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Post-concussion syndrome has kept Chris Holdsworth out for nearly a year with no return in sight

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The worst for Chris Holdsworth is when someone asks him when he's coming back. And it's a question he gets every day. More than once. He wishes he could just turn it off.

All the former Ultimate Fighter 18 winner wants to do is return to the Octagon, of course. But he can't and he won't. Not yet. Not until he feels like he's 100 percent ready.

The brain, Holdsworth says, is not something to mess around with.

Holdsworth's first concussion came before the TUF 18 Finale in November 2013. It wasn't that serious, so Holdsworth fought Davey Grant anyway and beat him by second-round submission. The undefeated prospect felt fine afterward and was riding high off winning the show. So, of course, he agreed to face Chico Camus at UFC 173 last May without much of a thought.

The second concussion came before the Camus fight during wrestling training. Holdsworth didn't feel well at all and admits that it bogged down his training camp. But how could he pull out? This was the UFC -- his big opportunity. And quitting just isn't in Holdsworth's nature. He's a fighter and not just inside a cage.

Holdsworth ended up beating Camus by unanimous decision and looked good doing it. But he didn't feel good. No, not at all. He made up his mind then and there that he needed some time off to let his brain heal.

To this day, Holdsworth isn't sure if he should have even taken the fight.

"I cut all that weight," he said. "I fight, get hit in the head. Then I started eating bad after the fight. Everything starts going out of wack."

Holdsworth, 27, hasn't been the same since that training camp. After the bout, the post-concussion syndrome symptoms of eye strain and sensitivity to light and noise continued. Holdsworth was in bad shape and fell into a depression, because he couldn't train.

"It's hard to take time off when all you know is go, go," he said. "That's my lifestyle. I train every day and I train hard."

Holdsworth shut it down last summer and has yet to train 100 percent. He still doesn't feel completely like himself and has no intention of agreeing to a fight until he feels normal for a few months straight. Holdsworth has good days and bad days, but until the bad ones are completely gone, he won't be back in the Octagon.

"I definitely think people rush back from injuries and rush back from head trauma in general," Holdsworth said. "These things take a lot longer than people think and everyone is like, 'When are we gonna see you back?' It's like, man -- when I'm healthy to fight. My health is more important than anything else."

According to the Mayo Clinic, post-concussion syndrome goes away within three months, but can last for more than a year. The risk of post-concussion syndrome is not necessarily associated with the severity of the original injury. And there is no specific treatment for it except for the treatment of symptoms.

In an effort to gain more knowledge about his own situation, Holdsworth contacted T.J. Grant, a fellow UFC fighter. Grant was set to fight Benson Henderson for the UFC lightweight title in August 2013 before suffering a concussion. He pulled out of that bout and has not competed since. Grant, who has won five in a row, has not fought since May 2013.

There was nothing Grant could say to make Holdsworth heal faster. But he was at least able to let him know that he is not alone.

"It's just frustrating," Holdsworth said. "When you get something taken away from you that you love doing so much -- it's your lifestyle -- it's hard on us. It's really depressing and frustrating."

There were some dark times last summer. But Holdsworth is trying to keep the right mentality through it all. He's still training, but not sparring or wrestling. He's gone back to his traditional gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu work (Holdsworth is a black belt) and running seminars to earn some income to tide him over.

At no point did the Team Alpha Male product ever consider giving up on his dream of becoming a UFC champion.

"Not one thought at all," Holdsworth said. "I knew it was just a roadblock. I for sure think that if my body had held up through what I put it through, I would be champion by now. But I think everyone has their own path. I've hit a lot of roadblocks and obstacles. That's made me who I am today. That's made me the man I am. I'm that much stronger and I've always gotten over that obstacle and overcome it. I'm treating this the same way."

Indeed, Holdsworth has been emotionally tough since he was a kid when he dealt with the murder of his brother. Something like this might get him down, but it won't stop him.

"I have a champion mentality," Holdsworth said. "I always think what could have happened, what might have happened. If you look at life like that, you're gonna regret a lot of stuff and you're not gonna have as much fun as you should.

"People always tell me, 'Don't overthink this, Chris.' I like to think, I like to really ask people's opinion. I'm trying really hard right now to not overthink things, just try to enjoy my life and just be positive and look at the brighter side. Things could be a lot worse."

Holdsworth refuses to even give a timetable for his return, because if you would have asked him six months ago he would have thought he'd be back by now.

There surely are some regrets. Holdsworth wishes he didn't come back so fast after the Grant win. Yet it's understandable why he did.

"I think I rushed back into things from the finale," Holdsworth said. "I should have took some more time off. I just didn't know any better. I was feeling good. I felt 100 percent, but realistically I still had trauma. I still needed to heal up."

He understands that now and he has also learned many other thing about this time away. When Holdsworth does get back into full swing, there won't be any more sparring four times a week. It'll be once a week, maybe only in training camp.

Not enough people understand brain injuries or handle them right. Holdsworth is hoping his peers gain some more knowledge. Perhaps he can be the messenger -- on why it isn't worth your health or spending all this time on the shelf.

"As I'm getting older, I'm starting to learn that it's better to train smarter than harder," Holdsworth said. "We don't get paid in the gym; we get paid to fight. You've gotta conserve you body and most importantly conserve your brain."