Josiah Harrell’s first UFC fight week ended up being a wild one. The ‘Muscle Hamster’ got the call to take on rising welterweight star Jack Della Maddalena on just six days notice, after top-ranked Renzo Gracie Philly prospect Sean Brady was forced off the UFC 290 PPV due to injury. For most fighters, the call up to the ‘big show’ is a blessing all on its own. For Harrell, however, it may well have saved his life.
Pre-fight medical checks revealed a rare brain disease called Moyamoya Syndrome. The disease causes artery blockage at the base of the brain and carries a high risk of stroke for those who suffer from the condition. UFC president Dana White took some time to reflect on the news, noting that medical requirements on the regional MMA scene clearly aren’t stringent enough.
“If you took the 23 years that we’ve been doing this and you saw how many people we found with problems that probably shouldn’t have been fighting, even kids that wanted to get into The Ultimate Fighter, it’s everything, and it’s insane that this goes on out there,” White told reporters at a UFC 290 pre-fight press conference.
UFC fighter Josiah Harrell releases statement
Fortunately for Harrell, by most accounts, Moyamoya is very treatable. Stanford Healthcare’s FAQ about the disease notes that most patients who undergo treatment recover within a few weeks of the procedure, and that it’s unusual for sufferers who do have surgery to retain an increased risk of stroke. Harrell is expected to undergo treatment in the near future.
In a recent post on his Instagram, the fighter gave a rundown of everything that’s happened since getting to Vegas, noting that he is set to “be a lab rat for a while,” and doesn’t have a timetable for his return to competition, but does expect to be “back up and running asap.”
Text has been edited for clarity
“We will be back,” Harrell wrote.
“Small bump in the road. We did everything on our side. Got all of our medicals redone this week:
“Check out on all of them, except something came up in the MRI scan that they wanted me to make sure was nothing serious. Turns out I have a brain disease that is treatable and will be back up and running asap.
“Sorry to everyone. I know you either wanted to see me get my head beat in or wanted to see me with my hand raised. I have very little information on what’s going on, but I do know I’ll be a lab rat for a while (💪🏻🐹), which is fitting.
“Even though we had a 6 day notice, even though we had media obligations, paperwork, medical shit, we still did everything on our side. Made weight and it was still after making weight where I was woken up and rushed to get more medical shit figured out. Once we figured that out we didn’t get the news till about 2/3pm. No complaints. Tell me what I have to do and it will get done.
“A wild week, a wild life,” Harrell continued
“I will get better. I’ll keep y’all updated on the process. Thank you for all your prayers and love. We will heal up quickly.
“Love you ✊🏽”
No word yet as to whether Harrell will remain on the UFC roster. The fighter’s profile has been removed from the “Active” section of the UFC’s online roster, and the promotion has had a long history of releasing athletes who fail to make it to the Octagon for their debut bout, especially after being signed on short notice.
Moyamoya case stopped UFC career of Vince Murdock
Back in 2019, Vince Murdock was all set to make his own UFC debut. The then 28-year-old was signed as a short notice replacement for UFC on ESPN 3: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos for a featherweight bout against Jordan Griffin. Much like Harrell, two days before fight night, Murdock underwent an MRI, which uncovered a blockage in an artery at the base of his brain. After months of testing, Murdock was diagnosed with Moyamoya syndrome.
“I just kept thinking each test result was going to tell me, ‘It turns out your body’s fine.’ But that’s never been the case,” Murdock admitted in an interview with MMA Fighting. “They told me I have Moyamoya and I was like, ‘What the f—k, what’s that mean?’ They’re like, ‘Brain surgery’s the only way to fix that,’ and I think that’s when it all kind of sunk in. For a long time I was just hoping that nothing would happen, I guess.”
In 2021, Murdock made an explainer video, detailing Moyamoya and the process to getting the syndrome corrected.
Obviously, Murdock’s debut had to be cancelled, and with it (alongside a USADA suspension) the promotion passed on bringing him back for a future fight. To the UFC’s credit, when Murdock was ready to compete again, just under a year-and-a-half later, he immediately got a chance to compete on the Contender Series.
When that result didn’t got Murdock’s way, he was brought back again as part of the cast of season 29 of the Ultimate Fighter, losing to eventual season finalist Brady Hiestand in the semi-final round of the bantamweight tournament. Since then, Murdock has competed only once more in MMA, losing to Usama Rahman in a 2022 bout with Total Warrior Combat.
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