Baseball season is nearly upon us, which means the long, grueling, 162-game season is about to start. It’s a virtual certainty that almost every team will endure some injuries to their key contributors. While every team attempts to plan for injuries by putting together a solid bench and farm system, there are some injuries that hurt more than others. Players like Troy Tulowitzki and A.J. Pollock have flashed greatness when healthy, but they have struggled with injuries, too. Just as in baseball, plenty of potential MMA superstars fall victim to the injury bug.
Who is the Yaisel Puig of the lightweight division? Who is the Pollock of the heavyweights? Which player has shown the potential to put up big numbers, but has been hampered by injuries throughout their career like Tulowitzki?
Ian McCall will go down as one of the key contributors in bringing the flyweight division to where it is now. Although Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson will receive most of the praise for establishing the 125-pound division — and rightfully so — McCall played his own role in putting the division on the map during his stint in Tachi Palace Fights.
Nowadays, however, it seems McCall has faded to relative obscurity in the division he helped establish. This is due in large part to his lack of activity. “Uncle Creepy” has been forced out of a fight on seven different occasions during his UFC tenure. His hand is so badly damaged that McCall has trouble even making a solid fist. He recently mentioned that he’s one injury away from never competing again.
Here’s hoping McCall can enjoy a healthy run to close out his career, but his track record would suggest otherwise.
Dominick Cruz remains one of the best bantamweights in the world, which is a scary thought considering the amount of injuries have the career of “The Dominator.”
Cruz began his run to the top after losing to Urijah Faber during Faber’s dominant run in the WEC. After dropping down to bantamweight, Cruz found success by utilizing an unconventional style that left his opponents in the dust. His success in the WEC transferred over to the UFC, where Cruz defeated his nemesis Faber and the future flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
However, this is when Cruz saw his status as top dog come under question. A torn ACL left Cruz on the sidelines for nearly two years from 2012-2014. Just as he was ready to make a comeback to the 135-pound division, Cruz suffered another major injury that put him on the shelf until the fall of 2014. His thrashing of veteran Takeya Mizugaki made a huge statement regarding the status of Cruz as a top bantamweight. Additional injuries, though, would force Cruz to be on the sidelines until 2016, when in perhaps one of the greatest comebacks in professional sports, Cruz stepped into the ring and dethroned seemingly unstoppable champion T.J. Dillashaw.
Cruz is still considered an elite fighter, but one has to wonder what he could’ve accomplished had he stayed healthy. Could he have made a run at Anderson Silva’s record for title defenses? Perhaps he could have been the first dual-division champion, beating Conor McGregor to the feat? We’ll never know.
José Aldo will likely go down as the greatest featherweight of all time. He should also make it onto some people’s all-time pound-for-pound lists. His dominance is without question. The same cannot be said of his durability.
Aldo began his UFC career on the wrong foot by pulling out of a scheduled title bout against Josh Grispi at UFC 125. The WEC and eventual UFC featherweight champion returned quickly and defend his title on two occasions to close out 2011. 2012 would be a different story. Aldo won in dramatic fashion at UFC 142 in January, but he struggled to make it to the Octagon for the remainder of the year.
Aldo returned to form by defending his title four times, but he let fans down in a major way at UFC 189. On the heels of the biggest promotional tour in UFC, and perhaps in all of combat sports, Aldo backed out of his scheduled showdown with Conor McGregor due to a broken rib. His injury claim was met with quite a bit of skepticism, too.
The Brazilian has avoided any major setbacks since UFC 189, but the promotion’s trust in booking him as a main event has to be on shaky ground.
Historically one of the UFC’s toughest weight classes, the lightweight division hasn’t done fighters any favors in the training camps. Both Khabib Nurmagomedov and Anthony Pettis have had moments where it looked like they may be on the verge of something special.
Pettis splashed onto the scene courtesy of his WEC run and the “Showtime Kick” he delivered to Benson Henderson at WEC 53. He’d struggle in his UFC debut, but would reassert himself as an elite 155-pound fighter despite working through numerous nagging injuries. Those injuries would force Pettis out of a monumental payday against José Aldo at UFC 163 and force him out of two additional bouts. His time at the top of the lightweight division could’ve been so much more had injuries not slowed him down.
While Pettis was at least able to reach the summit and become a UFC champion, the same cannot be said of Nurmagomedov. The powerful grappler has yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon, but he has met plenty of adversity outside of the cage. A series of injuries kept “The Eagle” grounded for much of 2014 and all of 2015. Nurmagomedov reminded everyone of his elite skills against Darrell Horcher and Michael Johnson, but he was forced out a scheduled fight with Tony Ferguson on multiple occasions. None of those scrapped contests stung as much as Nurmagomedov’s removal from UFC 209 on the day of weigh-ins. Despite his talent, Nurmagomedov will have a tough task not only gaining the UFC’s support, but also that of the fans upon his return to action.
