I’m back! The “Badger Blog” is back!! Just making a guest appearance to brighten your day and give an insight into what was—and has become—a life-and-death mission into enemy territory for the Badge. Don‘t believe me? Please, read on for a good laugh and possibly some wilderness survival tips thrown in for free.
This journey begins as I rendezvous with Simon “The Slippery Gypsy” Clough at Brisbane International Airport, and after the Badgelorette reminded me to “show the world how tough Aussies are,” Simon and I climbed aboard our flight, destined for Hong Kong. On landing, we took a ferry to Macau, along with Burt Watson, the man that keeps the cogs grinding behind the scenes of almost every UFC. This guy is a workhorse. (You also owe me a hot dog, Burt. Just kidding…but, seriously, I’m coming for it.)
It was late when we arrived in Macau, and what I saw before me was a magical city that looked as if Willy Wonka and a really rich person with a fascination for gold had designed an entire city. Awesome!
With only a few days to settle in before the weigh-ins and fight, Simon and I used the first morning to check my weight and get a short workout in. I was feeling quite good, but as always was looking forward to that moment after making weight where I wouldn’t have to monitor everything I ate.
On the night before the weigh-in, I had a hot Epsom salts bath and took out a couple of kilos, to make it a little easier on myself the next day. I went to bed feeling pretty good. I awoke the next morning to execute the rest of the cut, and along with Simon and another friend who had come to assist, Tim, we slowly took the weight off in the hot bath.
In between baths, I lay in the “Cocoon of Doom,” a mountain of towels between the beds. At the same time I received my doctorate in wilderness survival, after watching endless hours of wilderness survival shows on the only English-speaking channel on TV. I can unequivocally say that your No. 1 priority in a survival situation is finding a water source, and not force protection.
That was a nice segue to talk about how extremely dehydrated I was by this stage. I was deep in the hurt locker, and my last bath was timed perfectly to make the bus on time to be taken to the official weigh-in. I must say, this weight cut was extremely hard! There was no way I was going to miss weight. I had two contractual obligations to the UFC: 1) Make weight of 155 pounds, and 2) Fight.
My last memory in the hotel room was stumbling out of the bathroom, collapsing face down on the carpet and hearing Simon state, “Dude!…You should really get a back, sack and crack wax.” I assure you, passing out to these words, uttered by a man who goes by the name “Slippery Gypsy” would strike fear into the hearts of most men. Luckily, Badgers are fearless, and I was essentially unconscious, so I didn’t get scared.
I stepped on the scales at weigh-in bang on the money at 155 pounds. Even in my dehydrated state, I was energized by the crowd and the atmosphere. I could tell this event was going to be packed. I knew tickets had sold out and couldn’t wait to fight. My opponent, Zhang Lipeng, was a tough fighter, notoriously hard to finish and coming out of a top camp in Evolve MMA. I knew if we both performed, this could well be “Fight of the Night,” and I was itching to get in there.
On fight night, I felt calm—certainly the most relaxed I’ve ever been before a fight. I’ve heard plenty about “Octagon Jitters,” when guys get extremely nervous before and during their first UFC fight. I kept thinking, “I wonder if it will kick in soon, because right now I feel great!”
The preliminary fights seemed to pass in an instant, and before I knew it, I was up. I could hear Burt Watson coming down the hall—“BRENDAN O’REILLY, IT’S GO TIME BABY! WE ROLLIIIIINNNNNNNNN!!!!” I walked down the hallway of the stadium, and the calmness washed over me like a wave. As I walked out, the crowd’s energy was electric. I soaked it up and prepared to jump in the Octagon and get ‘er done!
Round one kicked off, and I stayed mobile as planned. Lipeng seemed to be a linear fighter, and I didn’t want to stand in front of him early. I pushed forward with some jabs, and timed an entry to push him to the cage. I chipped away with some short strikes here as planned, and secured a bodylock, although I didn’t feel as strong as usual in this position. I went for my takedown, but botched it, and Zhang landed in dominant position. I stayed calm underneath and looked for an opportunity to escape to my feet or gain top position. I went for a butterfly sweep, but Zhang kept his base well and I couldn’t quite finish it. Shortly after, I felt him overcommit his weight to one side, and I was able to bridge him off. I finished the round in my opponent’s guard, landing some short ground-and-pound against the cage.
Round two started much the same. However, by this stage, I could really feel the effects of the cut. On the outside, I didn’t feel too bad, and in hindsight I feel I really should have kept the fight there the entire time. In the clinch, however, it was a different story. I’m usually a very strong and physical fighter, and even my middleweight The Ultimate Fighter: Nations teammates had commented on how physically strong I was. It seemed the cut had sapped me of any strength or endurance in the clinch. Each time I pushed my opponent to the cage, he was able to circle off almost effortlessly. What was usually a strength of mine was now a highway to the danger zone (Top Gun reference!). Round two finished with Zhang briefly taking my back. Although I didn’t feel in any danger, I was annoyed at how sapped I was feeling.
