It didn’t take Soa Palelei long to realize the severity of an injury he thought he could fight through.
Prior to his preliminary-card bout with heavyweight newcomer Nikita Krylov (15-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) at this past Saturday’s UFC 164 event, Palelei (19-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) said his doctor diagnosed a rib injury and recommended he take a cortisone shot or prescription painkiller to get through the fight. But he didn’t get a full diagnosis, and taking a drug probably would have gotten him in trouble with the athletic commission overseeing the bout, anyway. So he held off.
Over the summer, Palelei, whose sole UFC bout came all the way back in 2007 and ended via TKO loss, was devastated when the promotion pulled him from a fight at UFC 161 with up-and-comer Stipe Miocic. He couldn’t bear giving up a second chance.
“I worked so hard for the last three years to get to my position now,” Palelei told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “We had got all the fans, and we’d made all our trips with the cornermen, and paid for their fights. It was one of those fights where I’ll get in there and try to get it done as quick as I can.”
And it was a decision he came to regret. As he powered into a takedown early in the first round of the fight, Krylov’s knee slammed into his ribs. From then on, his chief opponent was excruciating pain.
“There was pain every time I set up a position on the ground,” Palelei said. “Usually if I’m on top, I can finish it from there, but I had no power on my punches. It was just one of those fights that you think, ‘God,’ and just push through it.”
He had help on that front from his cornerman, who was picked up by cageside mics telling him to ignore his ribs and keep driving for a finish. But getting a finish seemed nearly impossible to Palelei.
“It was hard to throw a left hook, and my left hook is my best power punch,” he said. “Every time I threw a punch, it felt like my rib was digging through my heart. It was so painful. When he was throwing punches, it’s not that I [didn't want] to punch back. It was just the pain.”
Luckily, Palelei also had some help from his opponent, who seemed at times to be in even worse shape. By the third round, Krylov was running on fumes and easily taken to the mat, where he gave up mount. Early in the fight’s final frame, the Russian succumbed to Palelei’s weakened punches.
“I think if [Krylov] did end up on top of me, there’s no way I would have got him off because I would have had to push and turn,” Palelei said. “I’m happy to get the win, but I’m not happy with my performance.
Neither was the UFC brass, or, for that matter, the bulk of MMA fans who saw it streaming on Facebook. After the pay-per-view card, which took place at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center, UFC President Dana White called Palelei’s fight “embarrassing” and sloppy.” Like most who watched the heavyweights, he thought the pair was dreadfully out of shape.
While that wasn’t the case for Palelei, the 36-year-old fighter isn’t upset at being raked over the proverbial coals.
“Any criticism is something you can take on board, whether it’s positive or negative, and learn from it,” he said. “But it was one of those fights. I don’t blame Dana White for giving me that kind of criticism.”
Palelei immediately went to the hospital following the event and was diagnosed with a fractured rib. He spent one sleepless night in Milwaukee before returning to the hospital the day after the event.
“They gave me some good painkillers, and I’ll just rest it now and get better and make sure that the next time I fight, I’m 150 percent,” he said.
While he understands the UFC might not be anxious to get him back in the cage as soon as possible, Palelei is open to whatever timetable the promotion has to offer, provided he has time to heal up. He said he needs six to eight weeks to recover from his rib injury, but he welcomes the idea of fighting in December at an event planned to take place in his native Australia.
“I just want to keep fighting and improving,” Palelei said. “I want to apologize to all the fans out there. It’s a thing that you can’t control. It looked sloppy, but no excuses. Next time, I’ll come in better and stronger.”
For complete coverage of UFC 164, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.
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