© NIGEL ARMSTRONG/THE GUARDIAN
Following a 17-month layoff due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, Grand Tracadie's Jason Saggo climbs back into the ring on Saturday where he will face off against Justin Salas at UFC 196 in Las Vegas. Saggo said he used the time off to strengthen aspects of his game that needed work.
It has been a long road back for Charlottetown-based UFC lightweight Jason Saggo.
Just days away from a UFC fight in Poland, the Grand Tracadie resident ruptured his Achilles tendon.
That was in March 2015.
Surgery followed. So did a long recovery that involved training with the late Ralph Manning, the well-known UPEI physiotherapist, and Naturally Fit's Jason Mosher.
Now, Saggo is ready to get back in the ring.
He is scheduled to meet Justin Salas at UFC 196 on Saturday in Las Vegas, a card that was also supposed to feature a lightweight championship bout between Conor McGregor and Rafael dos Anjos until dos Anjos sustained an injury this week. At press time Tuesday, organizers were trying to find someone to fight McGregor. In addition, Holly Holm, who scored a decisive victory last year against Ronda Rousey, will go toe to toe with Miesha Tate.
"It has been a long road, but I'm feeling better than ever,'' Saggo told The Guardian. "I cannot wait to get into the Vegas and compete. This was . . . the worst injury of my career and the longest I've been out of the ring.''
Saggo won't soon forget the injury that put him on the shelf, the instant pain he felt as he crumbled to the floor. He was 1-1 at the time in his UFC career.
However, the huge setback was also an opportunity for him to come back better than he was before, to hone his skills.
It also gave him time to work on the mental side of his craft, to re-evaluate areas he needed more work on and to shift his focus.
"I was able to incorporate more striking, to put more focus on Muay thai and straight boxing, just to be able to get the transitions down better. (It allowed me) to flow from striking to the grappling arts, like Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the wrestling.
"Being able to get into the transition part of mixed martial arts is important, so you've got to flow from one part of martial arts to the next. It's got to be an easy flow. You can't just shovel it.''
Those transitions were something Saggo says he struggled with before. He forced it too much. Seventeen months away from the octagon was a chance to fix what wasn't working and get better at what was.
But it wasn't easy. Coming back from such a serious injury, where he couldn't even walk, was physically challenging, to be sure, but like many athletes, Saggo had to battle the mental demons as well. And at some point, he was going to have to test that Achilles tendon.
"When I was initially coming back I was hesitant to move a certain way, basically the same way I moved when I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I was hesitant, but after moving that way over and over and over again, realizing it wasn't going to rupture, I got more and more comfortable.''