Retired bantamweight Scott Jorgensen scored some big wins throughout his MMA career, but he never won a major championship. For UFC 283 debutant Melquizael Costa, sharing an aspect of Jorgensen’s appearance served as inspiration.
Costa, who like Jorgensen has vitiligo, had to go through a lot before accepting himself. The disorder causes the skin to lose its color, and it started changing his body when he was 4.
“My childhood was very troubled,” Costa said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca. “There was no internet or social media back then. I lived in a favela and didn’t feel any prejudice from other kids, but their parents often pulled them away from me thinking I had Hansen’s disease. That’s not cool. People didn’t have much knowledge back then.”
Going through so many difficult situations as a child made Costa “hate everybody” and not be around anyone other than members of his family.
“I’m from Para, and it’s always 104 degrees there, but I would always wear long sleeve shirts and pants and wouldn’t take my clothes off for anything,” he said. “I started isolating from the world. I felt good when someone hated me, and that became who I am. It was cool to be hated. It felt wrong when someone shook my hand. I put the blame on vitiligo for everything. Sometimes I would screw up and blame it on vitiligo. That began to affect my mind.”
Costa’s mother suggesting moving to a smaller town and re-starting his life by living with one of his 10 siblings. His life changed when his sister invited four friends over and he said “they were super cool to me and hugging me,” which was something he wasn’t used to.
“That was the first time I had friends, and they’re still my friends to this day,” said Costa, who started training boxing shortly after. “One of my friends invited me to go to the gym, I put gloves and helmet on, and all he did was land one punch and knock me out. F*ck, that was bad, but good at the same time [laughs].”
“They invited me to train jiu-jitsu, and I had no idea what that was,” he continued. “My friend’s hand was injured, but he said he’d submit me with one hand only, and he did it. I signed up to learn that right away.”
Costa again had to confront his demons on his first day in jiu-jitsu, when the coach asked him to take his t-shirt off to train and take a picture with the whole crew after practice.
“I love showing my body now,” he said. “If I had someone like this to look up to when I was a kid, maybe I wouldn’t have gone through all that.”
One of those people was Jorgensen, who Costa only met through UFC’s video game more than a decade ago. The Brazilian teenager was told he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in MMA with vitiligo, but watching Jorgensen on the game dispelled that myth.
“I was playing the videogame and saw Scott Jorgensen there,” Costa said. “‘Holy sh*t, is that a fake character?’ When I saw he was a real fighter and he had vitiligo, that showed me I could be a fighter too. That was crazy.
“Being on the UFC game is my biggest dream, more than the belt. The belt can wait. I know I’m being inspiration for a lot of people, you know? That motivates me. Being different was a problem for me, and now I have a problem being normal [laughs]. I know I’ll stand out in a photo, and I know I’ll stand out wherever I go because I’m different.”