A prominent head coach takes credit for reducing fighter injuries 50 percent.
American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) has long been one of the very best MMA gyms on planet earth. Champions like Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Cain Velasquez and Luke Rockhold have all come through the ranks of AKA.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, AKA has managed to stay relevant and adapt as the sport of MMA has evolved.
One thing, however, haunts every gym.
The dreaded injury bug. In the past, many of AKA’s top fighters have been forced out of big-time fights due to injuries. Oftentimes entire fight cards falling apart in lieu of the last minute injuries. More recently, however, AKA fighters have been hitting the scales on weight and ready to go. It’s a trend that AKA head coach Javier Mendez believes he is responsible for.
Speaking with BJPENN.com Radio, Mendez detailed how he has been able to reduce the number of fight-ending injuries before they happen:
“It is the nature of the sport,” Mendez said of training injuries at American Kickboxing Academy. “You know, there’s a lot of injuries involved in the sport. It’s not something that we have mastered yet, but I’ll tell you what, it is something that we’ve gotten better at.”
“This is still a relatively new sport and we’re still learning,” he continued. “I was still trying to figure out how do we save us from getting injured all the damn time? Why are we getting injured? It’s nuts. Well little simple things, Jason, from having the guys talk to me when they don’t want to spar. They have issues with their girlfriend or their family, you know, they didn’t get enough sleep, or they have a little injury. I want them to point it out to me. I want them to tell me what’s going on. So this way I’ll say, ‘okay, you’re just boxing today or okay, you’re not sparring today.’ Let me tell you something. Our injury rate has dropped almost over 50 percent.”
A pretty lofty claim to say the least. Regardless, Mendez continued to explain that there have been several instances were he strongly encouraged fighters to not take a fight due to injury. But you can only lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink:
“Let me give you another example,” he said. “[Blagoy Ivanov], he came to me, I took him on to start training, being his head coach for the Junior dos Santos fight, right?”
“So I said, this what you need to do,” he continued. “I need you running five, six days a week. [He said] ‘What? Why?’ [I said] ‘Yes. I need you to do it hard six days a week.’ He goes, ‘Okay coach.’ So next thing you know, two weeks into this whole thing, the poor guy rips his meniscus running on the street. He ripped his meniscus in two spots. How he’s going into the fight with Junior dos Santos with a torn meniscus in two spots. Now guess what? All you can really do is box.”
“So I had told them to cancel the fight, call the UFC, cancel the fight. So he had already scheduled surgery, he was canceling the fight, but over the weekend, he just felt like, no, I’m gonna fight. And that’s what fighters do. They fight injured. He’s not the only example. There’s tons of examples that go out there.”
“He decided to take the fight, and he went through the fight. It didn’t go his way and even if he had been 100 percent healthy feel, who knows how the fight would have gone? Because Junior dos Santos is a great fighter, you know? So I’m just saying in regards to injuries that they don’t always happen in the gym either.”
Mendez believes that most fighters opt to fight injured because of financial reasons. That is, most fighters in the UFC don’t make much more than minimum wage when it’s all said and done.
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“I’ll give you another [example],” he said. “[Gabriel Benitez], he was scheduled to fight Andre Fili, and he was injured. He was injured, he couldn’t do nothing, and I just pleaded with him to cancel the fight. Please cancel the fight. But he needed the money. He needed the money. He could not cancel the fight. So he had no sparring, zero sparring. He was injured going into the fight, his confidence was down to the dumps, and now you fight Andre Fili for God’s sake. Come on. I mean, I knew that kid was really special.”
“So I just said, ‘Please cancel the fight.’ No. He took the fight anyways. What happens? Boom. Taken care of. So those are the things, the unknown things that the fans don’t know and they don’t understand and they don’t care to hear either. All they care about is come fight time, you either win or you don’t. And that’s what I tell my guys. I go, ‘Fans don’t give a shit whether you’re injured or not injured with your fight. They just see the winner.’”