Local MMA fighter feels rejuvenated after neck surgery, first UFC victory

David Mitchell is back on the UFC radar. He is not just another MMA guy anymore. He is now being tracked, watched, judged. Mitchell won his first UFC fight in Chicago on Jan. 27. He beat this other welterweight from Sweden, Simeon Thoresen, at the United Center. People surrounded Mitchell, asked him for his autograph, treated him like a celebrity.

"I never had been asked for my autograph before," said the Santa Rosa resident. "It was really cool. People actually were interested in what I was doing."

Those people would have been even more interested to know how Mitchell got there. In the 17 months preceding the fight, Mitchell had experienced so much pain and suffering, he came close to quitting the sport. He battled through depression, doubts, loneliness. Truth to tell, the Thoresen fight itself, that was probably the easiest part of those 17 months.

MMA Fighter David Mitchell


The toughest part? Looking at that piece of paper in March 2012.

You will not hold the surgeon or the hospital liable if something goes horribly wrong, like loss of speech, paralysis or death. Mitchell remembers reading those words, or words to that effect, before he signed the release form. He was going to have neck surgery at Sutter Pacific in San Francisco and he knew neck surgery was tricky, risky business. He had heard the stories. And then to see those words on paper, Mitchell took a big gulp and knew what he had to do.

"The day before surgery," said Mitchell, 33, "I jumped on my mountain bike and spent the whole day riding in Annadel. I didn't know what was going to happen."

Mitchell was a professional athlete, a mixed martial artist under contract to the Ultimate Fighting Championship folks. To think that this body he had trained so well that exercise to him was as natural as taking a breath, that it was even possible he would have to drink his dinner through a straw, all that gave him a chill.

As if he had a choice.

"If you had reached over and placed your finger on my head like this ..." he gently applied his right index finger to my knee, "... I would have screamed from the pain."

Mitchell had no strength in the left side of his body. He was in constant pain. It had begun as numbness and weakness three years earlier and gradually worsened. Most people would have seen a doctor long before Mitchell did. But he is an MMA guy, under UFC contract, and so on Aug. 27, 2011, he fought in Rio de Janeiro. He had no choice.

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