MMA fighters are used to living life on the edge, knowing that every time they set foot in the cage they risk getting injured, knocked out or choked unconscious.
However, some of these battle-hardened warriors have gone far beyond that in their personal lives outside of the cage, finding themselves in truly terrifying situations where they have stared death straight in the face and yet somehow lived to tell the tale.
In this article we’ll explore 10 such stories, from near-fatal accidents to deadly altercations, not to mention several alarming incidents where it’s the fighters themselves who have been their own worst enemies.
Before he became an MMA fighter, Court McGee enjoyed drinking alcohol far too much for his own good.
It was a problem that got worse during his college years, but things really started to get out of hand when he broke his collarbone and clavicle in 2003 and then began mixing painkillers with the booze.
Over the next two years McGee would fall deeper into addiction, moving on to snorting crushed up Oxycontin, then cocaine, before finally turning to heroin as life began to completely fall apart.
One September 9th, 2005, McGee’s self-destructive behavior caught up with him and he overdosed on heroin, falling limp to the floor in the bathroom of his cousin’s trailer.
When paramedic’s arrived on scene they frantically tried to resuscitate McGee, whose heart would stop beating for eight minutes in total. It was only when an officer found a syringe that they realized he’d overdosed and were able to take the appropriate steps to bring him back to life.
Afterwards, McGee would spend six days in a coma and then had to undergo extensive rehabilitation to re-learn basic motor skills like walking.
Remarkably, just five months later McGee would relapse, emerging after a four-day binge with no pants on looking for a place to score meth.
That was the final straw and McGee sobered up soon after, got into recovery and found a sense of purpose in mixed martial arts, which would eventually lead to him fighting in the UFC, where he remains to this day.
On July 28th of 2014, just days after he’d re-signed with the UFC, Joe ‘Diesel’ Riggs came dangerously close to ending his own life in a freak accident.
With his wife and young son already in bed, the life-long gun-enthusiast decided to take apart a firearm in order to remove a live round that had become stuck in the chamber.
Unfortunately for Riggs, in the process of doing so he inadvertently hit the trigger and shot himself through both his hand and upper thigh.
In a state of panic Riggs called out to his wife for help and she quickly phoned an ambulance and then tried to stem the flow of blood with her hand, fearing that he had hit an artery due to the way blood was rhythmically spurting out of his left leg.
With well over 50 fights to his name, Riggs was no stranger to blood, but he knew this was different as he was starting not to feel the pain anymore and had an overwhelming urge to just fall sleep.
Convinced that death was imminent he said his goodbyes to his wife and seven-year-old son, before falling unconscious.
Riggs was rushed to hospital via Air Evac, where his heart would go down to as low as 10 beats per minute, but after undergoing surgery, including a blood transfusion and three operations to his hand, he not only survived, but lived to fight another day.
As a lifelong extreme sports enthusiast who thrives on living on the edge, Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone has had an alarming number of near-death experiences.
For instance, there was the time he was scuba diving in a lake when his dry suit suddenly flooded, followed by a massive air leak.
Now sunk to the bottom of the lake, Cerrone had to literally crawl his way out, finally emerging from the water just before his oxygen tank ran out completely.
Then there was the time that ‘Cowboy’ crash-landed while attempting a near-60-foot jump on his ATV and skewered his stomach on the handlebars, leaving his intestines hanging out. Cerrone spent the next two-and-a-half weeks in a coma after having half his intestines and and part of his stomach removed.
However, the time Cerrone truly thought he was going to die came in 2013 while climbing with some friends in Albuquerque.
Cerrone was showing the group how to set gear on what he felt was an easy pitch when he fell backwards and four of his anchors gave way, resulting in a heart-stopping 40-feet plummet towards the ground and inevitable death before his fall was arrested.
Miraculously, Cerrone escaped with just a fractured hip and foot, but he knew just how close he’d come to paying the ultimate price.
”I guess you need to dance with death.. Just so you know how Precious life is!,” Cerrone wrote on Twitter afterwards. “@danawhite the wild man IS THROUGH.#tooclosetoday #9lives”
However, despite vowing to change his ways, Cerrone quickly returned to his old ways and continues to live life on the edge.
Back in May of 2009 current UFC fighter Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith was still just another young, up and coming fighter struggling to make it in the sport, after two losses in a row left his record standing at a mediocre 5-4.
There were other problems in his life to, like the grandfather he’d idolized passing away and a split with his girlfriend, and to make matters worse, when Smith was down-on-his-luck he’d turn to alcohol.
That’s how he found himself in his car, driving home drunk at 11 a.m. in the morning after having partying hard the night before.
Needless to say, that didn’t end well, and soon after Smith would be discovered unconscious in his wrecked vehicle, having fallen asleep at the wheel, hit a ditch and then smashed into a nearby house.
Smith was extremely lucky that day as not only was no-one else harmed in the crash, but he also lived to learn his lesson, suffering from a fractured cheek bone, damaged lungs, a completely torn nostril and a large collection of stitches to various wounds on his face and body.
Smith saw the error of his ways, overcame his issues with alcohol, and would go on to fight for Bellator and Strikeforce prior to arriving in the UFC, where he’s currently enjoying a 3-1 run.
