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Claudia Gadelha says concussion symptoms led to retirement: ‘Like a knife stabbing the back of my head’

Claudia Gadelha and Nina Nunes
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Claudia Gadelha is putting her health first.

The longtime UFC strawweight contender confirmed her retirement on Friday, ending a 12-year pro MMA career that saw her compete for a UFC title and compile a 7-5 record in the promotion. Gadelha fought a number of the 115-pound division’s standouts, including Joanna Jedrzejczyk (twice, once for a UFC title), Angela Hill, Carla Esparza, Jessica Andrade, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Jessica Aguilar, and Ayaka Hamasaki.

Following the news of her retirement circulating, Gadelha did a live chat on Instagram to elaborate on why she’s hanging up the gloves now, one major reason being the post-concussion symptoms she suffered following a loss in her last fight against Yan Xiaonan in November 2020.

“I don’t want anybody to think that I’m sad because I’m very happy with what’s going on in my life right now,” Gadelha said. “In November of 2020 after a fight I had a really bad concussion and I had a post-concussion syndrome, which is the symptoms of a concussion for a long period of time. So I suffered with the symptoms for a little while.

“It was very frustrating because my headaches were like a knife stabbing the back of my head. I was very nauseous, almost throwing up, feeling very, very bad. I couldn’t even go for a walk, couldn’t train, it was very frustrating.”

Unable to compete, Gadelha says she focused on her studies, enrolling a nutrition program at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. That gave her something to do with all of her energy and free time following a bleak period where she struggled with the lingering effects of the Yan fight.

“I had to rush to the hospital in the beginning of my concussion twice,” Gadelha said. “I ended up in the emergency room twice and I’m here in Las Vegas by myself and my family’s in Brazil, it was during COVID so I couldn’t fly to Brazil to go be with my family because it was like in the beginning of the concussion so I couldn’t fly and my parents couldn’t come here because of COVID. I had to spend a lot of time by myself during the concussion and that was very, very frustrating.

“With that being said I started thinking about not fighting anymore. I had a lot of feelings of, ‘OK, I’m gonna go back, I’m gonna beat this time of my life and I’m gonna go back and fight,’ and then other times I would just feel like I shouldn’t be fighting anymore because I had so many other opportunities in life. I took a little bit more time and went back to the gym and tried to train and I started getting hit in the head and having anxiety from getting hit in the head and being afraid of going back to work where I was in the beginning of the concussion. I did a lot of brain treatments to get healthier and I was so afraid of going back to what it was and then a lot of other opportunities showed up in my life.”

Gadelha is currently working with the UFC to help acclimate Brazilian fighters to life in the United States. She is helping both to translate and to educate them on “the business side of fighting” while continuing her own studies regarding health, nutrition and performance. Though she does not plan to compete in MMA or Brazilian jiu-jitsu, nor does she expect to become a coach, she will not be far from the gym.

The decision wasn’t made lightly and Gadelha admitted she had thoughts of making that walk to the octagon again.

“I’m gonna continue to eat like an athlete, train like an athlete, and feel like an athlete because that’s what I am, that’s what made me who I am,” Gadelha said. “So this will never change in me. You guys will not see me gaining weight and stop training and things like that, so I’m going to continue to train, continue to do the things I love to do in life.

“I decided to retire a couple of months back. I had a little flashback, like I’m gonna go back and fight, a few months ago I had that feeling that I was going to go back and fight again, but I was just not there anymore. How many fighters actually continue to fight and they do five, 10 more fights when they know that it’s already over? I don’t want to be one of those fighters. I just don’t feel like I belong there anymore. Fighting is not comfortable to start with, but I don’t feel good in the octagon anymore. I don’t feel happy there anymore and it makes me more happy today to help younger talents than me stepping in there and fighting and I feel like I conquered a lot of things in fighting in my life.”

Gadelha added that she will also be doing some Portuguese-language broadcast work, so fans can expect to still hear from her on fight nights. However, she is adamant that even if she’s involved with training and helping fighters, her own competition days are definitively done.

“I grew up in Brazil in a very small town,” Gadelha said. “I had to go through a lot of struggles to be where I am today and I’m very proud of everything I have done in life. It’s very emotional to me to go through this transitioning of, like, I was an athlete for almost 20 years of my life and now I’m just gonna do other things. It’s okay, it’s just a little hard to process because that’s what I’ve done my entire life. I’m not sad, I’m so happy to be able to help other people, help younger talents to do their thing.

“And that’s it, so I don’t want you guys to think that I’m sad because I’m retiring. Actually, that was a long process, I had to think and talk and go through things to decide that was the best thing for me to do and yeah, that’s it for me. I’m not gonna be one of those fighters that retires and then goes back to the sport. That’s it for me, you guys will never see me in the octagon again.”

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