In June, Vince Murdock received the phone call he’s been waiting for since he began his MMA journey nearly a decade ago. He got the call to compete for the biggest fighting organization in the world, the UFC.
As quickly as the opportunity came, it was taken away just days later. Despite not getting the chance to compete against Jordan Griffin in the hallowed Octagon, the call lead to a scary revelation that he may not have known about otherwise.
The 28-year-old Murdock was pulled from his scheduled bout at UFC Minneapolis after not being medically cleared to compete. Not long after, he was flagged by USADA and subsequently suspended for 20-months after finding Cardarine metabolites in his sample.
Murdock wasn’t cleared to fight because he was diagnosed with high-grade cerebral stenosis. As he returned him to California and underwent further testing, Murdock found out that he was dealing with a lot more than just stenosis. In fact, the Team Alpha Male fighter was diagnosed with a rare brain disease called Moyamoya.
“It’s a bit more recent just because the more testing I got, the more praying that I was hoping it wasn’t as serious as they were making it out to seem,” Murdock told The Body Lock.
“It was hard to come to grips with it because at first they said it was a stenosis. They never diagnosed me with anything, they never told me how serious it was. For the longest time, I would go get another test and think, ‘OK, this test will clear me, this will be the one that will further tell me what is going on.’ I didn’t realize how dangerous and serious it was until four or five weeks ago.”
Riding a four-fight winning streak, and victorious in seven out of his last eight, the call from the UFC was a long time coming for Murdock. After Chas Skelly was forced to withdraw from the June bout in Minneapolis with an injury, Murdock got the short-notice opportunity and jumped all over it. The initial details were scary enough, but as he began seeing other doctors and getting further tests, the news became a bit more terrifying — especially when the brain is involved.
“During fight week and the medicals and stuff, they told me that I had a blockage in my brain and thought that my body compensated, that it was normal,” Murdock said. “Surely, it seemed like it was normal since I got this far without any complications to my knowledge. I just thought it would require more testing to make sure my brain was adequate.
“My MRI’s showed that the health of my brain was fine, it showed that it’s not receiving anymore blood flow: meaning that it’s running off of reserves, maybe the right side is making up for the left side. It’s finding ways to compensate, but there’s no direct blood flow to that side of the brain; which was kind of scary to hear at first.”
Murdock has competed in organizations such as Bellator, King of the Cage, as well as other international promotions such as Super Fight League in India. Making his amateur debut in 2010, and turning pro a little over two years later, it has been quite the road for the 15-fight pro veteran. From getting the call to make his UFC debut, to getting some unfortunate news, it was a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least for one of the bright prospects at 145-pounds.
“I can’t explain it — the beginning of the week was the best week of my life, and by the end of the week it was the worst week of my life,” Murdock explained. “All in all, I’m still pretty grateful that I was given the opportunity to get the call and get there. Also, with the UFC being the reason that I found out what was wrong with me. In a lot of ways, it was still a blessing, even though it was upsetting that they found it.”
Moyamoya is a disease that is most prevalent in Japan, according to the Mayfield Clinic — although it has been diagnosed in people all over the world. In the US, the risk of developing the disease is less than one out of 100,000 and most commonly diagnosed in children ages 5 to 15, and adults between 30 and 40.
With Murdock being out of the common age ranges, along with the disease being so rare, one would wonder if his career path would have a hand in the development of the condition. Fortunately, Murdock being a fighter, and an athlete, may have been the biggest catalyst in saving his life.
“That’s been my main question: is this fight related? Because if it’s fight related, that seems pretty scary,” Murdock said. “It’s not impactful and it’s not fight related at all. It’s just genetic is the only thing they can place on that, which seems so weird because I never really noticed anything that stood out other than that I fatigue. I always thought that I fatigued pretty fast compared to my peers or teammates, which would make sense now that my brain needs a higher demand for blood since it’s not getting it.
“I’ve asked numerous times if this could be fight related. What could be the cause of this if it’s not fight related or diet related? They say that the only thing it could be is that I was possibly born with this and, as it’s gotten worse, my body has found ways to compensate. The doctor said that if, say, this happened overnight, it would’ve presented itself as an event, a traumatic experience. He said, ‘You would’ve known the day that it happened because your body wouldn’t have time to compensate that quickly.’ Which is why I was probably born with it.
“They say that being an athlete probably saved my life,” Murdock continued. “The more exercise I do, the more it dilates your blood and allows more blood flow to the brain versus if you don’t exercise, there’s no need to push blood if that makes any sense.”
As a result of the diagnosis, Murdock will require brain surgery — which is scheduled for Nov. 13 at Stanford University. There are so many variables that come into play, including the chance that the lack of blood flow in his brain could lead to a stroke and long term complications. In terms of his emotions heading into the upcoming cerebral artery bypass and craniotomy, it can be compared to the Scales of Justice you would find in a courtroom.
