A year after suffering a brain bleed, Vicente Luque grinds out decision win vs. Rafael dos Anjos

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 12: Vicente Luque prepares to fight Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Vicente Luque didn't know if he would ever fight again before Saturday's win over Rafael dos Anjos. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — For the better part of a year, Vicente Luque wasn’t sure if his career had come to an unceremonious end at the tender age of 31. Luque not only lost his second in a row on Aug. 6, 2022, when he was beaten up by Geoff Neal, he nearly had his career ended.

Post-fight testing that night showed that Luque suffered a bleed on the brain, what is known medically as a subdural hematoma. A large number of boxers who have died in the ring did so after suffering a subdural hematoma.

The Nevada Athletic Commission suspended Luque medically for a year after the fight, and since it didn’t reinstate him after the year was up, it was in effect a permanent ban.

Luque, though, wanted to fight again. Nevada commission doctors not only rigorously examined him and found him fit to fight, but the commission sought outside expertise. It had him see an independent neurologist and an independent neurosurgeon, both of whom vouched for him.

So, he accepted the main event of UFC Vegas 78 opposite former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos on Saturday at Apex in anticipation of being reinstated earlier this month. The suspension was finally lifted during fight week.

Commissioner Dr. David Watson and executive director Jeff Mullen spoke to Yahoo Sports prior to the fight to point out the extent the commission went to before the fight to make sure Luque faced no greater risk than any other fighter.

Watson told Yahoo Sports there is nothing in the medical literature that arbitrarily prohibits a fighter from competing after a subdural hematoma, but for the most part, it’s been a career ender.

Luque had his concerns as he walked to the cage and particularly when he was first hit. But he survived that and went on to grind out a tough five-round decision victory. He won 49-46 and 48-47 twice on the judges' cards in a remarkable display of courage and toughness, then was taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons and did not attend the post-fight news conference.

“I never have feared anything, but I feared never doing this again,” Luque said in the Octagon after the fight. “For all of you out there watching who don’t believe in miracles any more, I am proof of that, [that they exist]. I worked my ass off and thank God, he healed me and he restored me.”

Every fighter has nerves before a bout. There is a natural insecurity that exists in all of us and going out to fight another person in front of the world leaves an athlete exposed in a difficult manner.

But fighting while knowing the significance of a bleed on the brain, what had happened to so many other brave warriors, and then still making that walk takes a special breed of a person.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - AUGUST 12: (L-R) Vicente Luque kicks Rafael Dos Anjos of Brazil in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
(From left) Vicente Luque beat Rafael dos Anjos by unanimous decision Saturday in the main event of UFC Vegas 78. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“I mean, it’s terrifying,” said Cub Swanson, who defeated Hakeem Dawodu by unanimous decision in the co-main event.

Swanson had a terrible injury to the left side of his face that required surgery. He had plates inserted into his face as part of the repair, and admitted it was hard when he made the walk to the Octagon after that.

“After that you're like, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can do it,’” he said. “That’s the craziness of what we do. But then when you're backstage, you're like, ‘You better do this. You better do this. It really creeps in then.”

Luque got hit with a crisp right hand early in the fight and acted as if it was nothing big.

At that point, it was just another fight. But Luque had his doubts.

“I didn’t know how I was going to react,” he said. “[At one point], I thought, ‘OK, I’m fine, but I don’t want to get hit any more.’”

He managed to not only survive but win at dos Anjos’ game. And now, after a year of wondering whether he’d ever be able to do what he loves and what he does to support his family, he’s now thinking championship.

He wants to fight someone in the top five with the goal of getting a title shot.

“I’ve needed to evolve to reach a higher level and I’m going to continue to do that,” he said.

The fact he performed as well as he did under the pressure that had to be crushing is remarkable. He’s a long shot to win a title, but after he overcame this, who’s to doubt him pulling something so simple as a championship run off?