Yun-Jun Lee is considered as one of the best fighters coming out of Asia. The South Korean, who has a record of 11-2, is the current Road FC bantamweight champion. He last moved up a division and defeated UFC vet George Roop to extend his winning streak to 9 straight bouts.
Prior to that, he beat featherweight champ Mu Gyeom Choi in a non-title super fight at 145 lbs, essentially cementing himself as the one of the best in two divisions. Everything seemed to be clicking for the promising Korean star, until an unforeseen health issue derailed everything.
About a month back, Lee was at home when he suddenly felt dizzy and started vomiting. Shortly after, he collapsed and eventually woke up in the ICU.
Doctors revealed that Lee suffered a stroke, which was then diagnosed as an acute cerebral infarction. It's a result of having blockage in the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain, with one out of three cases resulting in death.
"At first I was very scared. I thought, 'Am I going to die?'" Lee said. "'What if I can never fight again?' was also in my mind."
Lee woke up paralyzed on the right side of his body.
"I could think and I was conscious, but I couldn’t move my body like I wanted," he said. "Fortunately I got to the hospital quickly and they did a punching procedure through the clogged vessels, and my arm and leg started moving as usual."
A pro athlete since 2010, Lee has always lived a healthy lifestyle. He trains hard, eats healthy, never smokes, and only drinks alcohol on rare occasions. The doctors weren't able to give a specific reason for the stroke, making it all a bit tougher to accept for the talented fighter.
"During the fight camp (against Roop) I got an elbow injury, so I wasn't even sparring that much. It was technique-oriented training," Lee said, claiming he never even took a single hard shot while preparing for the UFC vet. "I heard from my doctor that blood vessels from somewhere else in my body could be blocked or have some problem."
"So there could be a bottle-neck of the blood vessels in my neck, but a specific reason for the acute cerebral infarction couldn't be found."
Apart from paralysis and spasticity, it isn't uncommon for cases from this type of stroke to deal with problems with pain, balance, vision, and hearing.
Lee has since improved enough to be released from the hospital, but the issues stemming from the stroke are far from over. He is getting better, but the recovery and recuperation is expected to be a long and strenuous process.
He has also since decided to relinquish his Road FC title, but despite all this, he still wants to eventually be able to continue his MMA career.
"I feel bitter. The title is important but what I mind more is losing my goal. I was living for only one goal my whole life, and now that goal has disappeared. It's difficult to accept," he said. "But never mind, I am tough. Somehow I will return and get back my championship belt."
"I want to tell ROAD FC thank you for supporting me and that I’m really sorry," Lee said, revealing how grateful he is that the promotion paid for his medical expenses. "I want to make a fast recovery and return to my life as a fighter. I want to practice with all my teammates again. I will return to the place I'm meant to be."
"I will try not to give up on that day. Until then, please wait for me."
Yun-Jun Lee just turned 28-years-old this month.