Anybody who follows MMA knows about the never-ending epidemic of injuries that affect fighters from every camp and in every organization. It’s just a part of the game. You train hard, you fight hard, you get hurt.
It sounds pretty simple when you lay it out like that. However, when you put a microscope on certain MMA camps across the country, and even throughout the world, there are some that stand out as much more noteworthy for their hard work and dedication. That reputation can have its downside, because hard work when training for a dangerous sport like MMA comes with serious injuries.
Exhibit A: The American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.
The world-famous Bay Area gym is known for housing multiple champions, past and present, from multiple weight classes. They include Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Luke Rockhold. The camp is also home to current contenders Kyoji Horiguchi and Khabib Nurmagomedov, along with former contenders Josh Koscheck, Josh Thomson and Jon Fitch.
Lately, though, the injury problems being suffered by AKA-affiliated fighters is becoming somewhat of an alarming situation.
The most noteworthy victim, longtime AKA member and former UFC heavyweight champ Velasquez, has fought a total of four times over the last three years. There are some fighters who fight four times in one year, but not Velasquez. His workload has been extremely limited as he’s has dealt with a myriad of injuries. He’s a former two-time champion who is extremely talented in his striking, wrestling and cardio. However, his injuries have piled up, leading to some serious doubt about his future in the sport.
The other fighter worthy of note would be Nurmagomedov. The lightweight fighter, who hasn’t been with AKA as long as its most senior members, had the injury bug even before heading out to Northern California, but his choice of camps might not help his efforts to stay healthy. As much incredible talent as “The Eagle” possesses, he’s been out for so long that people are shocked when they see how good he still is. As for the novice MMA fans, they probably have no idea he exists, since he’s only fought eight times in his nearly five-year UFC tenure. Even with the Dagestani native basically knocking on the door of a title shot in early 2017 against the UFC’s biggest star, Conor McGregor, history would suggest that we will probably witness another injury that sends his chances off the rails. If we don’t have any injuries, though, hold onto your seats, because the McGregor/Nurmagomedov rivalry could be crazy from the pre-fight buildup to the night of the fight.
The most recent injuries to occur involving AKA fighters have definitely had a profound affect on the title picture in two different weight classes.
Former middleweight champion Rockhold was set to face old rival Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in Melbourne, Australia, in a title eliminator rematch, but less than a month before the fight, Rockhold was pulled with an “undisclosed” injury, later revealed as a knee injury, and the bout was scrapped. This was crucial, because fellow contender Yoel Romero had an triumphant showing against Chris Weidman, finishing Weidman with a flying knee at UFC 205 and receiving “Performance of the Night” honors. It was understood that the guy who had the more impressive win would receive the title shot, and since Rockhold couldn’t fight, the title challenge against champion Michael Bisping will just be given to Romero. It should also be noted that Rockhold claimed he entered his title fight at UFC 199 against Bisping with an injured knee.
As if Rockhold’s setback wasn’t already making November a bad month for AKA, there was more to come. About three weeks after Rockhold’s injury announcement, UFC light heavywright champion Cormier announced that he would pull out of his much-anticipated UFC 206 rematch against top contender Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. The UFC had to scrap that fight, too. This was really disappointing, because it was a great opportunity for both guys. Their initial fight was on very short notice at UFC 187, after Jon Jones got injured. This time, they would have been on full camps and able to put on a great bout. It was a huge blow to not only the fight, but the pay-per-view card as a whole.
Ultimately, this series of injuries that happened in 2016 for AKA could be written off as unfortunate mishaps, as a lot of injuries are. However, it seems like there’s something in the water there. The AKA camp might either be training in ways that lead to injuries, doing an extra day of training when they shouldn’t be, pushing themselves to the limit too much and so on. Whatever the gym is doing, it’s causing problems. It would be in AKA’s best interest to change things up and not put themselves at so much risk. It’s understandable to take fights seriously, but it’s also important to consider the side effects of too many injures, not only for the fighters, but for the fans that come out to watch and attend the events.
It’s a drag on the whole system when fighters continuously pull out of fights and reschedule. Perhaps the AKA trainers need to shore up their training techniques a bit and take a smarter approach in order to avoid these setbacks.