Round three again started with some striking exchanges, and although I was feeling weak, I still felt the more dominant and confident striker standing. I remember landing a right hand, and sensed that I’d shaken Zhang a bit. It was time to move in for the kill. Once again, perhaps out of habit, or perhaps out of an inability to adapt to changing plans, I shot and pushed my opponent to the cage. I’m not sure why, and it kills me every time I watch the footage. Why didn’t I continue striking?! Again, against the cage I felt myself feeling weak. Zhang circled off the cage, hit a takedown and quickly secured a body lock from back control.
Somewhere in our battle against the cage, a cut had opened on my lip, which by this stage was bleeding pretty badly. With my opponent on my back, I found myself fighting not only to defend chokes and escape, but also to bail blood out of my mouth so I could breathe. The body triangle was tight, and between spitting out mouthfuls of deep red blood like some sort of renaissance cherub fountain, defending chokes, and exchanging some cheeky strikes from a terrible position, the round was ticking away. I was determined he would not get a finish. I refused to quit fighting. I knew what angle I needed to escape, but was finding it hard to get there. And as the buzzer rang, I knew that Zhang had taken the decision. I was so disappointed with what had happened. I never could have imagined what happened, how weak I felt, and how I could see the fight slip away before me.
On the plus side, the fans at Cotai Arena and the Venetian loved the fight, and it took me a long time to make it out of there and eventually back to my hotel. I was glad they enjoyed it, and that loss seemed to gain me more fans than many wins. Still, it’s an extremely disappointing loss. But, as they say, losing sucks, redemption is amazing, and you can’t have one without the other.
Things got really interesting on arriving back to Australia. I had some superficial injuries, stitches inside and outside my mouth, and a black eye. I’ve taken some damage before, but something didn’t feel right in my body. My girlfriend remarked one day that I was looking kind of yellow, which I just put down to bruising, but after a friend who’s conveniently also a doctor saw me and said I was showing symptoms of possible kidney failure, it was time to head to hospital.
I was run through a battery of tests, and they confirmed I’d suffered from Rhabdomyolysis, and my liver was out of whack. Essentially, the hard training, hard weight cut and fight had caused my body to break down its own muscle tissue. This released proteins into my bloodstream and blocked my kidneys, which is why I turned a not-so-flattering lemon color.
Weeks later, I’m still really under the weather and undergoing more blood and urine tests to monitor how I’m recovering. But I am focusing now on getting back to full health. In true Badger style, I’ve tried to do a few training sessions to test the waters, only to feel like I am once again dying. I’ve also received more than one speech from the Badgelorette essentially asking, “When is enough, enough? Will you only stop when you are dead?” Don’t be silly, Renee. We’ve all watched the YouTube sensation “The Nastyass Honey Badger,” and are well aware that Badgers can’t be killed—not by a cobra strike or, in this case, acute renal failure.
One thing is for sure: when I say I will fight to the death, I quite literally mean it. A lot of athletes often state what they are prepared to sacrifice for success, but a more important question is, what aren’t they prepared to sacrifice? Health, and potentially life, is something I believe fighters push the envelope with more than others. Only a week after my fight, Renan Barao had to withdraw from his title fight as he couldn’t make the weight limit, and Henry Cejudo and Charles Oliveira also missed weight. It seems the limit is constantly being tested, and some are paying the price. Perhaps this is a trend we’ll see change soon? I hope it does, before someone actually evaporates into dust (I thought I was about to).
At the end of the day, things really didn’t go to plan in my fight, but I made weight, fought as hard as I could given the circumstances, and showed heart. I didn’t show the skill I’d hoped to, but it will only drive me to do better in my next outing. I can’t wait to be back in the Octagon, but I haven’t been able to get an accurate answer on how long I may take to be back to normal, although it seems I’m looking more at months, rather than weeks, as I’d hoped. Once I recover, I’ll be back stronger than ever and ready to fight more battles, put in better performances, spit more blood and, as always, show the world how tough Aussies are!
I’d also like to take the opportunity to say sorry to my girlfriend, Renee, for turning yellow, being grumpy and scaring you. And also sorry to my Mum for scaring you since I can remember. WOOPSY!
Also, thanks so much to all my fans for support, and my awesome second family at Gamebred Combat Club for always cheering me on and understanding when I have to go away for fights or training. Thanks to my sponsors: Mass Nutrition Chermside, Muscle Connections, Mama’s Boy Apparel, Venum Fight Gear, Renovate Health & Fitness, Gamebred Combat Club and Alliance Jiu-Jitsu.