Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
It’s hard to imagine how a health scare that could have potentially ended his career eventually led to Corey Anderson leaving the UFC and signing with Bellator MMA.
It was far from a straight line between all three incidents but that’s how the former Ultimate Fighter winner can best describe the past few months of his life.
“It was pretty life-changing,” Anderson told MMA Fighting following a medical emergency that first started after his fight against Jan Blachowicz in February. “It makes you realize a lot of things. That’s pretty much how we ended up in Bellator.”
To understand how this all happened, it requires a trip back in time to the night when Anderson suffered a knockout loss to Blachowicz at a UFC event held in Rio Rancho, N.M.
Afterwards, Anderson was obviously heartbroken about the defeat but he was already talking to his coaches backstage about what went wrong while medical personnel was tending to him.
“We all saw me getting knocked out and going back to see the commission or the health inspector, I remember sitting there talking to my coach about what happened and they’re stitching my eye up,” Anderson explained. “I had a little cut over my eyebrow. They did that and me and my coach are still sitting there cause I’ve been knocked out three prior times and each time you’ve got to do this whole test with your eyes, how many fingers [are you holding up], what state are we in, what’s your name, what’s the year, different questions.
“We’re sitting there waiting and the guy turns around and says ‘you’re free to go’ and that’s it? Just the stitches? They gave me a note that said something like seven days no contact but it wasn’t like the usual. When you get knocked out, you have 60 days no doing nothing or 90 days no doing nothing. They didn’t tell me anything.”
Six days later, Anderson was out scouting some land for a potential hunting trip when he remembers feeling light headed and dizzy.
“As I’m walking to the truck talking [to my friend], I remember getting a little head spin,” Anderson said. “I reached to grab his truck cause I was off balance and the next thing I remember is waking up in the ambulance, the EMT’s working on me and my wife is there and I’m trying to figure out what happened.
“You just blacked out, hit the ground and started convulsing. I was like what? I’ve got a newborn son and my wife’s bugging out and we don’t know what’s going on.”
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Its been a long road back.. BUT never the less we are back! . . . . Feb 21st following my last fight I blacked out and collapsed smashing my face on a gravel road after scouting some land for hrs. Ended up in the ER for 5 days running numerous of test and blood work to figure out what happened. I seen a long list of different doctors, all but one said it was do to major concussion and lack of water and food after hiking through the woods for hrs. 1 doctor would tell me it was my heart… that my heart had stopped beating and it could happen again but next time in a fight!! Instantly my wifes face change and my emotions as well. I become angry with doctors bc i was scared internally. I would take many trips to NYU hospital meeting several different specialist during many more test and undergoing 2 very painful outpatient heart procedures to find more evidence to go along with that ONE doctors notes He had put a complete halt to my career as a fighter until it was clear my heart was safe to compete. And as of last monday night, I left hospital for the final time after my last procedure, with clearance note in hand, and the doctor telling me “Congrats Mr. Anderson, I can let you go back to beating people up!” . . . After my fight the commission/medics failed to do the proper after fight check up and I went back to living life as normal. And I paid a hefty price!! This whirlwind 5 months have put ALOT of things into perspective and as a veteran fighter who in the past has just fought with reckless abandoned with no care for rest and mental health long as I can keep fighting. I advise you other fighters to look after your health if you took some big shots to your head in a fight or practice, take the proper time to recover. It took me having my son sitting there looking at me in a hospital bed to realize there is real life after fighting and I want to be here to enjoy it. Fight smart, train smart, but recover and rest SMARTER!! Use your head while you still have the brains to do so. . Huge thank you to @taylorrpricee of the @ufc who was always on top of getting everything going EVERY STEP OF THE WAY! As well as @aliabdelaziz000 and Hunter Campbell #motivationmonday
Initially after a stay in the hospital, Anderson was told that he was suffering from a concussion and dehydration after hiking through the woods for several hours. Another physician gave him a much scarier diagnosis, however, with Anderson informed that his heart stopped and the problems ran much deeper than just a head injury.
“Sure enough, he opened a whole new can of worms saying I got blacked out because of my troponin was high, which had to do with my heart instead of my head,” Anderson said. “A total of six or seven doctors during that time, everyone except him said it was a concussion.
“But he was sure that it was my heart so he opened this whole new case and had to go through all these procedures. One of the most painful things I’ve ever done.”
Troponins are a specific type of protein released into the bloodstream after a heart is damaged. Testing troponin levels allows physicians to diagnose a heart attack quicker than previous methods, which means treatment can also begin in rapid order.
According to Anderson, his doctor performed a series of tests on his heart and ultimately asked to surgically implant a recorder that would monitor his heart rhythm over a longer period of time.
“I refused,” Anderson said. “I said you’re not putting anything in my chest. [They said] ‘oh we have to’ but then one of the people at the UFC said ‘you can’t fight with that’ and I said I’m sure I can’t.
“But they’re not putting it in me anyways because nothing was wrong. Even after all the other tests came back negative, they still wanted to put that in my chest.”
Anderson eventually sought a different opinion and every doctor he saw after believing he may have been suffering from a potentially life-ending heart problem told him all of his issues stemmed from that knockout in February.
“All these things and in the end, it was just a concussion,” Anderson revealed. “At the end of the day, the final verdict was concussion.”
