Ask any MMA fi ghter for their opinion on Murphy’s Law—“if anything can go wrong, it will”—and you are liable to get some biased answers. The fact of the matter is, MMA is as unpredictable as it is exciting to watch, therefore, it is impossible to foresee every risk that exists inside of each match. Fighters win, fi ghters lose, and sometimes, despite the overwhelming safety stats that MMA can claim to have (much to the chagrin of those who don’t quite “get” the sport yet), fi ghters can sometimes get hurt while they wage war.
That being said, sometimes the injuries that are part of the MMA game—from torn ligaments, to broken bones, and even just some broken skin—come at a time in a fi ghter’s career that prove to be an altogether opportunityrobbing, bad-luck-spawning, or even just downright unfair situation. So let’s take this opportunity to recall some of the most ill-timed injuries—from the seemingly mundane to the stomach-turning serious—that have left their marks on some temporarily unlucky fi ghters in the sport of mixed martial arts.
7. Babalu’s pride – UFC 74, August 25, 2007.
The year 2007 was indeed a rough one for Renato “Babalu” Sobral. After facing public embarrassment for his Florida arrest involving battery and trespassing charges, Babalu looked to keep moving forward in his MMA career. But at the weigh-ins for UFC 74 just months later, where he was slated to face David Heath, Babalu was temporarily forced to look upon his legal woes once again—on Heath’s chest, of all places. Trying to gain a mental edge over Babalu, Heath had worn a shirt depicting Babalu’s own mugshot, before taunting, “You’re going down, motherfucker,” to a fuming Sobral. Heath’s plan worked, as Babalu’s pride had been injured, causing him to fi ght an angry fi ght, not a smart one. Securing a fi ght-ending anaconda choke on Heath, Babalu unwisely decided to hold his choke even after Heath had tapped out and referee Steve Mazzagatti had called the fi ght. By the time Mazzagatti pulled Babalu’s arms free, Heath had been choked unconscious. Following some snide and incriminating remarks at the post-fi ght press conference, Babalu would be fi ned $25,000 and extricated from the UFC, possibly forever.
6. Ken Shamrock’s cut – EliteXC Heat, October 4, 2008.
Ask any true fi ght fan about Ken Shamrock, and they will all say the same thing: The man possesses a deep love for the sport of MMA, and he will always be tightly laced within its history. That being said, some believe that Ken has reached a state of diminishing returns and should seriously consider hanging up the gloves and retiring as a fi ghter. Perhaps destiny feels the same way. Last October, as Ken was warming up for his highly-anticipated fi ght with Kimbo Slice—an event that could have quite possibly been the last great written page in his fi ght-themed legacy—fate came knocking…on Ken’s forehead. Receiving an incidental headbutt from his training partner, Ken’s head was split open, immediately requiring six stitches. Needless to say, the fi ght was on, but Ken was out. Unfortunately for a seething Ken, Seth Petruzelli will now forever be remembered as the man to derail the Kimbo-train that had been blowing full steam ahead until that night. But never let it be said that there is any quit in Ken. Currently, there are big talks of a fi ght between none other than Ken Shamrock and adoptive brother, Frank Shamrock— provided Lady Luck doesn’t decide to clobber Ken once more.
5. Tito Ortiz’s back – UFC 44, September 26, 2003.
Following a fi ve round fi ght and loss to Randy Couture, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” would be in “Bad” pain…for the next fi ve years. Somewhere in the battle, Tito injured his lower back and never was able to fully recover. Although he still remained active—even successful—following the initial onslaught of suffering, hardcore fans would be able to see that Tito just didn’t seem to be Tito anymore. After losing to Chuck Liddell in his next fi ght, Tito beat both newcomer Patrick Cote and veteran Vitor Belfort by decision, and was also named the winner over Forrest Griffi n in a controversial split decision. Following this, Tito’s only two celebrated wins came over an aging Ken Shamrock before he once again gave so-so performances against Chuck Liddel, Rashad Evans, and Lyoto Machida, before marking the end of his run in the UFC. The good news? Following successful surgery last October, Tito has publicly expressed relief from his injuries, along with a renewed fi ghting spirit. With some luck, it looks like Tito Ortiz might fi nally be able to -ahem!- shake this monkey off his back.
4. Tim Sylvia’s arm – UFC 48, June 19, 2004.
Quite possibly, no other MMA injury is more widely known or as visually-disturbing as the one that took place when Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir threw down in the Octagon. Knowing they were competing for the vacant UFC Heavyweight title, both fi ghters brought their “A” games that night, but maybe only one of them brought their calcium supplements! After the fi ght quickly went to the ground, Mir threw up an armbar attempt, catching Sylvia right below his elbow. But displaying a fi ghter’s heart that knows no retreat, Sylvia fought with all he had in order to escape while Mir cranked the submission hold with everything he could muster—undoubtedly the type of situation that adds credence to the commonplace MMA motto, “Tap or snap.” After Sylvia’s arm broke, referee Herb Dean wisely called a stop to the fi ght, before anyone else really knew what was going on. But if there is one thing that squeamish spectators can tell you after witnessing this highlight-worthy freak injury, it’s this: Jiu-jitsu works, and slow motion replay is the stuff that wincing and cringes are made of!