“I’m nervous, but at the same time I want to just have it taken care of,” Murdock said. “I’m symptomatic and I’m a ticking time bomb because I don’t want to get a stroke before the surgery, but I don’t want to get the surgery either. It’s kind of a weird thing.”
As fickle as the MMA community can be at times, one thing is for certain: when someone in the fighting circle needs help, the community comes together in a huge way. For Murdock, that help begins with his team at Team Alpha Male and UFC legend, and current bantamweight Urijah Faber.
The surgery Murdock requires costs nearly $400,000. Faber, along with other members of Team Alpha Male, started a Go Fund Me page to help raise money to offset the extremely high medical costs. The goal of the campaign is set for $195,000, which is around half of the overall cost. As of press time, nearly $23,000 has been raised.
While the community is so strong, Murdock was nervous to ask for help. In fact, he was becoming unsettled about it due to not having the knowledge about such a rare disease.
“Honestly, I just started talking about it because I was embarrassed to ask for help,” Murdock said. “I was embarrassed that if people knew I had a brain, or a head injury, that I would no longer be the athlete. I would be the guy with the brain injury. I didn’t have the answers to the questions that people are asking now.
“I didn’t really want to speak about it too much which is why I haven’t talked about it because I didn’t know how I would combat the questions that would come with it. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to get the support and that it would be a direct reflection of someone’s character. It would’ve been really scary to come out with this and nobody would be like, ‘We’ve got your back.’
“Urijah’s actually the one that stepped up to the plate and said, ‘Hey man, we’re gonna do whatever it takes to get you the help that you need.’ That really stood out and it meant a lot to me. I didn’t know how to talk about it. He told me, ‘Look, this isn’t like getting a new car. This is your health and your brain. That comes first and we’ll figure this out.’ Without that community and that support system, I’m not sure I would’ve been fully equipped to handle a lot of what’s been going on. It’s made me a lot stronger.”
Opening up about the diagnosis proved to be a very hard thing. In a way, not talking about it didn’t make it real. As more and more tests were performed, and the prognosis becoming less and less positive, the feeling of opening up about the disease, as well as the potential surgery, became even more difficult.
“I’ve known for a while,” Murdock explained. “If you look back as far as my earlier post, you can tell that I stopped posting for a while and kind of disappeared on social media. My last interview was at the MMA Awards and it was like, ‘The UFC just requires more tests but I’ll be back in here before you know it.’ It went from me thinking this was going to be taken care of really quick to… as soon as I found out I needed brain surgery, I didn’t know how to answer things and that was kind of that spot that I didn’t know. When I knew I needed that surgery to live, it became more difficult.”
As frightening as the news had to have been, Murdock is handling everything like a world champion. Sporting a positive outlook, and a lack of training due to doctor’s orders, Murdock is finding himself more in touch with his body than ever before.
While he continues to deal with symptoms without the training needed to be a world-class fighter, some of the things Murdock currently deals with has answered other questions he has had within himself as it relates to his body’s past reactions.
“Sometimes I’m nervous to talk about it because I don’t know what I should say or what I shouldn’t say, but my scans say that it’s possible that I experienced some sort of stroke-like activity in my brain,” he says.
“I’ve experienced some things in my past that kind of make sense now with having like a dead arm. I’ve taken [time] off from training because I can’t lose blood flow to my head, I’ve started to feel more symptoms since I stopped exercising. Now I’m really in tune with my body where I can chalk a lot of things up to practice.
“I used to blame everything on a hard day at the gym. I’m banged up? Well that makes sense, I get beat up every f****n day, but now that I’m not doing much — I just have a few clients here and there — I’m really able to pay attention to my body. They’re subtle. My vision gets spotty here and there. I just recently got some blood thinners and that seems to be doing pretty good.
“I don’t think I’m in any serious danger. I think there would’ve been a sense of urgency if that were the case from the doctors. There’s no telling, you know. I’m young enough to where my body has compensated, they just don’t know how long and don’t want to put off the surgery. There’s no telling when my brain will stop making up for that.”
Many would assume that fighting would be the last thing on the mind of Vince Murdock, but those people are probably not fighters to begin with. Fighting is on the top of his mind right now as he prepares for brain surgery that takes place in less than two weeks.
When asked by The Body Lock if he feels his fighting career would be able to continue, Murdock, along with his doctor, feels positive that a return could happen. Of course, how Murdock comes through and reacts to the surgery will lead to a better idea of his MMA future.
“That’s one of the reasons why Stanford… the UFC wanted me to see a University doctor to begin with,” Murdock said. “What I have is really rare and requires me to see a specialist, and Stanford being one of the only places in the world that has, what’s called, a Moyamoya center — which ironically is what I have and it’s right next to Sacramento.
“Depending on how well my body handles the surgery, he sees no issue with me returning to fighting, which is a huge relief. I’ve never been able to be anything other than an athlete. Yes, I realize I’m more than just an athlete, but I’ve always competed. It’s always been my focus, and that was always a scary thing trying to comprehend a life without fighting. He’s confident that if he’s able to perform the procedure and the surgery, and he monitors it, he wouldn’t have a problem clearing me to compete.
