Jason Saggo’s last appearance in the Octagon came on October 4, 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he dropped a razor-thin split decision to a UFC newcomer named Paul Felder. Six months later and two weeks before returning, the Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island resident suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in training, forcing him out of action and onto the sidelines.
Now, after almost a full year spent recovering and reexamining the set of tools he carries with him into the Octagon, the 30-year-old lightweight is ready make his return this weekend at UFC 196 in Las Vegas.
“I like what Conor McGregor said,” began Saggo, speaking with Keyboard Kimura last week about the long road back and what he learned about himself while recovering from such a devastating injury. “He said, ‘When you get injured, it’s not only a process of recovery; it’s a process of discovery,’ so I feel this whole year forced me to re-evaluate my game and focus on aspects of MMA that perhaps I was neglecting before.
“Physically you’re unable to (do things), which is good because I almost needed to physically be removed from the gym. If I could be there, I would be there, so to have that injury and say, ‘Now is the time you need to stop, slow down, re-evaluate,’ II was forced to do that. I think overall, I came back a way stronger martial artist and I’m planning on showing that March 5th.”
It may sound strange to some, but often times, significant injuries such as the one that forced Saggo to the sidelines are a blessing in disguise for fighters.
In a sport where you’re paid per appearances and based on performance (win money, potential bonuses), there is a tendency to push through minor aches, pains and much worse at times, taking the “tape it up and go” approach. Getting in the cage and collecting a pay check is often prioritized ahead of taking care of ones body, but that can result in existing injuries being aggravated or exacerbated, as was the case with the returning Canadian competitor.
“Your body is like a machine and if you’re always red-lining it, abusing it all the time, it’s just going to break down,” offered Saggo, who will take on Justin Salas in the second bout of the evening Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. “Basically, I wasn’t taking care of my body the way I should have – I was over-training and that’s what happened in my last fight. I was already going to physio for my Achilles going into my last fight, so I needed that time to let my body heal up.”
The time away not only allowed Saggo to let his body heal, but also provided ample time for the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt and dedicated yoga practitioner to reflect on his first two Octagon appearances, both of which came on Canadian soil.
He made his promotional debut at UFC 174 in Vancouver, earning a first-round submission win over Josh Shockley and a big round of applause from the early arrivals at the Rogers Centre in June 2014 before taking part in the organization’s inaugural Maritimes events four months later, falling short in what was pretty much a coin-flip fight with Felder, who has since gone on to establish himself as a Top 25 fighter with Top 10 potential.
And in doing so, Saggo was able to identify an important difference between the two contests and made the necessary corrections to ensure the preamble to Saturday’s showdown with Salas and the fracas itself are more enjoyable than his October 2014 outing in Halifax.
“The two biggest differences between my first UFC fight and my last UFC fight are that the first one was an enjoyable experience – I went in there, didn’t put any pressure on myself; it was always a career goal of mine to get into the UFC,” said Saggo, who carries a 10-2 record into this weekend’s festivities. “And then the second fight, I started putting unnecessary pressure on myself and it wasn’t an enjoyable experience; I wasn’t having fun.
“This fight, I’m back to enjoying the process and I think that will be the biggest difference at UFC 196. Vegas being “The Fight Capital of the World,” it’s going to be an awesome experience to go out there. It’s a crazy place, so I’m excited just to be a part of this card.”
Having endured an horrific injury that has altered or halted the careers of countless athletes, Saturday will be an exhilarating experience for Saggo, win or lose, and it’s one he’s looking forward to in a major way.
“Going from not being able to walk for about six weeks to fighting on the big stage in Las Vegas at UFC 196 is incredible,’ he said with a laugh. “It will be a very triumphant moment to know that I went through that adversity.”