This year has been a strange one for the MMA world. It has had it’s ups and downs, just like every other year, but 2012 has seen its fair share of extremes. Perhaps the highest high was the beginning of the UFC’s relationship with Fox, and the lowest low was the cancellation of UFC 151—a first in the Zuffa era.

There has been article after article written on the cancellation. Most lamenting Jon Jones for not taking the fight with Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice, and others blaming the UFC for putting together a card so heavily dependent on one fight. However, very few have actually taken time to look at the root of the issue: Dan Henderson’s knee injury.

Without the injury, Jones wouldn’t have been put in a position to turn down a fight and the UFC wouldn’t have been put in a situation where it had to cancel an event. Don’t worry folks, I’m not here to blame Henderson, unlike someone else we all know. Injuries are out of our control. However, I am here to talk about the alarming amount of injuries that have seen two UFC champions miss all or most of 2012, cards being shuffled like a deck of playing cards rather than a fight card, and ultimately the cancellation of an event.

Georges St-Pierre, Dominick Cruz, Henderson, Michael Bisping and Eric Koch, twice, are all names that have been injured during training, not a fight, that have caused some major shuffling of an event.

What can be done to slow the injury train that has only seemed to be picking up steam?

We’re talking about a combat sport, with men and women who are in peak physical condition. They dedicate their lives to honing their skills to render people unconscious. Yes, there are going to be injuries, but shouldn’t the majority of them take place inside the cage in front of thousands of screaming fans?

First, we have to understand why so many injuries are taking place during training. The main reason I can come up with is the formation of these super camps. Gyms like Tristar, Xtreme Couture, the Blackzilians, American Top Team, The MMA Lab, et cetera, are starting to pop up all over the place.

These gyms offer the fighters the opportunity to train with the best of the best, putting them in the best place to make a run at a title and be the best fighter they can be. However, that also means the sparring is that much more intense, the competition is that much better, and  guys are going that much harder at one another, causing the risk of injury to be that much greater.

Sure, that is only one reason, and I’m sure there are many more, but that one seems to make the most sense.

What are some of the alternatives these guys can turn to in order to change up the daily grind?

A lot of fighters have taken up swimming. It provides a full body workout with absolutely no repetitive pounding on joints. American Kickboxing Academy has even built a pool at their new facility.

In an even odder twist than swimming, a few fighters have even taken up Bikram Yoga, which also provides a great full body workout, while improving flexibility and strengthening the joints that take such a pounding during an activity such as running.

In what has certainly been the most outside the box, and likely most fun alternative, two fighters—Jamie Varner and Jim Miller—have decided to take part in the Spartan Race. The race, which is an obstacle course, doesn’t tell its competitors what the components of the course include, therefore it becomes just as mental as it is physical. Races are held throughout the country and are created by eight ultimate endurance athletes and a Marine, who combined have participated in an ironman, climbed Mt. Everest and gone through intense military training.

Miller will try his hand at the course this coming Saturday in New Jersey, while Varner’s date and location are still yet to be determined.

“Not only am I ready to participate in a new event, my strength coach, Martin Rooney, couldn’t be happier. He loves the event concept, and now he can get even crazier with our strength drills,” Miller told The MMA Corner. “There are so many different movements and levels of flexibility that will be needed during the Spartan Race, and I plan to be fully prepared. We will even change up a little of our standard MMA training at AMA Fight Club specifically for the event.”

While Miller didn’t allude to exactly how his MMA training will be modified, it could be one step in the right direction to preventing injuries. In addition to providing the athletes with a fun twist on their physical training, the race will help to prepare their mind for the cage as well. Since they will have no way of knowing exactly what will be next during the course, they’ll have to be prepared for everything. The same holds true inside the Octagon. A fighter’s next opponent may be known as a knockout artist, but what happens when that guy surprises you with a takedown?

For Varner, he is coming off a “Fight of the Night” performance with Joe Lauzon, a fight in which Varner broke his right hand. Striking is clearly not an option for the lightweight right now, so he will be using the race as a way to stay in shape while not being able to fully immerse himself in the MMA grind.

“I’m very fortunate that my management was able to align me with such as exciting event,” Varner said of the Spartan Race. “This will keep my training fresh and exciting, not to mention keeping my competitive juices flowing. I love competing in absolutely everything I do and Spartan Race pushes your mind and body to the limit. It has a huge following on social media, so I am excited to see what feedback our training videos receive. You should check their site out, spartanrace.com, they’ve got some really cool content over there, too.”

Regardless of what the fighters choose to do during their training, it’s clear that something needs to be done to help prevent injuries. As the UFC 151 debacle demonstrated, one injury can affect an entire card and the livelihood of so many. So, whether they’re channeling their inner Michael Phelps, getting more in touch with ancient forms of exercise such as yoga, or they’re trying to become modern day Spartans, it’s all a step in the right direction.

Photo: Jim Miller (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Paige Berger

Relatively new to the sport of MMA, Paige is a life long athlete. She attended the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, N.Y., where she was a pioneer member of the women's ice hockey program. She also excelled in softball and soccer before deciding to focus on hockey. Born and raised in New York, she is an avid Yankees fan. Currently residing in Las Vegas, a move she made after falling in love with MMA while training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., she is currently studying public relations and advertising at UNLV.