Pete Spratt is a welterweight known for his appearances in the UFC and on The Ultimate Fighter 4 reality television show. Always a good guy, Pete recently spoke with FightMedicine about his biggest injury as well as his most emotional moment as a professional fighter.
FightMedicine.Net: What would you say was the biggest injury you have sustained during training or fighting and how did you deal with it?
Pete Spratt: The biggest injury I have sustained in fighting has to be the recent ruptured thumb
tendon from my last fight in Brazil. I remember feeling a pain in my thumb in the 1st round and when I came back to my corner in between rounds, I looked down at my thumb and it was swollen pretty huge!
What was your doctor’s role, if any, in treating your injury?
My doctor’s role was to diagnose the extent of the injury and repair it if necessary!
How did you rehab from your injury and do you feel any lingering effects?
I did my rehab with Airrosti Rehab Centers with Dr. Brian Ellsperman. My rehab comprised of soft tissue manipulation, range of motion (ROM) stretching and ice treatment. I do suffer from a lack of ROM and some nerve damage in the tip of my thumb.
The only fight related surgery I have had was this latest injury where I had to have my tendon reattached. This is the only one in a 13 year career!
What would you say is/are the most common, but not mentioned training injury or injuries?
I don’t think there are many common injuries that are not mentioned in this game. Typically a fight cancellation is due to a knee injury in most cases. Some common issues for myself have been hand and wrist injuries.
What do you see as the doctor’s role in helping an MMA fighter and how can the medical community improve their role in MMA?
A doctor’s role in my opinion is to first understand the type of patient they have. Typically doctors like to diagnose a recovery process to the average person not a professional Mixed Martial Artist. Then their role is to diagnose and treat the patient accordingly to ensure a healthy, speedy return to the fighting arena.
Do you have any advice on preventing injuries in MMA or training?
Make sure you train smart and protect yourself with protective gear and supports where needed. Sometimes when I am teaching and training my fighters they ask me, “Do I need a mouthpiece?” I always say, “If you feel like you have to ask then you should probably put it in!” Most injuries occur when you think about protecting yourself and you don’t. Many times I have said, “Man I should have wrapped my hands!” when I banged up a wrist or my hand when I thought about it and chose not to do it.
How has the training for fights evolved over the course of your career and do you see this as increasing or decreasing the rate of fighter injuries? Has the treatment for injuries evolved with it?
As I have gotten older, I have started to pay more attention to what my body is telling me. Sometimes you need to just stop and treat yourself and not make the injury worse. That’s what I have learned. I am not afraid to take a day off when my body is telling me to shut it down. I learned that when I do this my body responds faster to treatment. You just have to be smart about what you are doing to yourself. I think training methods have evolved and treatment as well.
Do you think MMA athletes are driven to overtrain and thus injure themselves in training or come into fights less than 100%?
I totally think that is the case with MMA athletes. I have been a victim of that myself earlier in my career. I train 3-4 weeks for a fight. Any longer than that I tend to regress in training, I start to get banged up here and there and have all these little injuries. 3-4 weeks puts me right at my peak! A lot of times MMA athletes do this because it is a need to pay bills and this supplemental income (if they have a day job) will be the only way to make ends meet.
Do you think MMA as a whole is a safer place to fight than it was when you first started?
Yeah I think MMA as a whole is safer! I haven’t seen many MMA athletes with extensive brain trauma, slurred speech or slower reaction to normal stimuli after a long MMA career. Boxing on the other hand is a different story. Most boxers have this trauma after a long career due to repeated blows to the head. In MMA if you get dropped and pounded on they will stop the fight. In boxing they will step in, give you an 8 count and send you back out to get pounded in the head some more.
How has fighter safety changed during that time?
Fighter safety has changed a bit with the referees because they are more apt to stop a fight too early than waiting too late. I have seen many stoppages that the referee probably could have given the fighter a chance to come back. But the rules are very clear, if you are not intelligently defending and turtling up, the fight will be stopped.
Is there any difference between the promotions you have worked with in terms of fighter safety?
I can’t say there is any difference. Most all the promotions try to follow the UFC format with everything they do. I know different provinces in Canada require some more extensive pre-fight testing and exams but for the most part fighter safety is most important will all promotions!
How about differences in substance testing?
If you’re clean, you’re clean. Substance testing shouldn’t be an issue with any fighter. I was never concerned!
What can be done to improve fighter safety?
I think there needs to be change in the way the gloves are made to reduce hand and thumb injuries. I have broken my hand 5 times and my thumbs are always sore after a fight with thumbless gloves!
What can the medical community do to help fighters or MMA as a whole?
I think what you are doing now will be a great help, education and continuing education of fighter related injuries and treatments. Knowledge is key!
What is your most memorable experience in the ring or octagon?
My most memorable experience has to be my fight with the promotion Instinct MMA on December 2, 2011. My grandmother adopted and raised me from a baby. She had been having some health issues. I was schedule to leave for Montreal on a Tuesday and got a call late Saturday night that she had taken a turn for the worse. So I drove 6 hours from San Antonio,TX to my hometown of Sherman, TX to be there for her. I arrived at the hospital around 6am Sunday morning.
I waited at the hospital to speak with the doctor and get the results of her test and to make sure she was out of the woods. By around 3:30 the doc said all her test came back normal and that she would be fine. My family told me, “We know you have to fight this week so you go ahead and go and we’ll keep you posted on her.” I didn’t want to leave because if something happened I wanted to be there but I did leave for my fight.
So I am in Quebec City on my way to the weigh-ins and I get a call from my biological mom telling me that she has taken a turn for the worse and they wanted my permission to put her on a morphine drip to make sure she wasn’t suffering or in pain. I immediately started to cry and gave my permission for the drip and then started to beat myself for leaving her side.
The weigh-in starts and I am just a mess. I keep checking my phone and I got a call from my cousin about 15 minutes later saying “Grandma is gone!”. I couldn’t believe it. I called my mom and asked her if it was true and she said, “Yes baby, she’s gone!” I lost it but had to compose myself to weigh in!
They tried to interview me about the fight and all I could say was “My grandma just passed away.” Through tears I managed to say, “It’s going to be a great fight!”
The next night I won by TKO in the second round!
FightMedicine.Net would like to thank Pete for taking the time to talk with us and share such a moving story. Pete brings up a lot of good issues, including knowing when to train and when to take it easy, as well as wearing proper protective equipment.
When Pete injured his thumb, he ruptured an extensor tendon. Stay tuned to FightMedicine.net for an upcoming article on extensor tendon injuries. Feel free to leave a question or comment!
Jonathan Gelber, M.D. is licensed to practice medicine in the State of California
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