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Retired Renato Sobral believes he’s showing signs of CTE: ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to see my grandkids’

Brazil's Renato Sobral is a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion.
Esther Lin, Showtime

Renato Sobral has competed as a mixed martial arts fighter for 16 years, facing some of the best in the world for promotions like the UFC, Strikeforce, and Bellator, but is paying a big “price” now.

In a long interview with Brazilian outlet PVT, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion and UFC title contender opened up on the health issues he’s dealing with after competing 48 times inside cages and rings.

“Babalu” fought against a who’s who in the sport before announcing his retirement in 2013, noteworthy names like Fedor Emelianenko, Mauricio Rua, Dan Henderson, Gegard Mousasi, Robbie Lawler, Chuck Liddell, Chael Sonnen, and Kevin Randleman. Throughout his professional career, Sobral was on the receiving end of knockouts seven times over 11 defeats.

Now, six years after hanging up his gloves, Sobral says he has symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

”What happened to me was something that came in homeopathic doses,” Sobral said. “Today a fighter learns how to fight, he learns how to make money, but he doesn’t learn too much about how to manage his life. I didn’t learn how to manage my life. I made several mistakes about money, about what I could have done with my career. I paid a price for being where I am.

”Today I can’t walk a straight line, I lost sight of my left eye, which is a big price (to pay). I have no balance today, my balance is almost zero. When I’m fighting, when I’m in a jiu-jitsu tournament or in training, it feels that my balance is normal again, but it’s complicated on a daily basis. But the guys that start fighting have to know that the price to pay will come one day. For everyone. People only talk about the good things today, what they have accomplished, what happened, but what about what you’ve lost? What happened to you?

”If someone asked me if I would let my son fight vale tudo, I would say no, I wouldn’t. My daughter? No. I would hope she wouldn’t. I’d rather see her study. My daughter already is on the water polo ‘A’ team of her high school, she competes, but being a professional athlete? Any sport demands a lot from your body and you will have to pay the price in the future.”

Sobral has been training capoeira lately to improve his balance, but health concerns weren’t so common back in the old vale tudo days with bills to pay and a family to support.

“You start doing things you are not prepared to do, but you have to go,” Sobral said. “You have to fight in pain, fight while injured. You get knocked out in the gym, and you’re still fighting the week after. You have to fight. You can’t say, ‘I won’t fight’. It’s one blow after the other. And I’m [paying the price] now, right? I don’t know if I’ll be able to see my grandkids, enjoy my grandkids in a normal way, because I’m starting to slowly feel the effects.”

“I already have [chronic] traumatic encephalopathy, actually. People barely talk about it,” he continued. “You can do a research, [professional fighters] have peaks of depression, we have seizures, you don’t listen that well. I don’t have speaking issues yet, but I lost the eye sight of my left eye, I have osteoarthritis on my entire body. My knee. I have 13 surgeries through my entire body. So, there’s a price (to pay). It’s not in there for free. I don’t even think it’s about glory, because it’s not for enough time.”

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