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How a cruel twist of fate led to the end of MMA fighter Jason Day’s career

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
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Jason Day, left, throws a punch against Kendall Grove in their 2009 bout. (Getty)

Bicyclists rarely win collisions with cars, but when Jason Day learned he had no broken bones or torn ligaments after being struck by a Range Rover as he rode his bicycle on a glorious summer afternoon in 2011, he was relieved.

The former UFC middleweight didn’t want to give up on his dream of not only ending a three-fight losing skid, but also of reaching stardom.

It’s the top guys, not the newcomers, who make the big money in the UFC. Day, though he was 1-2 in three UFC bouts and was on a bad streak in which he’d lost five of his previous six, wasn’t convinced he couldn’t someday get back to the top.

But that dream ended Aug. 4, 2011, when Day was struck by a Range Rover driven by Zichau Wang while he was riding his bicycle in Vancouver, though he didn’t know it at the time.

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Jason Day celebrates after defeating Alan Belcher in 2008. (Getty)

Jason Day celebrates after defeating Alan Belcher in 2008. (Getty)

Day was riding on Oak Street, a road designated for bicycles, when he came to a traffic signal at the intersection of Oak and 10th Avenue. The light was green, so Day proceeded. As he got into the intersection, the light turned yellow.

He thought he was safe.

He wasn’t.

Wang’s Range Rover made a left turn, striking Day on the left side and sending him off his bike.

“In Vancouver, there are special roads designated as bike lanes that traffic still goes on but the bikes are primary,” Day said. “ ... She hit me and I kind of somersaulted over the front of the car and I landed on my ride side, with my right knee and right ankle hitting the ground.”

Day suspected he might have had broken bones. A little more than a month earlier, he was beaten by Francis Carmont but had begun to train for another bout. As he was dragging himself from the street in pain, he knew that was unlikely to continue.

But he got some good news when he made it to the hospital: No broken bones. No ligament, tendon or cartilage damage. It was all soft tissue injuries.

Ordinarily, that would be good. Day, though, wasn’t as lucky as he thought.

He was walking with the aid of a cane for the first few weeks, in pain but confident he’d be able to resume training before much longer. The doctor told him he could train as soon as he could withstand the pain.

His doctor told him he couldn’t hurt himself any more by training. But as Day tried to train, any impact would send shocks of pain throughout his body, causing him to shriek. A jump or a kick was devastating.

It never got better. And soon Day came to the realization that his fight career, and his dream of stardom and a triumphant return to glory, had ended.

“The hardest part of the whole thing is when that day came when I knew I was done,” Day said. “Fighting was a big part of my life. I’d been fighting since I was 21 and I was 32 when this happened. I’d really committed myself to the sport and to trying to be the best.”

He made his UFC debut in 2008 at the first show in Montreal, defeating Alan Belcher. In his second bout, he met Michael Bisping in London in the co-main event of UFC 85. Not many UFC newcomers get Belcher and Bisping in their first two bouts.

Day had been an athlete most of his life and had been good at whatever he tried to do. Noted Canadian MMA fighter and coach Lee Mein convinced him to first try jiu-jitsu and then progress into MMA. Day was quickly hooked.

He was 17-7, with notable wins over David Loiseau, Jonathan Goulet and Krzyzstof Soszynski when he got the call to the UFC.

His first show was the first UFC card held in Canada, UFC 83 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The attendance was in excess of 21,000 and it was one of the loudest crowds in the UFC’s history.

“It blew away what I imagined it would be,” Day said of finally reaching the sport’s pinnacle. “It was special for me [as a Canadian] because I got to fight on the first UFC [event] in Canada. That night was crazy. When you fight on the prelims usually, depending on where you are, the arena is half full, especially in Vegas. But in Montreal, it was packed from the first fight and the fans were going crazy. The atmosphere was insane. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

“It’s like the NHL of MMA. I’d hit the pinnacle and I reached it at an event that was one of the most memorable they’d ever put on.”

Even after Day was released by the UFC, he kept fighting, believing that eventually he’d be back.

He was in a bad streak, but he believed in himself and believed he was getting better. When he was in the accident, his career ended in an instant.

When he finally realized it, he was crushed. His dream of starring at the highest level of his chosen profession had ended.

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Michael Bisping, left, works vs. Day in their 2008 fight. (Getty)

Michael Bisping, left, works vs. Day in their 2008 fight. (Getty)

He filed a civil suit in order to be compensated not only for his loss of earnings, but for the loss of his dream.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “You’re totally crushed. And what is losing out on the chance to fulfill your dreams worth? I don’t know that there is an answer for that.”

Earlier this month, a jury determined that Day’s damages were worth $375,000. Since Wang was found 90 percent responsible and Day 10 percent, the damages award was proportioned and he was granted $340,000. The majority was for pain and suffering. Some was for loss of income. And a bit was for losing out on the chance to chase his dream.

The question that can’t be answered is whether that money is enough to satisfy his loss. It compensated him for fights he couldn’t take, but it didn’t heal the hole in his heart.

“I had a lot of anger inside of me when I first learned I couldn’t fight, which is why I cut a lot of things in my life out,” said Day, who now manages a bar in Calgary. “I got away from MMA entirely. I don’t want to say I felt self-pity, but I guess in a way it was. I was in a funk and was in a little depression.”

Fighters such as Mein, Patrick Cote and Darren Owen testified on his behalf, noting that the sport was exploding and that there were plenty of opportunities to compete and get better.

Day is no longer depressed, but he often wonders what might have been.

“It’s hard for me to believe sometimes I can’t do it any more,” he said. “I miss it. I loved it and I felt like I could eventually get back to one of the big shows and do something. It’s hard not to sit around and think about what might have been. It’s not really productive to do that, but it’s human nature, I guess. I don’t know. I just wonder. Imagine what would have happened had I beaten Bisping that night. Imagine the trajectory I’d have been on then.”

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