“The Black Belt Hunter” thought for a second that he would never get a chance to re-enter the octagon after brain tests showed a frightening diagnosis prior to a fight with Wellington Turman in January, revealing a congenital anomaly in his brain. It took weeks for Vieira to finally be cleared to resume his MMA career.
“Many people asked me if I felt anything, any dizziness or fainted or any other s***,” Vieira told MMA Fighting. “Nothing happened, I was living my normal life. I did the MRI because it’s been four years since my previous one and I needed to do it again, and that’s when doctors spotted that malformation and got worried. They were a bit scared and asked me to do more exams.”
The UFC pulled Vieira from the Turman fight and asked the multiple-time jiu-jitsu world champion to do further tests in Orlando and Anaheim, and “it took such a long time,” Vieira said. Waiting for his health plan to cover the costs meant an extra six weeks of waiting before getting the results back, he said, so he decided to pay for the whole thing.
“When I left [and got cleared], my manager already called me asking when I wanted to fight again, so it was all worth it,” Vieira said. “Imagine waiting a month and a half for this result and not knowing what was going on? No way.”
Vieira received good news in the end, but admits he was expecting the opposite.
“I was trying to stay positive but I thought, ‘I’ll be ready if the worst comes,’” Vieira said. “It was hard for me. I didn’t want to go back to jiu-jitsu, having to teach classes. I said, ‘F***, I didn’t want to teach jiu-jitsu now, I’m still healthy to fight for eight or nine more years and try to build something in MMA.’ Having to stop fighting at 32 would suck.
“It was a big relief, I was very happy with this opportunity God has given me. He’s made me go through this to, I don’t know, test my will, to see if that’s what I really wanted, and I saw how much I wanted to continue in this sport.”
The Brazilian middleweight now returns to the cage 11 months after submitting Dustin Stoltzfus with a rear-naked choke in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Curtis looks for his eighth straight victory after knocking out Phil Hawes and Brendan Allen in his two octagon appearances.
“[UFC] already threw a killer at me,” Vieira laughed. “I said, ‘Man, the UFC wants to test my brain to see if it’s OK?’ They gave me a southpaw, a dangerous knockout artist, and I said, ‘Cool, let’s do it.’ I just went through a scare because of my brain. Instead of giving me a grappler, someone that doesn’t hit that much on the feet so we can grapple, do some jiu-jitsu, at least on this first one back. But, ‘No, let’s see if he’s really good.’ [Laughs.]”
Vieira never stopped training and sparring while waiting for his MRI results, and said he never felt anything odd during the whole process, nor during his camp for UFC Vegas 57. His gameplan will not change for Saturday, as he’ll focus on choking Curtis out to improve to 4-1 under the UFC banner.
“Chris Curtis is a dangerous guy on the feet but I won’t go out like crazy to take him down,” he said. “I’ll stay on the feet for a moment and take him down at the right time.
“I’m getting better on the feet, my movement is better and I’m more confident, but I obviously don’t want to stay on the feet because I have much better chances on the ground. Just like he had better chances on the feet and knocking me out, and that’s why he’ll try to keep it standing.”
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