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C.J. Hancock remembers taking a couple of shots, staggering backward and then falling down.
Then he remembers waking up in the hospital, surrounded by his family. A doctor told him his heart had stopped twice, and he’d been brought back to life by a defibrillator.
“On top of that, the doctor didn’t think I should ever fight again,” Hancock told MMAjunkie. “That was a double-whammy. It was very emotional. Everybody was crying.”
Hancock was in the second round of a fight with Charlie Ontiveros last week at LFA 26 in Houston when his body suddenly shut off. Medical personnel rushed to his aide, administering CPR, and then zapped his heart with electricity. He was rushed to a nearby hospital. By the time he woke up, he had gone through eight bags of saline, the result of severe dehydration and a heart contusion, or heart bruise.
Hancock (2-3) faced Ontiveros (9-5) as a welterweight, his second appearance at 170 pounds after fighting at middleweight and light heavyweight. But unlike that previous bout, in which he dieted down and cut five pounds, he started his weight cut three days from the fight – at 215 pounds.
Welterweight was a division with opportunity for Hancock, which is why he agreed to face the more experienced Ontiveros. LFA is well known as a feeder show for the UFC. He figured with his size, he would have a weight advantage. Maybe the UFC would call.
“When your game is jiu-jitsu, to take the guy down and submit him, it makes it tougher when they’re stronger than you,” Hancock said.
Besides, weight-cutting was nothing new. Wrestling in high school, he cut scores of weight to compete. So when he started feeling he needed to throw up in the sauna before the fight, he just toughed it out like always.
Hancock made weight. To his surprise, he felt much better once he rehydrated and ate following weigh-ins. Not 100 percent, but good enough to fight. No one except those closest to him knew what he’d gone through to make it into the cage at the Arena Theatre. No one from the athletic commission asked how much weight he’d cut (via Instagram):
“Obviously, they know all the guys cutting weight, but they never ask how much weight you’re cutting,” Hancock said.
When he stepped into the cage, though, he felt off. His heart rate started to skyrocket. He couldn’t execute the techniques he’d trained.
“When you get to a certain level, you don’t even have to tell your body to do certain things – it just does it,” Hancock said. “I was telling it to do certain things, and it just wasn’t. It was just giving out on me.”
Did he think about stopping?
“Yeah, but you can’t do that,” he said. “If you stop a fight, it’s over. I thought if I was mentally tough, my body could take whatever it could throw at it, and apparently I was wrong.”
Life after death
Hancock has been sitting at his Houston home for the past three days. He’s restricted from elevating his heart rate for six weeks. He’s been sleeping a lot.
“I don’t know if it’s the medication, or the shock from dying for five minutes,” he said.
The pain pills his doctor prescribed make the memories of what happened fuzzy. There’s still a big blank spot from the time he fell on the mat until he woke up at the hospital.
Hancock has been cast in interviews as the fighter who died and came back to life. LFA President Ed Soares praised the quick actions of the promotion’s cutman, David Maldonado, and EMTs who worked to revive Hancock. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, which oversees the Combative Sports Program that regulated LFA 26, maintains the commission did its job.
“The TDLR is vigilant in its responsibility for the safety of all combative sports participants,” read a statement provided to MMAjunkie. “TDLR actively maintains an on-going review of its safety procedures.
“TDLR staff and attending ringside physicians followed all matchup, pre-fight, in-fight and post-fight safety procedures during Mr. Hancock’s bout. Our thoughts and prayers are with C.J. and his family for his continued recovery.”
The way Hancock sees it, though, he’s a guy that needs to find out his purpose in life.
“I feel like I’m alive,” he said. “I better take advantage of it.”
For now, that means getting back to his first love of jiu-jitsu. He plans to compete in submission grappling tournaments. He wants to coach more. And he wants to spread the word about the dangers of weight-cutting.
Hancock said the issue is one of the most pressing in the sport. He ventures his career might have gone a different direction had there been additional weight classes in which to compete, as the Association of Boxing Commissions recently voted for. He was planning to compete for another six years – until his heart stopped.
Hancock doesn’t want others to follow in his footsteps. He never wants to have to see those looks on his family’s faces. And yet, he’s finding it tough to say he’s completely done with fighting. Asked whether he might ever return to the cage, he hedged.
“Well, there is a chance, but it would have to be something crazy,” Hancock said. “Like if the UFC offered me a fight against ‘CM Punk.’”