In the beginning of 2012, Blagoy Ivanov was one of the rising heavyweights in mixed martial arts. He had gone unbeaten in eight fights, six of those wins coming by stoppage. Ivanov even beat the legendary Fedor Emelianenko at the World Sambo Championships in 2008. He had all the makings of a future world champion in a major organization. All that almost came to an abrupt halt.
Ivanov and friends went out to a club in Bulgaria to celebrate a group of friends winning a boxing tournament in February 2012. A fight ensued between his group and another group Ivanov said was looking for trouble. As he tried to break up the fight, Ivanov was stabbed under his left armpit.
He immediately started losing large amounts of blood and passed out on the way to the hospital. Ivanov required five surgeries to repair the damage and the surgeons weren’t sure if he would make it. For 86 days, Ivanov lay in a medically induced coma.
Not only did Ivanov (16-1, one no contest) survive the incident, but he came back with a vengeance, winning eight of his nine fights. The hard work paid off: He will make his UFC debut Saturday, taking on former heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC Boise.
“First of all, most of the doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to fight again,” Ivanov told Sporting News, “but the first thing I did when I woke up, I knew that I would fight again and come back stronger physically and mentally than I was before.
“Physically, it was very hard to get in the best shape, but I started getting stronger mentally and physically every day. I think the accident really made me stronger and made me more healthy. I was happy to be able to do even the small things and you don’t realize how happy you can be by doing the simplest of things.”
Going through such a traumatic experience might make someone want to live a normal life. Ivanov didn’t want that. He wanted to continue to do what he loves to do.
“I’ve competed all my life,” Ivanov said. “I started competing at 8 years old. I’ve been doing this all my life and this is what I love to do.”
Since the horrific incident, the 31-year-old has had tremendous success. He became World Series of Fighting (now Professional Fight League) heavyweight champion and made four successful title defenses. Those accomplishments led him to signing a UFC contract in April and being put in a high-profile position for his Octagon debut.
“In my mind, this makes me very happy because the best heavyweights are here,” Ivanov said. “I came here because I want to fight the best guys in the world. I was very appreciative because they give some trust putting me in the main event against one of the best guys in the UFC. It shows that they respect me. I’m glad I’m going to fight him and I believe I’m going to beat him.”