Junior dos Santos will share the Octagon with another heavy-hitter on Jan. 25, battling Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Raleigh, which goes down only 14 weeks after the former UFC heavyweight champion was hospitalized with a serious infection.
“Cigano” was booked to face Alexander Volkov in Moscow when he was rushed to the hospital in Rio de Janeiro with pain in his leg. Dos Santos was still hoping to be cleared to fight in Russia, and only truly understood the severity of his injury six days later.
“It was extremely serious,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. “I spent a week in the hospital thinking that I would get cleared and fight (Volkov), but the doctor came to me and said, ‘You don’t understand how serious this is.’ He said I was lucky to be a healthy man and that I went to the hospital soon enough, otherwise I could have gone straight to ICU.”
According to dos Santos, his doctors informed him that “I could have lost my leg or even died” if he had taken one or two more days before going to the hospital.
“That’s when I truly understood how serious the situation was,” he said. “The first thing that came to my head were my kids and my family, how fragile we are. I was feeling great, strong, happy, training for a fight… Everything going right, and all of a sudden this happens. It was a huge blow.
“I saw a movie in my head of everything I had dodged. It’s hard to explain how fragile we are. I take good care of myself and that helped me in this case to not only support this disease but also have a good and fast recovery.”
The 35-year-old was offered a fight not long after he started his recovery in Rio de Janeiro, and consulted with his doctors and coaches before saying “yes” to a five-round heavyweight clash with Blaydes.
His seventh straight main event in the UFC “was like a shot of adrenaline,” he said, but had to avoid kicks for some time.
“Cigano” will attempt to get back on track after Francis Ngannou snapped his three-fight winning streak last June, while Blaydes tries to keep the momentum going following wins over Justin Willis and Shamil Abdurakhimov.
“I don’t choose opponents and never will,” dos Santos said. “I’m here to fight the best because I truly believe I can regain this belt and I will regain this belt. It’s a matter of time and hard work.
“This division is very dangerous. There’s a lot of hard work to be done, and I’m ready to work.”