Neck and back issues had kept Suarez out of the game for over three years, and they hadn’t fully subsided before her comeback against Montana De La Rosa in Feburary.
“I just didn’t want to pull out,” Suarez said on The MMA Hour. “I didn’t care. I wanted to make sure. They were just gonna have me get on this Medrol dose pack, which is like an anti-inflammatory steroid for my back, but I ended up not having to do it.
“Most of my camp, I couldn’t really go that hard, because any time of explosive movements or anything like that really messed with my back. So I had to be really tame in the grappling and the wrestling, and standup was really hard for me – any kind of twisting motion was pretty bad on my back.”
Suarez owns a finish victory over the current UFC flyweight champ, Alexa Grasso. She traces her longstanding injuries back to their 2018 meeting.
“When I fought Grasso, I literally just did footwork and grappled,” she said. “I didn’t do any type of wrestling. I didn’t do any standup training or anything like that, because my back was just so bad, I could barely walk.
“It was horrible, and then I fought, but it’s OK, because I ended up getting a submission. So I guess all that grappling really paid off.”
Thankfully for Suarez, the same thing happened against De La Rosa. A full-fledged brawl never broke out, and she submitted the veteran flyweight in the second round to keep intact her perfect record. She also preserved her viability for a title shot so many believe she deserves.
After the training wheels of a flyweight fight, Suarez returns to her native 115-pound division to take on ex-champ Jessica Andrade, who stepped in for an injured Virna Jandiroba at UFC Nashville on Aug. 5.
A win over former champ Andrade puts Suarez in an infinitely better position to challenge for the title, but she’s unsure of what’s next. Champ Zhang Weili is set to defend her belt against Amanda Lemos at UFC 292, potentially lining up the winner of Suarez’s bout for a shot.
“With the position that I’m in, I just don’t really understand the division right now, though, because Yan [Xiaonan] just came off of a big win over Andrade, so I don’t know where that puts me,” Suarez said. “Does that mean that me and Yan would fight [next]? Does that mean Yan already has the shot, and she’s just waiting for [Amanda] Lemos and Zhang to fight, and then I’m going fight somebody else? After that, I think that’s what they’re going to do – I’m not exactly sure what they’re gonna have me do.
“I just know that I’m just excited for the fight, because it’s a great fight in terms of she’s a former world champion. She’s beat a lot of great girls. So I’m looking forward to the competition.”
Just getting to this point has been a blessing for Suarez. There was a time after she suffered a devastating knee injury that she contemplated hanging up her gloves. What kept her from doing so was the loss of an earlier dream and her determination to avoid that fate once again.
“So I hurt my neck and then after that, I injured my knee, and right when I was laying there, because I injured it pretty bad,” she said. “I knew there was something wrong. I knew there was a lot wrong with it, just because of the way it looked when it happened, everything just how much pain there was when it happened. ... I knew I was gonna need surgery, and then it turned out I did, because I tore almost every single ligament in my knee and needed to have it replaced.
“So when I was laying there, I thought [about retirement] for like a second. I didn’t understand it. It didn’t seem fair. But then, we were trying to figure everything out, and one doctor said one thing, and another doctor said another thing, and I was like, whatever, I’m still gonna come back, and I’m still gonna make that comeback, because I know how talented I am. I wouldn’t even say talented. I would just say how much work I put in, and how I reap the benefits of that like in terms of everything that I could do in the cage. ... But I know how good I am. I know that I’m the best, and I know I can’t quit ... and I will regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t even try.
“I was supposed to go to the Olympics for wrestling and then didn’t end up doing that. And I just thought to myself, I wouldn’t be able to be happy with myself if I missed out on two dreams. So if could still do it, I’m going to do it. If I’m still walking, I’m going to be able to do it.”
Suarez is now walking just fine as she approaches her fight with Andrade. She’s able to train her standup, which she’ll need against the heavy-handed Brazilian. And her body is more used to the stress that’s required for a limit-free training camp against a tough opponent.
Given what Suarez has done at less than 100 percent, the ingredients are there for success. She just has to follow through in the cage – and stay healthy on the way there.