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Russian MMA fighter nearly loses vision, has career ruined after eye-poke

The eye-pokes have become a major treat in MMA community. When some fighters aren't reluctant to use an open palm with spread fingers to bring down their opponent's offensive intentions, the others do it unintentionally. This is the story of a young MMA fighter from Russia Mikhail Kolobegov (9-3), who nearly lost his vision during an eye-poke.

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Mikhail Kolobegov (9-3) is a 28-year-old middleweight from Rostov-on-Don city in Russia, who had a bright future and a nice prospective path laid ahead. But all of a sudden, an unlucky eye-poke has crossed out all those plans in an instant.

Bloody Elbow spoke to Mikhail while he is recovering from the 2nd surgery in a row, and preparing himself for even more.

Misha got himself injured during an ordinary sparring session.

"When it happened, I was in Chechnya. I had a training camp on the base of Akhmat fight club in the town of Gudermes," Mikhail said. "This was ordinary sparring. I worked with a fellow MMA fighter Beslan Ushukov. We were training in the standard MMA gloves."

"I pushed ahead in attack and he was controlling the distance with his hand stretched forward. Suddenly I felt a crazy ache in my head. I felt as bad as my eye was stabbed by the spear. I almost threw up on how bad it was."

"We went to the hospital in Gudermes, where a local doctor told me that I was having both external and internal bleeding in my right eye. He suggested that I should visit an ophthalmologist when I came back home. Unlucky I lost a lot of time while seeking for a good doctor, and finally found one at my home town of Rostov-on-Don. By that moment I started losing the sight and had a black "stripe" that covered half of the vision in my right eye."

His diagnosis, a "subtotal retinal detachment", was a shock, but it wasn't the only unfortunate event that day.

"I used to visit doctors relatively often, that's why I noticed how his face expression changed when I came to the medical examination." Mikhail recalls the row of events. "He said in a serious tone, that I had a retinal detachment. The tone he said it implied I was in a big trouble."

"The doctor added that I can lose vision if nothing is done as soon as possible, and that this could transfer to the other eye."

It isn't easy to find a qualified doctor in Russia, especially if you don't have proper connections and don't know the best specialists yourself. This meant that time was running out from Mikhail.

"The situation happened at New Year vacation in Russia, so I lost much time on seeking for the proper doctor. I moved here and there, visited lost of medical centers. Eventually, I found a doctor at my native city. Later I found out the destiny made me run into one of the best eye surgeons in Russia," Mikhail said.

"I got my first surgery on the 14th of January. They made me Vitrectomy [a surgery to remove vitreous humor from the eye]. Then next one happened after two weeks," he explained. "Now I'm preparing myself for the third one, where they will cauterize my retina with a laser. My doctor says I will need another one surgery to change the crystalline lens. And long after this I will have an eye correction."

Through all this, Mikhail wasn't alone in the trouble, thanks to the thousands of thoughtful people who showed compassion and helped out.

"When it happened, my friend and teammate Boris Miroshnichenko, called me and asked for my card's number. He made a post in the Internet and asked everyone for the help," Mikhail said, unsure if that could help initially. "Surprisingly I got literally thousands of letters with kind words of support, and there were a lot of money that came from people too. I spent about 360 000 Rubles [approx. $4500] on the recent surgeries, and about 60% of this expenses were covered by compassionate people. To say that I'm much grateful to them is the least I can do."

Although he was only beginning his career, those MMA dreams are pretty much over for Mikhail, who barely meets the requirements needed even for every-day life. Even a single hit to the head could bring back all the initial conditions of the injury.

"It's hard to speculate about the future," admits Kolobegov. "The prognosis with such kind of an injury is very cautious. Now I can't lift anything heavy, can't have physical exercises. If someone hits me on the head, the retina will detach again."

"If it was up to me, I want to continue my MMA career for sure. That's what I've been living for. I wanted to win another two or three fights and come to UFC. But of course, it's only a dream for now, because I can hardly see at the moment."

"Well, even if the recovery will go flawless, they likely won't have me after such a bad injury. Everyone knows UFC has extremely strict medical requirements. I want to fight, but I definitely don't want to become blind," he said. "If it's over, I will dedicate myself to the coaching. There are some promising guys at our gym. I'm sure a couple of them have everything on their side to fight in UFC, if they get proper training. Will see what happens."

Surprisingly for someone who dealing with such difficulties, Mikhail doesn't blame anyone for what happened, as he's sure eye-pokes are unavoidable under the current MMA rules.

"You know the gloves we use in MMA have your fingers open," Mikhail said. "Nobody can be protected for 100% from the occasional eye-pokes. Of course I think the deliberate eye-pokes have to be punished by the judges, but the problem is you can't really say if the eye-poke is intentional or it just happened by the chance."

For someone who is only 28, Mikhail accepts what happened with him with a philosophical tranquility of someone much more mature.

"In the end we're all fighters," says Mikhail. "We do accept the risk. When we come into the cage, we risk our health, and sometimes, our very lives. People used to forget this, but that's the truth of our sport."

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