Getting back into the Octagon was a long, tough process for Vitor Miranda.
Thirteen months after losing to Chris Camozzi in the UFC, the Brazilian middleweight is slated to meet Marvin Vettori at UFC Fight Night 112 in Oklahoma City on Sunday night, and Miranda had to overcome a lot of things in order to strap his gloves on one more time.
Miranda has competed in MMA cages and Muay Thai rings for decades, and paid the price at the end of 2015. The TUF Brazil heavyweight runner-up had already notched a pair of knockout victories over Jake Collier and Clint Hester in the UFC as a middleweight, and was so hungry for more wins that he ignored signs from his body.
In Feb. 2016, a month away from facing Marcelo Guimaraes at the UFC 196 mega card in Las Vegas, Miranda hit his right shoulder on a bench press. It was painful, but he refused to leave the gym. Pulling out of the fight was not an option as well.
“It was a series of small injuries piling up, developing a chronic pain that wouldn't let me do anything,” Miranda told MMA Fighting. “It was painful, but I was so close to the fight so I decided to fight anyway.”
Miranda won at UFC 196 via second-round knockout, his third finish in a row in the Octagon. Two weeks later, the UFC offered him a fight against Camozzi for May. He had eight weeks to prepare, so once again he ignored the pain and took the fight. This time, he wasn’t able to get the knockout, losing via unanimous decision.
"I didn’t pay attention to the pain, I thought I’d get better, but it only got worse and worse,” Miranda said. "I couldn’t even hold my daughter.
"There was no specific moment in the fight that I can say I lost because of the shoulder, but I didn’t train several things during the camp that ended up disturbing me in the fight. After the fight, I stopped everything for two months to heal, but when I came back to the gym, the pain came back as well. The doctor told me the pain would only go away if I had surgery."
Miranda finally listened to his doctor and agreed to undergo shoulder surgery. Now, finally healed, he looks back at how “dumb” he was for postponing the inevitable.
"I’m glad I did the surgery,” Miranda said. "Fighters are dumb, we only worry about fixing it when the damage is done. When we’re injured, we think, ‘ah, I’m going to stay away from the gym for one or two months? No, I’ll keep training’. So we go on, we lose fights, we lose money, and maybe you lose a contract."
"The crazy thing about it is that I was developing a depression and I had no idea,” he continued. "The injury didn’t allow me to train, I actually thought I wouldn't fight anymore, but the doctor said ‘it's just an injury, and that’s messing up with you and your mind.’ It was all about the shoulder."
The Team Nogueira middleweight didn’t train for the entire second half of 2016. With a long recovery ahead, he decided to give himself a break and do everything he couldn’t do for almost a decade.
"I gained a lot of weight,” Miranda said with a laugh. "I faced it as vacations because I was active for years, non-stop, especially after I started competing in MMA. I was like okay, I’ll eat anything, stay at home or maybe travel somewhere, do everything I want. Do everything with no guilt, because sometimes you’re injured and you think you should be in the gym, you should be training, but I’m at home. I eliminated all the guilt during this time off. It was important. I gave my body and mind a time off to rest.”
When Miranda was finally cleared to train with no limitations, he didn’t look like a middleweight. But even though he weighed 238 pounds, he was motivated and hungry, he "wanted to get back in the gym every day, and that was important."
"I didn’t go that up (in weight) even when I was competing as a heavyweight on TUF. I was around 227 on the show,” Miranda said. "But I was heavy because I was actually fat now [laughs]. My fat percentage was high. But losing that weight was a natural process.
"When I came back to the gym and started eating well again ... my coach asked me how much I weighed, and I said ‘look, I can start my regular diet when I lose some 17 pounds’ [laughs]. But it was easy. Since I already knew it was possible to make 185, it was easy.”
Going through all the ups and downs outside the Octagon for almost a year, Miranda said, became extra motivation for him.
"I had this time off, and now I have the pressure to come back and bounce back,” he said. "It’s natural. My body and my mind are hungry for this again, to evolve. The worst thing in the world is to go to the gym and train with an injury. You get so frustrated. When you don’t have an injury, you’re super confident for a fight."
The 38-year-old fighter will now meet young Italian talent Vettori in Oklahoma, and he sees the 15-year age gap between them as another advantage.
"I’ve watched some of his fights and he basically is a young guy who’s starting his career,” Miranda said. "Everyone he fought, except the last Brazilians (Igor Araujo, Alberto Uda and Antonio Carlos Junior), are not top fighters. He has a good guillotine and his opponents didn’t know that and ended up exposing their necks, and that won’t happen with me.
"I’ve fought many guys that are tougher than him and I knocked them out, and it will be the same now: the fight starts and once it becomes complicated for him, he will try to take me to the ground; I’ll stop the takedown, impose my game, and we’ll see a knockout."
And his age, Miranda says, won’t stop him from pursuing his ultimate goal as well.
"There are a lot of tough fighters in my division, but there are guys I see I can put on a good fight, a good entertainment,” he said. "I’m focused on winning this fight now and maybe one more to enter the top 15. Once I’m in there, anything can happen. We’ve seen the No. 13 fighting the No. 2, so anything can happen. From that moment on, I’ll climb the latter. I was close to that against Camozzi, but now I have to restart. I think I’ll have plenty of time to get to the belt."