The UFC currently has four of its five champions sitting out with either injuries or illness, leading some to wonder whether the promotion has been cursed this fall. But Stephan Bonnar said this week on ESPN's MMA Live that it's not a curse, but a change of attitude within the UFC: According to Bonnar, the UFC brass has started showing more sympathy when its top fighters say they can't go.
"The stakes are higher, they have a lot more depth in the UFC to call in other fighters, and the UFC is more forgiving about injuries," Bonnar said. "A couple of years ago, you'd say, 'I'm injured, I can't fight' and they'd say, 'Well, if you value your job in the UFC, you'll step up and fight.' But if you're a champion and you know you're not going to be 100 percent, nowadays there's too much at stake. you don't have to suck it up anymore. They're more understanding. They'll get another big fight to fill out the card. And I think that's what's going on, because Brock Lesnar pulled out with the flu -- no one pulls out with the flu!"
Lesnar's illness is reportedly mononucleosis, not the flu, but I think there's a lot of truth to Bonnar's larger point: Lesnar is so valuable to the UFC that there's no way they're going to press him into action when he's less than 100%. On the other hand, fighters are often less than 100%, and if they're not going to perform at less than 100%, that means they're not going to perform as often as the UFC would like. The UFC can't be happy that Lesnar will fight only once in 2009, but they're not going to tell him to fight if he says he's not ready.