With about a week to go in fight camp, most fighters pack up their things, close down the sparring and head out for fight week – wherever that may be. That’s precisely where Bryan Barberena was in his camp on Friday, November 6th.
Training in North Carolina and living in Tennessee, ‘Bam Bam’ was finishing up his last set of sparring before driving home where he’d leave for fight week. However, the very first round of the day wound up giving Barberena a surprise that he was not quite ready for.
“I was getting ready for the Daniel Rodriguez fight and, the Friday before fight week, I was finishing up my came, about to close it all down and get ready to head over for fight week,” Barberena recalls. “I was doing my sparring rounds and in the first round I took a body kick from one of my training partners. It wasn’t overly hard or anything and didn’t stop me or put me down or anything. I continued my round, pushed forward, did great.”
And while it didn’t cause him any issues at the time, Barberena began to feel the effects of it on his long drive home. He began to feel some intense pain in his stomach in waves. He initially tried to write it off as just being hungry from reducing calories and training hard, but it got harder to convince himself that as time went on.
“The pain would kind of come and go. I was about two hours into my four and a half hour drive. I was on the phone with my wife driving on the highway,” he said. His wife, worried about his current state, offered to come pick him up so he could rest on the remaining portion of the drive. He declined, but then things took a turn for the worse. “All of a sudden I started getting tingling all over and sweating hardcore.”
Barberena began to feel even more discomfort in addition to the other reactions of his body. His wife continued to push him to stop driving when, finally, he had no choice.
“She’s like ‘maybe you should pull over,” he said. “Then all of a sudden my vision went out and I was like ‘oh shit, I can’t see! I can’t see!’ I just swerved over to the side thinking as soon as I felt my tires dip into the side of the road that I would stop.”
His wife immediately told him that he had to call 911, but Barberena couldn’t even see the numbers on his phone to even attempt to do so. So the couple hung up so that she could call an ambulance for him. As he waited, his vision returned, which allowed him to pull off the highway and into a church parking lot, where he waited for the ambulance.
Despite going blind temporarily while driving, Barberena was still dead set on making it to his fight in 8 days.
“In the ambulance they wanted to give me an IV – I told them no that they can’t IV me because I’m supposed to fight next week and didn’t want to get in trouble with USADA,” he said before compromising. “They just put the needle in me basically so if they needed to IV me they could have.”
Although the situation felt severe to ‘Bam Bam’, the EMTs brought him into the hospital to wait before seeing a doctor.
“They took me all the way up to the front desk to check in and I was like ‘wait a minute, I do think I need to see a doctor,” he recalled being somewhat surprised at the decision. “They took me off the gurney and put me in a wheelchair. Then all of a sudden I start having an even worse pain than what happened in the car – and I start falling out of the chair… I felt like death.”
This prompted the hospital to rush him to a doctor, who realized he may be suffering from some intense internal bleeding. They rushed him back for emergency, exploratory surgery around his stomach area.
“They basically just gut me, open me up and go in and start exploring everywhere to see where this bleeding is coming from,” he said, recounting what the doctors told him, which included two ruptured arteries. “I lost like 4 liters of blood and had to have a blood transfusion.”
The road to recovery was a long one for Barberena, which included some doctors that said he shouldn’t fight again.. After taking some time, but apparently not enough, he overexerted himself running and caused some minor issues, which also gave him some pause in his eventual return to the cage. Ultimately though, he now feels back to 100% or even better during this fight camp and is ready to show off his improved game.
That long rehab and camp culminates in a fight this weekend with Jason Witt on the main card of UFC Vegas 33 on ESPN.
You can listen to the whole interview, including all the gory details of this story, at 2:14.