Many of us have fantasies about being a professional athlete. We imagine playing the sport we love and making millions of dollars for doing it. Who wouldn’t want fortune and the adulation of millions of fans? But there are downsides to the rigorous lives many athletes endure. The mixed martial arts athletes of the United Fighting Championship has had its share of athletes with careers cut short by illness or injury. Sometimes these are just a fluke and sometimes they are brought on by the training practices and behaviors of the athletes themselves. Most athletes seem more than willing to endure serious risks to their health in order to compete at the highest levels of their sport and reap the rewards that come with it.
15. Brock of Ages
Brock Lesnar has made a name for himself as one of the biggest and toughest fighters in MMA and wrestling. But he’s had to battle his toughest adversary outside the octagon and the ring since he was diagnosed with Diverticulitis in 2009. This dangerous illness is caused when portions of the colon become inflamed and even infected. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and constipation. This disease can cause the even more serious condition Peritonitis where contents of the colon leak into the body cavities requiring immediate surgery. Risk factors include obesity and steroid use – two factors that seem to apply to Lesnar. After a five year absence, Lesnar staged a comeback to the UFC in 2016 winning the match on points.
14. When Positive is a Negative
In the Summer of 2017, Jon Jones failed his drug test leading up to UFC 214. Jones defeated Daniel Cormier, but the positive drug test for the steroid Turinabol put his career in jeopardy. This is his second positive test and resulted in the belt being returned to Cormier. This fight was billed as Jones’s comeback after a year-long suspension after testing positive for two separate drugs associated with steroid use. Jones disputed those findings saying the positive result was caused by a “sex pill.” Jones continued to insist he’s innocent and could have received a four-year suspension but was lucky to get only one year.
13. The Worst Month of My Life
Everyone knows UFC can be a dangerous sport, but Anderson Silva likely wasn’t prepared for the serious leg injury he suffered in a December 2013 bout. Silva’s opponent blocked his kick causing gruesome breaks in Silva’s shin bones. Silva’s injury required extensive physical rehabilitation, but his mental rehabilitation was perhaps even more important to his eventual return to the octagon. Silva did return at UFC 183 in 2015 and earned a decision against Nick Diaz. His first fight after the injury was not highly regarded by many analysts, but competing and winning after his injury must have felt like a pretty sweet victory to Silva.
12. Cruzing for a Bruising
Injuries can shorten any athlete’s career, but multiple injuries can bring it to a swift end. Dominick Cruz has torn the Anterior Cruciate Ligament in both knees and each time had to take considerable time off from the UFC. The fighter has also suffered a broken arm as well as a number of less serious injuries that have hampered his career. Each time he has fought his way back into the octagon healthy enough to compete and to win including a knockout of challenger Takeya Mizugaki. Although he has battled back from these injuries it’s hard to believe they won’t contribute to a significantly shorter career.
11. Fighting Blind
Michael Bisping unknowingly suffered a detached retina in a fight in 2013 and continued to compete in MMA matches. After at least two bouts in the octagon, his damaged eye was checked and doctors confirmed he had been competing with a detached retina in his right eye. This is a serious injury that requires surgery and recovery. Lisping was cleared to train and spar, but suffered an untimely relapse. He noticed the vision deteriorating so he had it checked out and it was confirmed the retina had become detached again. This caused him to miss another scheduled UFC fight. Bisping underwent surgery in an attempt to make the fight, but it improved impossible. As promised, however, he did make his return to the octagon in 2014.
10. Burning Desire
Professional athletes are more attuned to their bodies than average people. Take, for example, Mike Swick’s habit of draining his cauliflower ear as the above photograph shows. But Swick didn’t have to have any special insight to know the intense pain in his chest was a serious problem. The pain would keep him up at night and affect his training so he consulted several doctors. Sick was misdiagnosed several times before they finally hit upon the correct ailment: esophageal spasms. Unfortunately, they aren’t well understood so treatment is a little hit and miss. He lost a match because he couldn’t train consistently and had to take a lay off in 2009. Sick returned to the octagon in August 2012 to fight Demarque Johnson where he was able to score a long-awaited victory.
9. Red Blooded Battler
In 2009 Joe Ellenberg had a 10-0 record in the octagon, but then his health started to deteriorate. Testing revealed that Ellenberg was suffering from a rare blood disease called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). This disease causes his body to destroy its red blood cells too early putting a tremendous strain on the body. Unlike other forms of hemophilia, it is an acquired condition not inherited. Fortunately, Joe was able to receive effective treatment with the help of his insurance and the National Organization for Rare Disorders. after a significant layoff, he was able to get back into fighting shape and continue his career with UFC.