“First things first: I can’t have a stroke, because strokes are like a permanent damage to the brain. And two, I have to have the surgery. I have to get the surgery first and see how my body adapts to the new blood flow and stuff like that. I’m just really excited to get back to training. I’m bored as f**k right now.”
Murdock says he has had some tough times over the last year, as he has revealed in past interviews with The Body Lock, and dealing with those has helped position him in a place of positivity as his surgery date gets closer and closer. With the door of a return to fighting, and an opportunity to accomplish his goal of making that walk to the Octagon not completely closed, he has found a fresh, appreciative perspective on his life.
“I don’t want to say I took things for granted because I was really appreciative to be able to compete and have the health to compete,” Murdock said. “I’m always so quick to say how lucky I am to do this sport at this level. If it’s taught me anything, it’s taught me to cherish every second even more. It’s really shown me who’s there for me, your friends. People care and that’s what really stood out. It’s helped a lot.
“Me and my wife, I feel like we’ve grown closer. I feel like she doubled down on all of my dreams, telling me we’ll get through this, constantly reassuring me that this day will pass, this situation will pass and I think it’s how I handle myself during this time is going to make these future parts come to fruition — if it’s fighting, I have to handle these things right now.”
Being a fighter, Murdock is able to take some of the lessons he has learned in preparation for hand-to-hand combat and use. them in his current fight against Moyamoya. Even fighters are human despite doing things many of us can’t even fathom doing.
For example, if we are sick, or have a pain in our bodies we’re not sure about, we seek the answers to our questions via the internet. Even though everyone tells you not to do that, we still do it anyways.
In Murdock’s case, he was having a fight within himself to not get any visual of his upcoming surgery to focus on as much positivity as possible. Like most of us, he pulled the proverbial trigger and got more than he bargained for.
“One second I’m really nervous that I have to go in, but I always try to handle everything the same way,” Murdock said. “Fighting is the same: I don’t like to think about the fight until I handle every situation as I handle it. I don’t want it to be on the back of my mind, thinking about it and it’s f****n eight weeks away and I’m beating myself up over it. I’m treating it like a fight. And it is a fight, just a different kind of fight.
“I try not to think about it too much but last week I YouTube’d the surgery and it is gnarly. I was not pumped to see that. They treat you like Mr. Potato Head and it is wild, man. That is nerve-wracking, some of the stuff that comes along with the surgery is nerve-wracking, but at the same time it’s also nerves to know there’s no blood flow going to the left side [of my brain]. Anytime something could happen. I want to really get it done, I want to get it behind me. Some days I want to get it done right away, others I’m like, ‘Man, I wish we could push the surgery date.'”
When a life-changing event happens, the natural thing to do is take a deep look within yourself and wonder if you have done everything you can do to get the most out of life. Murdock is finding as many silver linings as he can in a very difficult situation and plans to double down on all of those things once his surgery is successful.
The brass ring, so to speak, when it comes to Murdock’s life is a simple one: make good on that career changing phone call he received on that fateful day in June of this year.
“I had to look at this a lot of different ways,” Murdock stated. “I had to think that if this wasn’t found, I could’ve stroked and had some serious complications for the rest of my life, or I could’ve stroked and died. I feel like this has made me a better person, a better human being to other people, more understanding, more compassionate.
“Me needing help realizes the need for other people that need help. It would just be one goal at a time and I’ve always been a goal setter. Ultimately, my goal would still be to see myself compete and, yes, obviously in the UFC. That’s all I’ve ever wanted and that’s still what I want. That’s definitely the goal to get through this, one step at a time obviously, but that’s the goal. I want to be back.”
Murdock has had many fights in his career — 20 to be exact, including his amateur career. With 12 professional victories in his career, none of them will be bigger than defeating Moyamoya, having successful surgery on his brain and living as normal of a life as possible.
With that being said, allow Vince Murdock to offer some advice for people that are going through hardships, dealing with tragedy, or even just a simple bump in the road.
“If there’s anything that you’re going through, it’s not over. It’s never over,” Murdock said. “There’s forks in the road. Any tough thing, everyone’s battle is different but it’s still the battle that they’re facing and it’s never over. Second chance or not, whether you get it or you don’t, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. If I can’t fight again it doesn’t mean that it’s not me. I’m not just the athlete. I’m a husband, hopefully, I’ll be a father someday, there’s many other things and avenues in life. It just means that it’s never over. As someone that’s been somewhat close to it being over — and I’m happy that it’s not — that would be my message: just don’t give up. There’s going to be times to make adjustments and change your plans but that doesn’t need to define you.
“That would be my message: it’s not over.”
If you would like to donate, or at least share the Go Fund Me page to help raise money and awareness of Murdock’s upcoming surgery, you can do so right here.