5 UFC fighters who overcame personal tragedy to script a memorable win

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya
Sai Krishna

In a sport as physically and mentally challenging as MMA, fighters need to be at the top of their game each time they step into the cage, especially in a promotion as highly competitive as the UFC.

Fighters are humans who go through difficult times in their personal life just like any of us. That usually has an effect on their performance in their octagon - an effect which is only enhanced by the high-stakes nature of the sport and its unforgiving fans.

Some UFC fighters have managed to rise above adversity and emerge victorious in the most challenging of circumstances. Here are five of them who have overcome personal tragedy to script a memorable win.

#5 Cody Stamann - UFC 250

UFC Fight Night: Dvalishvili v Stamann
UFC Fight Night: Dvalishvili v Stamann

At UFC 250, Cody Stamann entered the octagon opposite Brian Kelleher, only a week after losing his younger brother Jacob.

The short-notice featherweight bout ended in a unanimous decision win for Stamann, with all three judges scoring the contest 30-27 in favor of 'The Spartan'. He landed almost 50% of his significant strikes apart from two takedowns and held on as Kelleher pressured him relentlessly in the final round.

Speaking about his decision to compete at UFC 250, Stamann - who burst into tears as soon as the fight ended - said:

"People were like, 'Hey, if you want to postpone this, wait a little longer, that's 100 percent understandable. I just thought what most people think, I think, in those situations. What would the person that passed, what would they want me to do? And I can say without a shadow of a doubt he would want me to compete. He loved watching me compete, and I know that's what he would want."

#4 Josh Samman - UFC 181

UFC 181 - Gordon v Samman
UFC 181 - Gordon v Samman

In August 2013, Josh Samman - who competed under the UFC and Bellator banners - underwent a dreadful ordeal. His girlfriend lost her life in a car accident while the two were texting each other, tilting his world upside down.

Samman returned to the octagon at UFC 181 in December 2014, where he faced off against Eddie Gordon. After being outwrestled in the first round, 'Anqa' landed a brutal head kick to knock Gordon out in the second and win the Performance of the Night award. He was understandably emotional post the fight.

Later, Samman wrote a poignant account of his experience at UFC 181, which can be read here. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2016 due to a drug overdose.

#3 Michael Chiesa - TUF 15

UFC 232 Jones v Gustafsson 2
UFC 232 Jones v Gustafsson 2

The 15th edition of The Ultimate Fighter, which was the first live season of the show, saw Michael Chiesa beat Al Iaquinta in the final via first-round submission. But the path to triumph was incredibly difficult for 'Maverick', who had lost his father two months ago to leukemia.

UFC president Dana White allowed Chiesa to break TUF protocol and attend the funeral, following which he returned to fulfill his father's wishes. And after putting on a brave face in front of his fellow competitors, he claimed the $100,000 UFC contract with an inspired run to the season finale.

Speaking about his ordeal, Chiesa said:

"The loss of my dad gave me a lot of inspiration because sometimes I stop and think, 'Would everybody have done the same thing that I did?' It was a very tough thing to cope with. I only went home for less than 24 hours. I went home, saw the funeral. I've proven a lot as far as how tough of an individual I am just by staying here."

Chiesa is now on a four-fight win streak in the UFC, with even welterweight champion Kamaru Usman expressing an interest in fighting him.

#2 Vitor Belfort - UFC 46

UFC 179: Aldo v Mendes 2
UFC 179: Aldo v Mendes 2

On 9 January 2004, Vitor Belfort's sister Priscila went missing in Brazil. Only 22 days later, he took on Randy Couture for the UFC light heavyweight championship at UFC 46.

The two had met back at UFC 15, where Couture had handed 'The Phenom' the first loss of his professional MMA career. But Belfort had his revenge in the rematch, albeit under slightly controversial circumstances. A part of his glove cut Couture's eye, causing the referee to stop the fight and a new champion to be crowned.

In 2007, Elaine Paiva admitted to kidnapping and murdering Belfort's sister, but her whereabouts remain a mystery even today. Belfort put together a stellar MMA career, competing in over 40 professional bouts across the PRIDE and UFC banners among others.

#1 Israel Adesanya - UFC 263

Israel Adesanya and former City Kickboxing teammate Fau Vake
Israel Adesanya and former City Kickboxing teammate Fau Vake

Last month, Israel Adesanya's City Kickboxing teammate Fau Vake passed away after sustaining severe injuries in an assault. 'The Last Stylebender', known to be extremely close with members of the Auckland gym, penned an emotional tribute on social media before taking on Marvin Vettori at UFC 263.

Adesanya put in a superb display, dominating the Italian en route to a comfortable decision victory. Speaking to Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview after defending his middleweight title, he said:

"Before any formalities, like my teammate Brad [Riddell] said, one of our boys, one of the guys that was on his way up to the UFC got murdered. Let's not mince words, he got murdered by some thugs who get to walk around free. But I just want to say Fau Vake, Fau Vake, Fau Vake, I love you man... this fight I dedicate to you Fau. Even in his last spar with me, he whooped my a*s. I have to give you credit for that. Trust me, I am never going to get that one back, but I am glad you whooped my a*s in our last sparring."

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Edited by Atharva Papnoi
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