can invade your brain when you have too much time on your hands. Your confidence can take a massive hit when you can’t do what you do best. If a fighter has dealt with an injury before it still won’t be easy, but chances are it will be easier to deal with because he understands what to expect and what he needs to do to get back to his best. The one possible exception here, though, is if the fighter is facing the same injury for the second time. That can lead to extra frustration and doubt, and can really make it hard to come back.
How do fighters typically come back from similar injuries? – There are a lot of injuries in MMA action, so chances are pretty good that no fighter is going through a particular injury for the first time. It only makes sense, then, to use the past similar injuries as a resource. How well have guys come back from an ACL injury? How about a shoulder setback? If possible you probably want to compare guys of similar sizes and styles, but any comparison would be somewhat useful.
Who is he fighting? – Once you have a sense of the type of injury and what impact it could have on the fighter, you need to look at who they are facing. Will the fighter be able to challenge the injured part based on his style? For example, if the opponent is a particularly fast fighter, then an injured knee could be a real concern because it will be tested with quick changes of direction and twisting and turning. If the opponent likes to stay on his feet, though, then a neck injury wouldn’t be nearly as much of a concern as if the fight was going to be on the ground.