It sounds crazy to say Rory MacDonald is one of MMA’s seasoned veterans in the welterweight division. He’s just 27 years old, after all. However, the Canadian began his professional MMA career at a very young age and became the heir apparent to fellow Canadian, Georges St-Pierre. Whereas St-Pierre found success at avoiding major injuries and damage during his bouts, MacDonald hasn’t been as lucky.
The Tristar product has been forced out of four fights due to a myriad of injuries during his UFC run. Although he’s avoided any catastrophic injuries, MacDonald has struggled in recent years due to a recurring issue with his nose. He has admitted that his nose routinely winds up broken in training camp. It received an unfathomable amount of damage during his contest with Robbie Lawler at UFC 189, too.
MacDonald took some much-needed time off following his departure from the UFC, but it remains to be seen if he can achieve his full potential while guarding against a fractured nose both in the gym and in the cage.
Chris Weidman will forever go down as the man that toppled Anderson Silva’s run of invincibility. Weidman was on the verge of becoming the next major star in the UFC after erasing any doubt about his status as the best middleweight.
Just as the Weidman bandwagon began to fill up, the New York native suffered the first injury-related setback of his career. Weidman was forced out of action from December 2013 until the summer of 2014. An instant classic with Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 gave Weidman an emphatic victory to silence any doubters following his bouts with Silva.
While fans couldn’t doubt Weidman’s talent after UFC 175, his knack for sustaining injuries became a major concern. Weidman engaged in a war of words with Vitor Belfort surrounding performance-enhancing drugs while being forced out of action at UFC 181 and UFC 184. The champ silenced a TRT-less Belfort at UFC 187, but he dropped the title to Luke Rockhold at UFC 194. Weidman admitted to suffering a broken foot in training camp and required additional surgery following the defeat. A subsequent neck injury forced Weidman out of a scheduled rematch with Rockhold.
Weidman has thus far managed to not allow injuries to hamper his performances. Despite his aura of invincibility being long gone, Weidman remains one of the best fighters in the division. However, he had the potential to overtake Silva’s records in the 185-pound division with his rare combination of striking and grappling prowess.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua holds a special place in the hearts of many MMA fans. His run in Pride was magical to watch. He’s enjoyed success as an elite 205-pound fighter throughout much of his career. Still, so much of Rua’s career is a big “what if.”
After seemingly coming from nowhere during the Pride 205-pound Grand Prix in 2005, Shogun became an instant fan-favorite due to his exciting Muay Thai style. It was expected that Rua would continue his run of dominance in the UFC, but those plans quickly unraveled. Despite being a heavy favorite against Forrest Griffin, Rua lost the opening rounds and was eventually tapped out after gassing in his UFC debut.
A series of major knee injuries forced Rua out of action for the remainder of 2007 and all of 2008. Despite winning his return bout against Mark Coleman, the Brazilian left UFC 97 with fans and analysts questioning his cardio and wondering just how debilitating his knee injuries were. He did manage to win the UFC title at UFC 113 after avenging a controversial loss to Lyoto Machida at UFC 104.
Rua’s durability has been questionable at best following the Machida fights. He’s endured an incredible amount of punishment throughout his MMA career. His accomplishments are among the best in the 205-pound division, but it seems like the Brazilian could’ve accomplished so much more had he not been plagued by knee injuries.
Perhaps the most obvious fighter on this list, Cain Velasquez without a doubt will go down as the Troy Tulowitzki of the heavyweight division. He may even go down as the Troy Tulowitzki of MMA as a whole.
No other fighter seemed to have all the pieces of the puzzle in the way Velasquez did. He had the cardio of a flyweight, combined with the punching power of a heavyweight. He looked the part of an unstoppable force en route to defeating WWE superstar and then UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar at UFC 121.
Velasquez was unable to defend the belt against Junior dos Santos in 2011. The loss came as a result of poor strategy on the part of Velasquez, who suffered an injury in training camp. Velasquez returned with a vengeance, picking up two wins in 2012 and 2013. However, 2013 was the last time Velasquez competed more than once in a year.
Velasquez’s countless injuries have been known to put the heavyweight title picture on hold. The former UFC champion has only been forced out of three scheduled bouts, but he has spent more time out of the Octagon than in it. His inability to stay healthy has become a staple of Velasquez’s legacy. Fedor Emelianenko will go down as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history, but Velasquez could’ve very likely toppled “The Last Emperor” for the title of greatest heavyweight in MMA history had he avoided the injury bug.