8. Cain No Longer Able
Cain Velasquez was one of UFC’s most intimidating fighters, pounding opponents for years as he dominated the Heavy Weight division. Although he was not a known PED abuser his back injuries led to him experimenting with various painkillers. Velasquez tried Cannabidiol CBD as an alternative to opiates, drugs he said he wanted to avoid because of the risk of addiction. He has endured a number of back surgeries including one in 2017 that shaved some bone off his spinal column to make more room for the sciatic nerve. Velasquez has said that regular use of CBD is the only thing that allows him to continue to train. he hoped that with additional surgeries he can become pain-free, but in the meantime will continue to rely on the painkillers.
7. Nunes Not Cutting it
When Amanda Nunes had to drop out of her UFC 213 match in July 2017 just hours before she was scheduled to fight her team cited “illness” as the reason she had to go to the hospital. Her intended opponent, Shevchenko, was understandably upset when the plug was pulled on the fight so late in the game. Shevchenko responded bluntly: “Nunes couldn’t cut weight correctly and was hospitalized.” Cutting weight for MMA fights is a common, but unhealthy process that can lead to a number of health complications. Nunez apparently experienced enough of them that she had to be admitted to a hospital. Both fighters lost considerable money and the rematch should be interesting.
6. Cautionary Tale
Unfortunately, even when hindsight is 20/20 it often comes much too late to be of much help. Take Mark Kerr: he was a juggernaut heavyweight champion in the early years of UFC. But his aggressive fighting style and monster physique were partially fueled by anabolic steroids. Even after his doctors warned him that he was doing serious damage to his liver. He was allowed to keep fighting and he continued to keep using steroids to keep his training intense and recover from it. Kerr has given interviews where he discussed the tremendous amount of head trauma he suffered during his career. He believes he will eventually develop dementia or some form of brain disorder that will be attributed to his MMA career.
5. Making an Impact
When Josh Barnett was notified by the USDA of his positive drug test results in 2016 it wasn’t the first time the UFC fighter faced scandal. Back in 2009, Barnett helped crater another MMA organization after testing positive for steroids before a big match. Barnett has been a colorful character in the world of MMA for quite a while, but his repeated abuse of anabolic steroids put his career in jeopardy. His 2016 violation led to a fairly lengthy suspension. While his UFC career was at a standstill he decided to take the opportunity to wrestle with TNA Impact. Barnett even won the title – at least during the taping of the event, but in the wild world of wrestling who knows?
4. McCall of the Wild
Just about every UFC fighter has had to deal with injuries and illness in pursuit of victory. But Ian McCall seems to have had a particular problem staying healthy for his fights. During one particularly troublesome period, he was forced to drop out of three of five consecutive matches due to either illness or injury. Although one of the three was technically because he failed to make weight it is reasonable there was some injury or illness that contributed to McCall missing weight. After all, making weight is one of the fundamental processes of today’s MMA so missing weight is an indication that something is seriously wrong in one’s training camp. Some analysts have speculated that McCall’s weight cutting regimen has compromised his health and could mean big trouble for his career.
3. Cyborg’s Don’t Feel Pain?
Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos has had issues with anabolic steroids going as far back as 2012. Although it is the 2016 violation that her career that slowed down her UFC career. Santos joined the UFC in 2016 and immediately racked a couple of impressive victories. Repeated violation from the sport’s most visible fighters is not good for the UFC. In addition to steroid concerns around fighters like Santos dangerous weight cutting practices threaten the health and careers of fighters as they do whatever they think is necessary to compete at the highest level in MMA. Santos is scheduled to meet Holly Holm in the Octagon at UFC-219 in Las Vegas on December 30, 2017.
2. Boweled Over
Georges St. Pierre has had an exciting and tumultuous career in the UFC, but he might be facing his biggest battle yet. In early December 2017, it was revealed that GSP has ulcerative colitis. Because of the diagnosis, he decided to turn in his middleweight champion belt. Ulcerative colitis is a serious inflammation of the colon that causes pain, swelling, and bloody stools. There is no cure, but the symptoms can be treated and patients can go into remission. Doctors believe the primary cause is an abnormal response by the body’s immune system. Age and family history are also factors, but regardless of the cause, GSP faces a formidable challenge to his health and his career in the octagon.
For Rose Namajunas the octagon has not been where she has fought her toughest battles. From a childhood in Wisconsin marred by sexual assault, drugs, and violence Namajunas has battled with mental health problems. These issues, as trying as they are have not stopped her from becoming a successful fighter in UFC. She has been pretty open about her struggles including her reliance on a support dog to help her cope. Namajunas’s latest opponent, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, was having none of it as she taunted Namajunas by saying: “You are mentally unstable and you are broken already…”. Like something out of a Rocky movie Nanajuna beat Jedrzejczyk in an upset knockout in November 2017. For now, her career continues on an upswing, but Namajunas knows she has to take things one day at a time maintain the progress she has made in her battles outside the octagon.