Rising UFC star Brian Ortega was with a group of friends including Ralek Gracie in February of 2016 when he put his life on the line in order to surf 10-15 foot waves at Redondo Beach in California during a major storm.
Ignoring his friends warnings, Ortega headed out into the water, but he quickly realized he was quite literally in over his head and found himself in a life-or-death struggle with the ocean as waves crashed into the 23-year-old and dragged him under the water.
”I’ve never been hit that hard with anything in my life,” Ortega recalled at a UFC 199 media day. “I ended up telling myself ‘you’re going to die.’ I almost gave up on my life.”
Ortega fell unconscious, but was extremely lucky that a friend was able to pull his seemingly lifeless body from the water and get him to a hospital.
Thankfully he quickly made a full recovery and has since notched up another win inside the Octagon.
And just for the record, he still surfs, too.
Long-time UFC fighter Matt Brown was raised in a small town in Ohio and turned to drugs, alcohol and partying early in his adult life.
He started selling acid and was then convinced by a friend to use the proceeds to try a different drug, heroin.
Soon after being injected by his so-called friend, Brown didn’t feel good and returned home, where a concerned friend took his blood pressure.
”I remember her checking my blood pressure,” Brown recalled to Yahoo! Sports in 2012. “She said, ‘Ah, you’re fine.’”
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Brown had in fact overdosed on heroin and shortly afterwards would fall unconscious. He was then rushed to hospital, where he’d be diagnosed clinically dead for a full minute before doctor’s managed to revive him.
Afterwards, Brown’s friend’s started calling him ‘Immortal’, and perhaps he believed that too much as he didn’t stop using until he saw three members of a local family die over a period of months due to the same drugs he was taking.
Brown then showed his strength of character to turn his life around, found mixed martial arts, and the rest is history.
UFC veteran Rani Yahya began training in the art of Judo from the age of 4 in Brazil, but that expertise didn’t help him when he came face-to-face with a deadly snake when he was just 11-years-old.
Yahya was rushed to hospital on the brink of death after suffering from a potentially fatal bite, but luckily for him, a man named Athaide Junior, who was the head of the reptile department at the Brasilia zoo and one of the world’s foremost experts in deadly snakes, was able to give him the anti-venom that would save his life.
The incident proved to be a blessing in disguise for Yahya, as Athaide was also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert, who had used his knowledge of snakes to invent his own variant of the art, known as ‘Constrictor Jiu-Jitsu’.
Athaide took Yahya under his wing and began teaching him and it proved to be a natural fit for the youngster, who would become an ADCC grappling champion and has also shown off his deadly submission skills to great effect in MMA too.
In 2003, pro-wrestling and MMA star Bobby Lashley was at his local bank in Colorado Springs when gunmen burst into the building intent on committing armed robbery.
Unfortunately for Lashley he found himself stuck in the middle between the robbers and the money and a bullet was fired in his direction before he was able to dive for cover.
The bank’s CCTV footage showed a puff of smoke appearing just behind Lashley’s head after the shot was fired, but thankfully he wasn’t hit and lived to tell the tale.
However, in his rush to drop to the floor afterwards the 6ft 2”, 285lb Lashey badly injured his knee and required two surgeries, which ended his hopes of competing in wrestling in the Olympics and led to him switching focus and pursuing a career in pro-wrestling and later MMA instead.
Current World Series Of Fighting champion heavyweight champion Blagoy Ivanov, who famously defeated Fedor Emelianenko at the 2008 World Sambo Championships, was enjoying a night out with friends at the ‘Ice Bar’ in Sofia Bulgaria in February of 2012 when they were attacked by a gang of eight thugs.
In the chaotic scenes that followed Ivanov was stabbed from behind just below his armpit, with the blade piercing both his heart and lung.
Ivanov staggered out of the bar clutching his wound and made it to a nearby taxi, which sped him to hospital, where he’d just manage to stagger into a room full of doctors before collapsing unconscious on the floor due to a loss of blood.
Iganov then underwent five-hours of surgery to save his life. His ordeal wasn’t over, however, as he’d suffer from infections afterwards and would spend the next 86 days in a medically induced coma, during which time he’d shrink down from 250lbs to 160lbs.
Doctor’s believed that Iganov had a one-in-a-million chance of surviving due to the wounds he’d suffered, but miraculously he made a full recovery and was able to resume his fighting career, while his attacker, a 23-year-old criminal known as “The Dumbell’” was later arrested and charged.
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Legendary UFC and PRIDE heavyweight star Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and his twin-brother Rogerio were only 11-years-old when they joined a group of friends who had climbed into the bed of a truck parked near where they were playing.
When the driver was about to leave he called for the kids to jump down, but while the others did so, Nogueira stumbled and fell to his back on the asphalt, then froze in horror as the 12,000 pound truck accidentally reversed over the top of his legs, body and shoulders.
Nogueira was sped to hospital afterwards suffering from potentially life-threatening injuries, with his own father later recalling that doctors were unsure if he would survive.
Among ‘Big Nog’s’ numerous injuries, muscles in his back had been torn from his lungs and diaphragm, but surgeons worked wonders in order to reattach them to enable him to breathe properly.
Nogueira would spend a week in a coma and a further 11 months in hospital rehabilitating, before defying expectations to make a full recovery, though to this day he has a large indent in his back as a reminder of that fateful day.