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Don Frye rebounding from lengthy medically-induced coma

UFC Hall of Famer Don Frye is recovering from a myriad of serious health issues that led to spending two-and-a-half months in the hospital, much of it in ICU in a coma.

Don Frye
Don Frye inducted into the Hall of Fame
Esther Lin/

When New Year's Eve approaches, it's very likely that UFC pioneer Hall of Famer Don Frye will do more than his fair share of celebrating.

Even though Frye had a career highlight, being inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July, the year has otherwise been a disaster, with him noting it was the worst year of his life.

Frye spent two-and-a-half months in the hospital, much of it in a medically induced coma. He noted to Ariel Helwani this week on The MMA Hour that he needs a walker to get around.

"I went in there for my back," he said about the nightmarish hospital stay. "I broke the rod in my back, and then I had some kind of hemorrhage in my brain. And then they put me in a medically induced coma for a while, and then I had pneumonia, and something else I can't remember."

Frye wasn't aware of a lot of what happened because he was in a coma and had to be told later.

"It's all stuff they're telling me after they woke me up," he said.

"I've been awake for ten days," he said. "Before that, I was out for two months so I don't know what's going on. It's like a whole new world for me. It was terrible."

To make matters worse, he went through a divorce earlier in the year, which took him away from his two daughters.

Frye said he had ten vertebrae fused in his back in a 2013 surgery and was okay for a while, but then his back had started hurting badly the past few years, but he just lived with the pain.

"I didn't want to b**** about it," he said.

Finally, he got the back X-rayed and found that the rod put in during a prior surgery had broken and that's where the pain had come from.

"They saw in the X-ray that I had broken the rod," he said. "I had broken the rod a year or two earlier, and then I had a bacterial infection and I had a really high fever. I was always sweating and I didn't know why. I had a fever due to the infection in my spine."

Frye said he has no clue how the rod was broken.

Frye, 51, was a college wrestler at Arizona State and Oklahoma State, where he crossed paths with two future MMA legends. At Arizona State, one of his coaches was Dan Severn, who got him into the UFC. At Oklahoma State, he was a teammate of Randy Couture.

He did some boxing after college, and judo, and the combination of the three sports that put his skill ahead of the curve when he started in UFC in 1996, when most fighters were one-trick ponies.

Severn pushed UFC into bringing him into a David vs. Goliath tournament, with fighters under 200 pounds competing with those over 200 pounds. Frye, who was under 200 pounds, beat a 400-pounder, and two 260-pounders to win that tournament in 1996. He ended up going 10-1 in UFC that year, including winning the Ultimate Ultimate, a tournament of champions, winning three fights on the same night twice that year.

His career then took a turn into pro wrestling in Japan, where he was a major star, including headlining two events at the Tokyo Dome, one of which still holds the all-time gate record for Japan against Antonio Inoki. He then went back to MMA during the glory days of Pride, where Frye was one of the most popular American fighters ever to compete in Japan.

He was down and out from the divorce when he was watching the UFC on television and the announcement was made that he was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. The company had kept him in the dark about it.

"I was shocked, and I'm still shocked," he said. "I was watching the fights and then they announced me and Ant Evans (of UFC) called and started laughing. And then Bill Goldberg called and congratulated me and then my phone just blew up."

"It was great," he said. "It was f***ing great. It saved my life. It was something that happened at the right time."

Frye had insurance this year through the Screen Actor's Guild from his Hollywood work, but it will run out shortly because to qualify for their insurance, you have to make a certain amount of money from acting in a year. So the recent push regarding getting health insurance for former fighters is something that would benefit him greatly.

But he said things are going to take a turn for the better from this point forward.

"I'll get back on track. I'm Don Frye."

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