It was a terrifying ordeal but as much as Anderson wanted to get angry with the doctors who misdiagnosed him, he was mostly relieved to discover he wasn’t in any further danger.
Even with the concussion, Anderson says after blacking out on that one occasion, he only ever suffered symptoms a couple more times before he felt like himself again.
“One [time] I was laying down on the couch as I was still recovering before they gave me the OK to do anything and I sat up too fast and I got real light headed,” Anderson said. “Another time, I was bouncing, shadow boxing and I got a quick dizziness for a second. I sat down before it got too bad.
“Other than that, those are the only two incidents I had and those were both within a month when I blacked out. Ever since then, I haven’t had any problems.”
He was eventually cleared to return to normal training and fight preparation in July and Anderson was understandably elated to hear that news. In fact as he was finishing up with the final tests with his physicians, Anderson received word from the UFC that he was being offered a new fight.
“The doctor who came in and told me I was cleared to return, it was as they rolled me into the recovery room, I grabbed my phone and turned my phone back on and I get an email from the UFC, already sending me a fight contract,” Anderson said. “I hadn’t even told them that my tests came back. I don’t know if they got notification from the hospital but literally within seconds of me getting off the operating table, they sent me a new contract.
“I accepted the fight. I was ready to go, I wanted to get back to work. About a week or so goes by and the opponent gets hurt. I had time to think about everything, the opponent gets hurt, fight is off.”
By time the UFC circled back with a new opponent, Anderson had given some thought about his future in the sport, especially after such a terrifying scare where he actually believed his career could have been over.
As much as Anderson entered the sport with only a thought of becoming champion, he began to realize that he needed to approach every fight with more in mind than just taking another step towards the title.
“Everybody I took prior, I didn’t care about the money,” Anderson said. “I told my manager that. I don’t care about the money, I want to be the best. Then we go through all this, I’ve got a wife, I’ve got a kid, being the best isn’t going to pay the bills.
“The money I was getting paid isn’t going to do anything to help my family grow. It’s not going to give us a better life when it’s all over. At the end of the day, we’ll have a belt but we won’t have nothing in the bank account.”
That’s when Anderson called his manager Ali Abdelaziz and asked him to see if the UFC would be willing to renegotiate his contract to offer him a little more money.
“They weren’t having it. Nope,” Anderson said relaying the response from the UFC. “Somewhere along the line something happened with them and my manager and he hit me up and was like if you could get released and get more money, would you do it? I was like yeah, if we can get more money, let’s do it.”
At this point, Anderson was in California helping Daniel Cormier prepare for his UFC 252 fight against Stipe Miocic. After giving his manager to go ahead to see about getting him out of his contract, Anderson received another call that led to his new home at Bellator.
“I just finished sparring with [Daniel Cormier], he called me up, D.C.’s driveway is probably 40 yards. I’m walking from the garage to the top of the hill. I tell my manager let’s do it as I walk out of the garage,” Anderson explained. “By the time I get to the top of the hill, my manager already called me saying the UFC was willing to release you, do you want to do it? It happened that fast.
“They were ready to release me so quick, I was like let’s do it, let’s see what other options are out there. He made some calls. He called me back a few minutes later with Bellator, a big contract and all I’m going to say is I get a show and a win bonus. My show money in Bellator, I make more than I would have in the UFC winning with the Reebok sponsors and anything else I would have got.”
Now this all may sound like Anderson harbors ill will towards the UFC over some kind of perceived mistreatment but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
While he admits that being released from his contract so quickly after asking made him feel like the UFC “didn’t value me anymore,” he was also glad the promotion was willing to work with him so he could go elsewhere.
“It’s nothing against the UFC,” Anderson said. “During the health ordeal, everyday, I was getting checked on by Taylor Price. If there was a bill or something that got sent to my house, it was taken care of. They were on top of everything. There was no problem, no hiccups with that whole health ordeal.
“Hunter [Campbell] reached out and checked on me, Mick [Maynard] checked on me, everything was smooth. But just at that point, I had been there seven years, I had five losses and they had all these new guys coming in. It was time to go somewhere else.”
Initially, Anderson struggled to realize that he was going to call a new fight promotion his home after spending almost his entire career with the UFC.
Within 12 hours, Anderson was sitting across the table from Coker having breakfast and discussing his longterm goals in the sport along with ways both he and Bellator could benefit from this partnership.
That meant a lot to Anderson and now he’s ready to go to work for Bellator to help validate their investment in him.
“It’s kind of different to think for the first time in my career, I’m not a UFC fighter,” Anderson said. “It took some time to accept the fact but now I’m ready to move on. I’m really excited and I’m just ready to go out there under this new banner.
“Whoever they put in front me, I’m ready to go. Now I can actually go prove my worth because they’re paying me every bit of my worth.”
When it comes to a timeline for his Bellator debut, Anderson is hoping to book his first fight sooner rather than later.
He’s not sure who he’ll face or if there’s a chance he could jump directly into a title opportunity but Anderson is ready for whatever Bellator throws at him.
“If it’s soon, end of September I’m ready. October, I’m ready,” Anderson said. “I’m training everyday. It’s all gas, no brakes. I’m ready to go out there and stake my claim.
“Whether it’s for the title right away, or if I’ve got to fight one to get the title, I’m going to let everyone know I’m here to be the champ just like I was in the UFC.”