There was a lot of excitement in the UK ahead of Alex Enlund’s UFC debut, which was scheduled for September of last year in Hamburg.
Riding a seven-fight win streak into his promotional debut, Enlund’s capture of the Cage Warriors featherweight title a year earlier cemented him as one of the best that Europe had to offer in his category.
Two days before he was due to set off for the German city where he was scheduled to face Martin Buschkamp, the South Shields man received a phone call from his manager that ruled him out of the bout based on a lesion that was found during his pre-fight brain scan.
After spending 10 years to reach the world’s flagship promotion, Enlund was suitably distressed.
“I was heartbroken, but the first thing that crossed my mind was, ‘Am I okay?’” he remembered.
“At the time I didn’t know anything other than the fight couldn’t go ahead and that I had to consult a neurologist and a neurosurgeon as soon as possible.”
The discovery of the lesion set off a series of scans for Enlund. Although his UFC career was put on hold, more pressingly, the lesion could have indicated that he had developed a tumor. However, the lesion could also be completely incidental, something that would have no implications on his fight career whatsoever.
“The issue was that the lesion was on my brain stem, which is a very rare place to suffer any kind of trauma,” Enlund explained. “Normally trauma of the brain stem would be life threatening, so the doctors were trying to discover if it was a low-grade glioma.
“That would have been the worst case scenario. On the opposite end of the scale, it could have just been some low-grade inflammation that was just there for whatever reason.”
A neurologist explained that the SBG man would have to wait five months before undergoing another scan, and comparing the first scan to the second, it could be determined whether the lesion was a tumor. However, after sitting out for five months only to discover that the lesion had not changed in any way – a very good sign for Enlund – it was recommended that he wait another five months to obtain results from a third scan, just to be on the safe side.
“I went from one five-month period of waiting to another five-month period of waiting. Eventually, I got the scan back and it had the same result,” he said.
“I had gone to see the neurologist. He looked at my scans and did a few tests and he came to the conclusion that this was something completely incidental. It could have been there my whole life and it probably was.
“It’s one of these things that comes up on a scan but it doesn’t particularly mean anything. It’s just a different kind of tissue that’s there. If I did have something wrong with my brain there is no doubt that I would be showing some kind of neurological symptom.”
The only issue was, during the time that he had been out of action, the British submission specialist had been cut from the UFC’s roster. Although he isn’t completely sure why, Enlund thinks his exit from the books was based on his inactivity.
“I think UFC had made the arrangement to release me before we got all of the information over to them. It’s a huge roster at my weight class, and let’s be honest, I had been out for awhile,” he conceded.
“With what the issue could have been, I think they thought that I would never fight again. Honestly, I think it was more about roster control. They’ve cut guys coming off wins.”
The door has not been completely shut on the Octagon for Enlund, but after a decade spent trying to climb the mountain, now he is fighting solely for the love of the sport.
“My manager spoke to (UFC) about it and I think the door is open for me to go back. At the same time, I have a whole new outlook on my career. I spent 10 years chasing down that spot in the UFC for this to happen and it broke my heart.”
He continued: “I’m competing because I want to fight. I’m not doing this for any other reason now. I’m doing this out of love. I could walk away now and my career has been incredibly successful.
“I could walk away and just coach, but I can’t – I just want to do this for me. This isn’t for fame. It isn’t for attention. I just want to compete to test myself. No doubt I would love the opportunity to fight in the UFC, but that’s not what I’m fighting for.
“I’m no longer chasing that thing that every MMA fighter obsesses about to the point that they get lost and they don’t enjoy the game.”
Enlund returns to action with a stern test in the shape of Kane Mousash on September 23 at ACB 70. As he made a habit of on his ascent, seeing off the likes of Artem Lobov and Nad Narimani, Enlund will look to take out another top European name on his return.
For the first time in his career, victory is not the priority.
“I think I understand the game a whole lot more. For a long time in my career, I was more concerned with winning than I was with my performance. I was obsessed with not losing because I was chasing that dream of being in the UFC,” he said.
“Now I’m obsessed with putting in my best possible performance every single day.
“I read a book by Bill Walsh, it’s called ‘The Score Takes Care of Itself’, and I truly believe that now. All I need to focus on is being the best version of me and the score will take care of itself.
“Five minutes before a fight I used to think, ‘If I lose this fight it’s going to take so long to put this win streak back together so I can get signed.’
“That’s not there anymore. I already know I was good enough to get signed by the UFC, now I’m just fighting for me. And if the UFC does sign me again, I’ll be competing in there with the goal of becoming the champ.”