If UFC star Tatiana Suarez could be paid a dollar for each time she was asked when she was going to fight over these last two years, she would never have to step inside the octagon again.
“I would probably still fight because I love to fight,” Suarez says.
The frustration from not being able to compete since 2019 due to a bulging disk in her neck came to an end in February when Suarez was cleared to begin live training. She released that news last month in an interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani.
“I asked for a fight recently and I’ve been training,” she says. “I’m just really excited. It was kind of frustrating when every month people are telling me that I’m wasting all of my good years as if I had a choice in the matter. My neck was so bad, I couldn’t even turn my head fast because it would stress the nerves, or my arm would go numb. I could barely swim at one point.”
Suarez has plans to move up to flyweight in her return. Prior to the injury, she dominated the UFC’s strawweight division on her way to an 8-0 record, sitting No. 3 in the world and closing in on a title fight.
When she got the MRI from this recent injury, it was initially suggested that she could get a cortisone shot and return back to fighting in a month. Given how limited her range of motion was in her neck this time, she knew she would be doing herself a disservice in trying to compete while not at her best.
The injury wasn’t a new one for Suarez. A similar injury in 2011 led to the MRI that revealed her diagnosis of thyroid cancer. The treatment and recovery process eliminated her chances at competing for an Olympic gold medal. While trying to get back into shape, she joined a jujitsu class. It was that class that helped reignite her competitive nature and she refocused her sights on becoming a world champion black belt. With how she had impressed her instructors, they recommended MMA.
The rest was history.
Making the Best of a Painful Situation
During this time off, Tatiana Suarez rehabbed her neck and was still able to do drill work. She believes she has become a better martial artist during the layoff. She paid close attention to the combat world, live-tweeting during matches, interacting with her fans, which kept her close and engaged, but couldn’t compensate for the internal struggles of not being able to compete and watching other fighters progress and advance.
There were times when she had to dig deep to find the motivation to continue to do the drill work and training. She would question if she would ever get healthy enough to compete again and what her future looked like if that were the case.
“It was really frustrating,” Suarez says. “I waited for that opportunity. Me knowing I had a title shot soon … to say this has been mentally exhausting would be an understatement.”
While uncertain of what the future would hold, Suarez knew that like any adversity she had faced, she could overcome it and would be better from it. Emotional support was never far from her. Her family would be there to uplift her anytime she got down. When they spoke to her about her fighting, they discussed it as a matter of when she would, not if she would. She also had another crash course in the value of patience. It’s a value that’s she finds herself being reminded of often.
After being cleared, like most athletes anxious to get back into the swing of things, Suarez was too anxious. She sustained a broken hand, and then suffered a concussion while wrestling in her front yard with her boyfriend. She laughs now at having to stop so shortly after getting the green light because those setbacks were minor compared to not knowing if she would ever be able to spar again.
“I know you have a timeframe to do this, and I just want to make the most of the time I have,” she says. “If I want a long career, I have to be careful. I don’t want to permanently damage anything or damage something where I’m out for a long period of time. So, this has forced me to be more technical and to understand that not every day has to be a hard day to get better.”
Now, she waits for a fight to be scheduled to solidify her return to the Octagon. Suarez is refocused and on a mission to continue to reach the lofty goals she set for herself when she began her career — this time with a deeper fondness for the entire training process.
“I think I learned to appreciate the sport more,” she says. “There are times where you can grind every single day and you have your fights. It can become tiresome sometimes and the passion isn’t there as much. I feel like coming out of this, I’m more passionate and super excited to get better every day.”