The first time I spoke to him, he was detailing the reason why he was forced to withdraw from his Dana White’s Contender Series bout with Miguel Baeza last summer. About a week before the bout, Brahimaj received an alert from the UFC medical staff that his MRI revealed an irregularity and that he would need to see a neurologist for further clearance.
Brahimaj was told that best case scenario, the irregular finding was a cyst. The worst case? That the half-dollar sized mass was a tumor.
“I get into the neurosurgeon’s office and I was hoping for good news, but I’m also a person that I prepare myself for the worst news, as well, just for anything that hits me in life,” Brahimaj told UFC.com last July. “So sure enough, the neurosurgeon goes, ‘Hey, this is not a cyst; it’s a tumor and we’ve got to get it taken care of because the last thing that we want is for this thing to rupture from a fracture or a break in your orbital. You’ll be blind in your left eye.’”
And even though the news was crushing, Brahimaj didn’t even consider letting negativity creep into his mind.
“It was one hundred percent disheartening,” he said. “It was a sobering moment and it was a big wake up call. It showed me that you can’t take things for granted. It definitely hurt, but one thing about me is that I’m from the Bronx, New York. We’re bred tough. One hundred percent I’m going to be in the UFC , I know it and I’m sure of it.”
Fast forward to this week. Brahimaj is tumor-free and set to make good on a promise that he spoke into existence a year ago.
“It’s ridiculous when you think about it. A year ago, I had the biggest opportunity of my career ripped away from me,” Brahimaj said. “But I said I would be back, and I said I would make it to the UFC. Nothing was going to stop me from persevering and beating that tumor.”
In mid-September, surgeons removed Brahimaj’s left eye and removed the tumor through the eyelid. The surgery was a complete success and put the 27-year-old on the path to recovery. In February, he was told that he was cleared to participate in all forms of training, contact included.
It was a moment Brahimaj won’t forget.
“There was just so much unknown. I was truthfully at the mercy of the known,” Brahimaj said. “To know that I beat it is something I can’t describe in words. The whole year was an emotional rollercoaster because if anything had gone wrong, the landscape of my life would be completely different.”
On Saturday, Brahimaj will make his UFC debut against Takashi Sato. When I start to ask Brahimaj about his upcoming matchup, he can’t help but get emotional.
“This is a long time coming, and by the grace of God and by his decree it will be the little bit of freedom that I have. I’ve prepared for everything and I’ve trained my hardest for this,” Brahimaj said. “For the first time in a long time I will have 15 minutes of freedom. I finally will get to enjoy myself, and especially after what happened to me in the past year, I just can’t wait to do what I love.”
Photo via @ramizb170 on Istagram