‘That’s not who I am’: Igor Severino apologizes for bite, hopes one mistake doesn’t define career

Igor Severino’s life isn’t the same as it was one week ago.

As of now, the 20-year-old ex-UFC fighter doesn’t know if it’ll ever be even similar after he bit opponent Andre Lima during their March 23 fight at UFC on ESPN 53 in Las Vegas.

The highly unusual and flagrant foul disqualified him from the bout, cost him his spot on the UFC roster, and made international headlines far beyond the combat sports bubble.

“It’s been crazy – some crazy days,” Severino told MMA Junkie, through an interpreter, as he spoke on the incident for the first time publicly since it happened. “One day, I was fighting in the best promotion in the world. I was making my dream come true. The next moments, I’m banned from the promotion.”

Severino’s face appeared all over social media as the video went viral. His accounts were flooded with comments and messages, many of them unpleasant.

Severino remained out of the public eye and ear over the past six days until now, as he processed why and how he did what he did. Severino said he still hasn’t figured it all out, and isn’t sure he ever will.

“I come from humble beginnings,” Severino said. “I’ve been working since a very young age. I left my home as a teenager to come over to train and to get here. Then, to see all of this go away and in the way it did, it’s something that is not part of me. It’s not who I am as a person. That’s not who I am as a fighter. I just feel very regretful. It makes me very emotional and sad about it.

“My dream became a nightmare overnight. I’m very regretful to my opponent. I apologize to (Lima), to Dana (White), to the Nevada Athletic Commission, to Sean Shelby, who spoke to me after the fight, to Mick (Maynard) – everyone in the organization – and the fans. Sorry to everyone who was watching that on TV. They didn’t deserve to see that.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 23: (R-L) Igor Severino of Brazil punches Andre Lima of Brazil in a flyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 23, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Severino said he reached into his memory bank but came up empty-handed as to why he chomped his opponent’s left tricep during a takedown attempt along the fence. He said he has no recollection of the sequence or its surroundings and was shocked when he watched the tape back. Severino mentioned that a strike earlier in the fight may have caused insensible behavior.

“I remember everything that was happening until I got hit with something really hard,” Severino said. “I watched the video later and I thought it was an elbow. From there, I was on autopilot. I don’t remember anything.”

To Severino, the action is not reflective of his character. He added there have not been prior issues in the way he’s carried himself in any of his past fights.

“You can talk with anyone that we’ve fought with or anyone who has promoted one of my fights,” Severino said. “I’ve always fought with respect and laid it down in the cage. I’ve never done anything outside the barriers of the sport. To me, I couldn’t comprehend what’s going on.”

It’s been Severino’s dream for years to fight in the UFC. He said fighting is how he provides for his family. Severino promised his coach Joao Emilio, of Chute Boxe, a performance bonus for his birthday.

So why bite an opponent given the circumstances? Like many onlookers, Severino struggled to calculate the math in hindsight.

“If you look at the fight, many people came to me and said, ‘Hey, you were winning the round. Why did you do that?’ I watched the video, and yes, I think it was one round apiece, or you could say I was winning,” Severino said. “There was nothing that could justify me biting.”

The bite caused punishments from multiple directions. Severino was disqualified in the bout by referee Chris Tognoni as Lima sported a deep bite mark (which he tattooed on himself hours later). Shortly after the incident, UFC CEO Dana White announced Severino was cut. According to Severino, the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) has since withheld his purse.

Severino said he understands and accepts that punishment should come from the incident, but also doesn’t agree with the notion his MMA career – or prospects of a second UFC shot down the line – should be killed. He also finds the commission’s purse withholding somewhat severe, considering his financial situation.

“I did something wrong,” Severino said. “It’s right that I be punished. I got cut. I think that’s one of the worst things that could’ve happened. The commission withheld my purse, so I’m not even sure if I’ll get paid anything. I’m not sure what they’re even going to decide because this money isn’t even for me. It’s for my whole family that depends on me. Fighting is how I make ends meet, how I’m able to pay my rent. That’s how I’m able to pay for medicine. It’s how I’m able to take care of my sick family members, how I can support them to buy food, as well. That’s all that I know how to do. It’s all that I have to make a means to live.”

Commission and promotion issues aside, Severino revealed another layer of response that irked him deeper than the rest – one that was difficult for him to speak about without emotion flowing out.

According to Severino, multiple family members, including his mother, received threatening messages after the incident. Severino broke down crying when he spoke about his inability to truthfully give his mother proper reassurance.

“They have been going after my loved ones,” Severino said, choking up. “They’re disrespecting them. There have been death threats. My mother doesn’t have anything to do with it. My family doesn’t have anything to do with it. People are acting like I killed somebody, like I’m a criminal. What I did was wrong but it was far from a crime. They’re treating me like I’m the worst person in the world.

“I had my mother call me nervous, crying about people threatening her and saying all kinds of stuff to her and about her. I had to try to calm her down and tell her everything is going to be OK, but how is everything going to be OK? I don’t know if everything is going to be OK. I don’t even know if I have a career after this.”

While the majority of messages and comments were negative, various fighters and teammates defended Severino’s character on social media. One supporter, in particular, really surprised Severino: his opponent, Andre Lima.

Lima spoke out in Severino’s defense during multiple interviews following the incident and advocated for his disqualified opponent to get a second UFC opportunity. Lima even went as far as to say he’d give Severino a rematch.

“He had every right to condemn me and to surf the wave of this moment, he’s extending his hand to me,” Severino said. “He’s saying he doesn’t want me to be cut. He’s saying he would even offer me a rematch, and that things shouldn’t go like this. I can’t express how much admiration I’ve gained from him, how much respect I’ve gained from him. Someone who was so honorable and so graceful toward me, I just wish him the best things in the world. I don’t wish to rematch him, actually. If he ever needs a sparring partner for one of his fights, he can call me any time and I’ll be available.

“What he’s doing for me, even if it doesn’t end up changing anything with my situation with the UFC and this sport, it already means more than any other thing. He could be trampling on me and he’s doing the opposite. People who should be with me are trying to bash me. They’re making fun of me. They’re reenacting me. That shows the nature of the person that he is. I really root for his success from now on. I wish he has the best of luck in his life because he seems to be a great person.”

While it might take time for the public perception to reconstruct, Severino hopes the UFC and other promotions don’t view him with a closed mind going forward. Severino doesn’t want an isolated mistake to be his entire story and is determined to do whatever it takes to prove he deserves a road to redemption.

“The UFC had every right to release me, but I wish I had a chance to redeem myself,” Severino said. “I don’t want to be defined as a 20-year-old kid who bit a guy in the cage and was banned from the sport, and that was it. Everyone that knows me knows that’s not the kind of person that I am. That’s not my character. That’s not how it should have been. … I really don’t want to be defined as the kid who bit his opponent and ruined his life.

“… I know things look pretty bad for me right now, and I just want people to see the person that I am, to see that’s not who I am as a fighter or as a person. Please just let me have a career again. … Please give me a chance to come back and redeem myself. Please let me show you all who I really am.”

MMA Junkie reached out to the NAC for comment on the purse withholding, but has yet to receive one at the time of publication. The NAC has temporarily withheld purses or partial purses in the past, including $2 million from Khabib Nurmagomedov for jumping on Conor McGregor in 2018. Nurmagomedov was eventually paid back $1.5 million of that. It’s expected a potential fine and/or suspension for Severino will be discussed at a NAC meeting in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Lima was awarded a $50,000 “Bite of the Night” bonus from White, as a result of the unusual circumstances and follow-up tattoo.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie