The injury bug struck hard and fast this past weekend, as UFC middleweight Michael Bisping was forced to withdraw from a Manchester homecoming four years in the making after suffering a severe eye injury in the lead-up to his UFC Fight Night 30 battle against Mark Munoz.
Sporting a jet black eye patch across his right eye, Bisping appeared on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to express his feelings on the news.
"(I'm) devastated," Bisping admitted.
"I trained so hard for this fight. And not only that, it's hard for the people of Manchester and the people of the U.K. to part ways with their hard-earned money to buy a ticket, so I apologize to all the fans and everybody who bought a ticket."
The injury, as Bisping explained it, is nothing new.
Back in May, doctors discovered that, astonishingly, Bisping competed in consecutive fights against Vitor Belfort and Alan Belcher with a detached retina in his right eye. While his peripheral vision had degraded severely, by then Bisping had already passed his annual UFC mandated eye exam, so the injury slipped by unnoticed.
"I was fearing the worst," Bisping said. "I was fearing that they would say a detached retina, and possibly a career ending injury. So the stubborn old fool inside of me said, ‘I'll do it later, I'll do it later.' When the injury regressed to where I literally couldn't see my hand in front of my face, that's when I thought, okay, that is enough."
Bisping underwent surgery later that month at the Retina Institute of California to repair his damaged eye.
For a time afterward, everything seemed fine. He went to follow-up appointments. Doctors cleared him to train, then cleared him to spar. Before long, Bisping was knee-deep in a training camp at Erik Paulson's CSW gym.
But then it all came rushing back.
"It was last Tuesday. Everything was fine, and then I walked into the cage to do some wrestling drills. When I walked in, the light kind of went a little strange. That's when I first noticed something," Bisping recalled.
"After that, I had to go to L.A. to do some work with Jon Anik and Mark Munoz on Inside the Octagon. We were filming a thing obviously to promote the fight. So I drove out there, and progressively throughout the day the eye was getting worse and worse. I remember I did the interview with Jon Anik and Mark Munoz, and I could hardly see anything."
By the time Bisping drove home, his right eye had been reduced to a "very thin slit of vision." He immediately called the Retina Institute of California.
"They said, ‘Yep, your retina is re-detached,'" Bisping explained. "Obviously I couldn't believe it. They said we need to operate ASAP. And I said, ‘Well I'm still fighting in four weeks, so you can't operate. Simple as that.' They said, 'You can't do that. You'll go blind.' I said, ‘I've got to fight in four weeks. Thousands of people have bought tickets, they're expecting me there.'"
Finally, at Bisping's insistence, doctors elected to take an alternative route.
A scleral buckle is a thin silicon band used to treat patients with detached retinas. The band wraps around the injured eyeball, essentially holding it in place. Surgeons implanted Bisping's scleral buckle during the fighter's initial surgery in May, along with an adhesive gel that they later removed.
Doctors surmised that they would be able to temporarily repair Bisping's eye by re-performing the surgery to attach the retina, then re-injecting the gel they had, in hindsight, taken out too soon. If successful, Bisping would regain portions of his vision and be free to fight in Manchester, albeit far from 100-percent.
However, Bisping's reality was not so simple.
During the second surgery, surgeons discovered an influx of scar tissue that had developed around the damaged retina. As a result, they were not only forced to cut away the scar tissue, but remove a piece of Bisping's retina as well.
When Bisping awoke from under the knife, he learned the situation was far more dire than first expected. Best case scenario, it'd be at least three months before Bisping could even begin to think about exercising. Worse case, his career might be over.
The next morning, Bisping received a call from UFC President Dana White.
"He said, ‘Yeah, you're not fighting in Manchester,'" Bisping explained.
"I was devastated. Then he said, ‘You've got a ways to go if you're ever going to fight again.' Then I was just completely in shock. This is who I am. This is what I do. It defines who I am as a person."
Luckily, doctors have since been encouraged by what they've seen from Bisping's recovery.
It's a welcome relief for the Brit, especially in light of an incident that took place over this past weekend when Bisping was in attendance for a local GLORY event.
"I was having a good time, and then all of a sudden, my vision just completely went in my right eye," Bisping said. "It's (usually) very blurry, but this time it completely went. I kind of got concerned. I called it a night and drove home, and as I drove home it just got worse and worse. When I got home, I was pretty much blind in my right eye. My girlfriend, when she looked at me, she almost started crying, she said, because my eye had filled up with blood. The iris, the colored part, was no longer blue. It was all red.
"I thought, that's it. Fight career over. This and that, I'm blind in my eye."
On the advice of doctors, Bisping slept face down Saturday night. When he awoke, most of the blood had drained out of his suddenly blue again eye -- just another lesson about the fragility of his current state.
Now, under an exercise embargo for the foreseeable future, Bisping is confined to slow mountain hikes intertwined between frustrating days of inactivity. Nonetheless, the 34-year-old vows to clear this hurdle and come back stronger in 2014.
"To everyone involved in the fight, I whole heartedly apologize," Bisping said in closing.
"As long as [my eye] heals well and I don't develop more scar tissue, it should be fine. I should be able to fight, but I've just got to take it easy. In hindsight, I was guilty of pushing it too far, too much too soon."