5 of the worst injuries in MMA history

Anderson Silva's leg break was one of the worst injuries in MMA history
Anderson Silva's leg break was one of the worst injuries in MMA history

Despite deaths in the cage or ring thankfully being at a low number – 5 deaths have been recorded in sanctioned MMA bouts with a further 9 in non-sanctioned matches – that doesn’t mean that MMA is a totally safe sport that doesn’t entail plenty of risks.

Even at the highest level of MMA, we’ve seen some extremely graphic and painful-looking injuries occur that have left fighters not only out of action for some time, but on the wrong end of a bad loss, too.

Whether it’s a nasty cut or a broken bone, graphic injuries are part and parcel of MMA – and in some weird way, they’re also fascinating to the fans. Here are 5 of the worst injuries in MMA history.

#1 Jon Jones almost loses his big toe


One of the most dominant champions in UFC history, after winning the Light-Heavyweight title in 2011, Jon Jones made a record number of successful defences with 8, and only relinquished his title when he was stripped following criminal charges in 2015.

It’s to his credit that the closest he came to losing the belt inside the Octagon was via a freakish injury in what would normally have been a routine title defence.

Jones’s title fight against challenger Chael Sonnen was given a massive build-up – a season of The Ultimate Fighter was devoted to it – but when the clash finally came around in April 2013, it was clear that Sonnen was wildly overmatched.

The champion took the former Middleweight down with ease and began to work from the top, and it hardly surprised anyone when the referee was forced to call the fight off in Jones’s favour towards the end of the first round.

It was only after the fight was over that a truly sick injury was revealed. During the post-fight interview, Joe Rogan pointed out that Jones had suffered a badly broken big toe on his left foot. The injury was so bad that the toe appeared to be almost hanging off, a disgusting visual for the fans to witness.

Upon the injury being pointed out, Jones immediately had to request a stool to sit on, the adrenaline from the fight clearly beginning to wear off. Soon after, the interview was cut off and he was taken on a trip to the hospital.

Wildly enough, despite the fight being one-sided in Jones’s favour, had referee Keith Peterson spotted the injury, Sonnen would’ve actually won the title. The fact that the injury went unnoticed was a huge stroke of luck for the longtime champion.

#2 Anderson Silva’s leg turns into a flipper


When longtime UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva was finally dethroned by Chris Weidman in July 2013 – almost 7 years after he first captured the title – it caused a huge stir in the MMA community and it came as no surprise when the UFC booked an immediate rematch for their final show of the year.

Part of the reason for the rematch was that Silva had been “clowning” before he was caught by Weidman’s fateful knockout punch. He came into the second fight behaving far more seriously, but still found himself hurt early on by Weidman’s punching power. This time though, he survived the first round and looked to turn things around in the second.

One area Silva had seen some success within the first fight had been with his leg kicks, and so he came out looking to land them in the second round. The only problem was that Weidman’s coaches had also spotted this, and they’d drilled their fighter over and over on exactly how to check the kicks using the hardest part of the upper shin bone.

And so when the Brazilian fired out a left leg kick, Weidman lifted his leg to check it and Silva’s leg connected with his shin. A loud cracking sound was heard and suddenly, Silva stumbled backwards and fell.

His left leg was snapped completely, swinging around freely in the air as if it’d been turned into a flipper. The sight of the former champion crying in agony with such a horrific injury was jaw-dropping, and the clip immediately went viral around the world.

It remains perhaps the worst bone break in UFC history, and it was enough to keep Silva out of action for over a year – and when he returned, he never looked like the same fighter – quite possibly because of suffering such a horrifying injury.

#3 Kazushi Sakuraba loses his ear


A genuine MMA legend, Kazushi Sakuraba made his name in Japan’s PRIDE promotion in the early 2000’s by picking up numerous wins over tough opponents, most notably 4 members of the legendary Gracie family.

Unfortunately, Sakuraba’s prime was largely short-lived, mostly down to the fact that the Japanese promoters loved to match him against far bigger fighters in physical mismatches. And so by somewhere around 2004 – when he was just 35 years old –, Sakuraba was largely done as a top-level fighter.

That didn’t stop promotions from booking him, though, and by 2010 it’d become outright scary to see the 40-year old legend getting into the ring in the DREAM promotion to fight dangerous opponents like Melvin Manhoef and ‘Mayhem’ Miller.

His worst moment undoubtedly came on December 31st, 2010. Faced with DREAM’s Welterweight Grand Prix winner Marius Zaromskis, everyone was worried that the Lithuanian fighter would deliver a trademark head kick and knock Sakuraba unconscious.

What happened was in a lot of ways far worse. An early strike saw Sakuraba’s right cauliflower ear begin to bleed, and moments later, when the veteran lunged in for a takedown, Zaromskis shoved his head down to defend. The ear was caught again and somehow, it ripped away from Sakuraba’s head completely.

We’d seen exploding cauliflower ears in MMA before – remember James Thompson against Kimbo Slice? – but this was something else entirely. Unsurprisingly, the fight was called off immediately – and Sakuraba had become the victim of one of the goriest injuries in MMA history.

#4 Tim Sylvia’s arm goes snap


When a fight between Tim Sylvia and Frank Mir was put together to decide a new UFC Heavyweight champion back in 2004, it sounded like a classic striker vs. grappler fight. Essentially, if the fight stayed standing, it favoured Sylvia, and if it hit the mat, it favoured Mir.

It came as a shock to everyone then when in the opening seconds of the fight, Sylvia charged forward – and tackled Mir directly to the ground. The camera angle couldn’t quite tell whether Mir had pulled guard or been taken down, but in the end, it didn’t matter.

Within seconds of the fight hitting the ground, Mir had secured an armbar on Sylvia’s right arm. A giant of a man at 6’8” and 265lbs, Sylvia decided to attempt to lift Mir up to slam his way out of the hold, but it proved to be a huge mistake.

As Sylvia stood, Mir applied more pressure on the arm, and in a shocking moment, the Maine-iac’s arm gave way, snapping at the radius bone about three inches below the elbow. Referee Herb Dean spotted the break and immediately stopped the fight, but somehow things got even stranger.

Sylvia tried to claim that he wasn’t injured and that he was willing to continue, and even the crowd seemed furious with the decision. That was until a slow-motion replay was shown on the big screen – and the disgusting visual of Sylvia’s arm cleanly snapping was shown.

Dean had thankfully made the correct call – Sylvia said so himself months later – and it would be another seven months before we’d see a recovered Maine-iac inside the Octagon again.

#5 Marvin Eastman’s head gets carved open


Over the years we’ve seen some really nasty cuts in MMA, to practically every area on the head. And some of them are definitely hard to look at – remember the gash in Robbie Lawler’s lip following his fight with Rory MacDonald, for instance?

When it comes to cuts in MMA, though, the gold standard for absolute worst has to go to Marvin Eastman. A former K-1 kickboxer, Eastman was signed by the UFC in 2003 after going 5-2 on the regional circuit and knocking out his last two opponents.

Unfortunately for Eastman, he was faced with none other than Vitor Belfort in his first fight inside the Octagon. And Belfort wasted no time in putting him away, swarming him with a flurry before hitting ‘The Beastman’ with a series of jumping knees from the clinch.

Eastman went down and Belfort quickly sealed the deal with a rapid-fire series of punches, leaving the newcomer unconscious. The fight was called off but it was only in the post-match period that the worst thing to happen to Eastman was revealed.

A huge gash had been opened on Eastman’s forehead, just above his right eye. Whether it’d been caused by the knees or the follow-up punches didn’t really matter - it looked like he’d been hit in the head with a machete.

UFC commentator Joe Rogan even compared the cut to a “goat’s vagina” – a strange comparison, but one that almost seemed apt, as there were no real words to describe such a horrific cut. Some 15 years later, it’s never been topped – which is probably a good thing for today’s fighters.

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Edited by Vikshith R
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