Two days away from a dream opportunity, Sijara Eubanks found herself in the midst of a nightmarish scenario.
After spending six weeks on The Ultimate Fighter 26, and defeating three top women’s flyweight contenders, the stage was set for Eubanks and TUF 26 castmate Nicco Montano to compete for the UFC’s inaugural 125-pound title at the finale show on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas, Nev. But the Wednesday prior to that event, news broke that Eubanks would be forced to withdraw after severe complications caused by her weight cut left her hospitalized.
Eubanks appeared on The MMA Hour on Monday to elaborate on just when she knew she was in trouble and how severe her symptoms were.
“It was the pain in my back and I know from cutting weight after all these years that once your back starts to hurt, you’re in that dehydration phase,” Eubanks said. “And I’ve never had that kind of pain that I was in. And then my ribs and my legs started cramping and I couldn’t really walk without my legs wobbling and feeling weak, and then I started getting delirious. It was tough, because I had to decide if it was truly mental or if my body was really telling me something’s wrong.
“Because it’s one thing to be tough because it’s hot and the sauna’s hot and the sauna’s miserable and the tub is hot, you can tough that out. But I was not sure if I had reached that point where something might actually be wrong. And apparently I had.”
Weight cut drama was nothing new for Eubanks, who struggled to make the 125-pound limit during her time in the TUF house. For her first fight against Maia Stevenson, she had to cut off some of her hair to beat the scale; the second time, she needed to take full advantage of the extra hour that was granted to her after initially missing weight for a fight with DeAnna Bennett.
Ahead of her semifinal bout with Roxanne Modafferi, Eubanks had her easiest cut yet and she hit 125 on the dot for the first time on the show with help from Clint Wattenberg, the Director of Sports Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute. Wattenberg and the UFC PI were not part of Eubanks’s preparation until the last two weeks of this camp, and she said she now regrets not continuing to involve them immediately after the TUF 26 season was over.
It was Wattenberg who made the decision to bring in a doctor to check on Eubanks when she fell ill.
“I had collapsed a little bit there,” Eubanks said. “And I came to and my coaches were with me, Jamal Patterson, and Clint from the UFC PI, and I was like, ‘Just drag me into the sauna,’ because I couldn’t make my way there and they were like, ‘No. If you’re to the point where we have to physically drag you to the sauna, there’s probably something wrong.’ So Clint decided to call ‘Dr. D’ (Jeffrey Davidson) from the UFC and once he got on the phone I kind of knew he wasn’t going to be too happy with the symptoms. And I was like, ‘Naw, just drag me in there. We’ve got five more, don’t tell nobody, just drag me in.’ Dr. D was like, ‘I think she needs her vitals checked.’
“So they called the paramedics and they checked my vitals and my heart rate was just super high and it would plummet when I sat down. When I stood up, my heart rate would shoot back up again. If I was laying down, my blood pressure was good, but as soon as I sat up or stood up, my blood pressure would drop. Then they were like, ‘We’ve got to take you into the hospital and have you tested.’ That’s when I had my little breakdown because I figured once I got brought into the ER, my night was over.”
Eubanks’s assessment was correct. There would be no more cutting weight and presumably no fight waiting for her on Saturday, though she was still doing what she could to stay eligible to compete even if her shot at UFC gold was off the table. Her hope was that she could still book a 130-lb catchweight bout, but the hospital let her know that wasn’t happening.
“What I was trying to ask was, could I just stay where I was and see what we can do at 9 AM at weigh-ins?” Eubanks said. “Give up a percentage of my purse or whatever, but I got to the ER, they drew some blood and was like, ‘No, you’ve got acute kidney failure and we have to get a bag in you.’”
One major difference between managing weight inside and outside of the TUF house is that Eubanks was forced to stay within a certain poundage while filming the show so that she could compete several times in a short span. Her walk-around weight on the outside is typically higher, so her gauge was off when it came time to mark her progress.
“I got a little spoiled in the house, I was cutting from 150 in the house every 10 days, so when I hit about ‘45, ‘42, in training, I was like, ‘Okay we’re good to go, we’re six pounds ahead of schedule,’ Eubanks said. “And I honestly didn’t think it was going wrong until about Wednesday night. I got to 133 and was like, ‘Okay, this is getting tough. Tougher than it normally has been.’ But I was like, weight cutting is about being tough and being mental and getting through it, I know my body can do it, I’ve done it before. So I just reframed and got to about ‘30, ‘30-and-a-half, and I knew something was different.”
Shortly after her hospitalization, it was made official that Eubanks would not be competing in the TUF 26 championship finals (a moment that she described as “heart-wrenching”). Three days later, Eubanks still thought it appropriate to attend the finale show, to support her teammate Bennett and also to witness Montano becoming the first UFC women’s flyweight champion by defeating Modafferi (Eubanks’s replacement).
That moment only cemented Eubanks’s desire to someday wear a UFC title herself.
“My goal is to be the champion,” Eubanks said. “My goal is to fight in the UFC for the rest of my career. My goal is to be the best woman to ever step foot in the cage and I felt like part of my process of moving forward and getting back to where I was is to sit down at the fights and hold my head up and move forward.”