3. Scott Smith’s eye – EliteXC Primetime, May 31 2008.
On a historical fi ght card that marked the fi rst time MMA would appear on free network TV to millions of viewers, it certainly seemed as though Scott Smith and Robbie Lawler had planned to steal the show and demonstrate to fi rst-time viewers what MMA was all about. Putting on a performance that had all the makings of an EliteXC-equivalent to the UFC’s Forrest Griffi n vs. Stephan Bonnar I, things came to a screeching, and confusing, halt in the third round. After inadvertently receiving a thumb in the eye, Smith clued the referee in on the foul, looking for some needed time to recover. But before you could say, “How many fi ngers am I holding up?” the doctors were shining lights in Smith’s eye—the wrong eye, at that— and making recommendations that the fi ght be stopped, even despite Smith’s sincere pleas and reassurance that he was uninjured. Less than a year later, EliteXC would go bankrupt, leaving Lawler and Smith as free agents. Would this have happened if the fi ght were allowed to continue? The world will never know.
2. din thomas’ knee ufn 11, September 19, 2007.
As if most lightweight fi ghters didn’t already have it hard enough when it comes to making a career in MMA, sometimes you’re presented with an opportunity to see those who really have it rough. To more recent fi ght fans, ATT fi ghter and UFC veteran Din Thomas became widely known through his participation in TUF 4, a show aimed at giving slipping fi ghters a chance at redemption and stardom. Although he didn’t win the show, Thomas certainly made headway in his comeback, choking out Rich Clementi in the fi nale. But his luck would change during his fi ght with Kenny Florian. Arguably looking to gain a spot in title contention if he won the match, Thomas gave it all that he had, but c
ame up short when he tore his meniscus, stretched his anterior cruciate ligament and bruised his femur and tibia after banging his knee on the canvas while shooting in for a takedown. Injured and unable to defend himself, Din succumbed to a RNC. But Din’s run of bad fortune was just beginning. Just over one month later, Din was arrested in Florida for holding what was labeled as “illegal cage fi ghting matches,” thus adding to the negative aura surrounding his recent career. But Thomas’ injury healed, charges were dropped, and things could only get better from there. Or could they? After losing his returning UFC fi ght against Josh Neer, Thomas was abruptly cut from the UFC roster. So have we seen the last of Din Thomas? Given his up-and-down luck, it’d probably be unwise to bet on it, either way.
1. Fedor Emelianenko’s cut – Rings, December 22, 2000.
Certainly, if there is one thing that every MMA fi ghter covets, it’s that perfect winning record. After all, having all wins and no losses in a sport so wrought with chaos and ways to lose alike would say one important thing about a fi ghter—he is a true master of the combat arts and an all-around stud. So let’s look at possibly the biggest stud in MMA today, a stud with one nagging loss on his impeccable record: Fedor Emelianenko. In the Rings fi ght organization in the year 2000, Fedor would meet his fi gurative broken mirror, black cat and his own personal number 13 all in one opponent and in one unlucky set of tournament rules.
Given that MMA is about as rough a sport as you can get, it’s impossible to list every unlucky injury that’s happened—after all, every injury can be considered unlucky! That being said, here are a few more uneventful injuries that didn’t make the cut (pun intended!).
Manny Gamburyan’s shoulder injury against Nate Diaz. TUF 5 Finale June 23, 2007.
Going into the TUF 5 fi nale with a full head of steam, and controlling Nate Diaz for much of their fi ght, Manny Gamburyan seemed to have everything planned out…Except for the freak shoulder injury that would force him to concede defeat and cost him the match. Since then, he’s put on a good showing in the UFC, but Diaz’s string of victories has just been a bit better—something that started with this unfortunate fi ght-ender.
Hermes Franca’s ankle injury prior to his title fi ght with Sean Sherk. UFC 73 July 7, 2007.
Unwisely using steroids to heal an ankle injury, this injury was the start of Franca’s bad luck: A steroid charge; a break from the UFC; a falling out with his training camp; and an unsuccessful return to the UFC against Frankie Edgar [I don’t know if you want to mention something about his recent DUI or not; it’s up to you guys at FIGHT!).
David Terrell’s everything.
Anyone who loves BJJ and MMA knows that Cesar Gracie doesn’t just hand out black belts to anyone, and that includes his fi rst black belt, David Terrell. Looking to be a promising fi ghter, Terrell’s career was plagued by repeated affl ictions, some to his knee, elbow, and even his sinuses. After pulling out of three bouts due to injury, Terrell was cut from the UFC and has not been seen on the MMA stage since.
Facing Tsuyoshi Kohsaka in an elimination style tournament, Fedor looked to do his proverbial “thing” in the ring before receiving an inadvertent—yet illegal—elbow from his opponent. Instantly, Fedor’s forehead was split wide open, and the ringside doctor was forced to call the fi ght. But despite the fact that the unintended elbow was illegal, which would normally result in a DQ or no contest, the tournament format of the competition required that a winner be named. Given that Fedor would be unable to continue due to his cut, the “W” was given to Kohsaka, and a haunting “1” was tacked onto the end of Fedor’s record. Even though Fedor would decisively avenge this loss almost fi ve years later, that “1” would forever remain etched into Fedor’s professional record, thus eternally taking on the role of the metaphorical zit on the otherwise unblemished prom queen of MMA.