It’s such a common cliché across the MMA-sphere now to say that Fighter A had a long road to the octagon. Nearly every fighter’s walk to the cage takes years that we don’t see, hurdles that they wouldn’t expect, and delays that are unforeseen. While Ramiz Brahimaj checks all of these boxes like most fighters, just how close he was to making the walk, and just how close he was to never having it, is what separates him from this archetype.
The Bronx-born Brahimaj was originally booked for a June 2019 date on the Contender Series against Miguel Baeza. As that date neared, Brahimaj got some rough medical news that ripped his first chance at a UFC career away from him.
“I was pulled for medical reasons due to a tumor that was in orbit with my eye, and had I not got it surgically removed and taken care of, I would have been blind in my left eye,” Brahimaj explained.
Brahimaj, always the optimist, chose to see the positive in this scenario – noting that it was just not his fate to fight that day. In fact, as he watched the event that he was supposed to compete on, it appeared like the universe was sending him a sign.
“Crazy thing is that the main event of that fight card, I believe it was Alton Cunningham, the first punch that was thrown he fractured his orbital,” he remembered. “Had that happened to me I probably would have been blind and then that would have been the end of my career right then and there, so I can’t really get too mad about missing that opportunity.”
Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine, rainbows, and discussions of fate for the Fortis MMA product. The surgery to remove the tumor left Brahimaj with some pretty brutal recovery and plenty of time away from his life’s work.
“For the first two weeks, since the trauma was so excessive to the eye, I had to just chill. I couldn’t really do anything that was going to possibly inflame the inner part of the eye or even the outer part for that matter,” he said. “So I just did a lot of cardio work, high intensity low impact stuff. The third week, I started to get back to boxing and kickboxing. Then probably a month to a month and a half, I started to get back to grappling.”
That too was a blessing in disguise as it let him get back to competing in grappling tournaments. Although he has eight submission victories to his credit in his MMA career, snagging some accolades in pure grappling competitions was something he’s always wanted.
“I started to do grappling tournaments just to get back into the spirit of competition and then in December, I competed in no-gi worlds,” he said.
And Brahimaj didn’t just compete in no-gi worlds, but took first place at blue belt. The win instantly got him a promotion from his coaches, which he has met with renewed focus, even as his MMA career gets back on track.
“After I won worlds I got promoted to purple. The issue with me is always I just don’t do gi classes as much as I need to,” he said. “But listen, I promise you guys, I promise everybody in the jiu jitsu community that is pretty religious about doing that gi, that I’ve been putting my gi on ever since I got promoted. I promise it wasn’t like when I got my blue belt.”
The now-purple belt nearly got a chance to show off his skills back in June in a scheduled debut against Takashi Sato, but it was cancelled due to one of Brahimaj’s cornermen testing positive for COVID. With the tumor and the positive test in the rearview mirror, Brahimaj looks to take all of those lessons and all of the growth and put it to good use against Max Griffin. That fight takes place on the UFC Vegas 13 prelims on ESPN+ this Saturday.