Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita has been outed as the man responsible for aiding one of Australia’s great sporting comebacks this Sunday – when Tyson Pedro returns to the UFC after more than three years out with injury.
Once regarded among the nation’s most promising fighters, Pedro will rewrite the UFC record books when he ends an absence stretching over three years — and as many surgeries — against gritty Texan Ike Villanueva in Las Vegas this Sunday (AEST).
By the time Pedro enters the cage, it will have been exactly 1239 days since the Sydneysider tore his ACL against Brazilian legend Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC Adelaide in 2018.
In UFC history, no fighter has returned after a longer injury layoff.
While former UFC bantamweight champ Dominick Cruz has long been credited with the company’s greatest injury comeback — returning to the cage in 2020 after being outed for over 40 months — Pedro beats even his time by 13 days.
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Yet more than numbers on a page, the Australian’s absence represents a horror run that saw the gutsy light heavyweight endure three major knee surgeries and countless more setbacks — including twice tearing his meniscus in training.
During his time outside the cage, Pedro has also worked as a delivery driver, a sparring partner for Paul Gallen, become a father, bought a restaurant, started up a beer label, Drink West, with UFC heavyweight Tai Tuivasa and even spent time competing in triathlons in a bid to get his body right for a return.
However, the biggest blow came midway through his hiatus, and during a conversation with close mate and Sharks enforcer Fifita, who remarked that Pedro’s initial ACL surgery was not healing like it should have been.
“There was a certain point in my recovery, about 18 months in, where we were talking about what I could and couldn’t do,” Pedro recalls.
“And he (Fifita) said to me ‘bro, this isn’t right … you should be able to do (a lot more) by now’.”
So concerned was the Cronulla prop, he immediately booked Pedro in for an appointment with the Sharks NRL medical team.
“He wanted me go see the Cronulla physio, and got me in to see him,” the fighter continues.
“And it was so lucky he did.
“Because the Sharks eventually sent me off to a different surgeon who said my ACL, it wasn’t in the tunnel properly.
“And this was after 18 months recovery.
“The new surgeon told me they could do (an operation) which would sort of support the knee or they could start from scratch again.
“So we started again from scratch.”
Which had you feeling what?
“There were some tears,” Pedro concedes after having to undergo a second ACL surgery, and recovery.
“Throughout my entire time out, that was definitely the toughest point – having to start over.
“But (Fifita and the Sharks) were absolutely amazing … they’ve really been instrumental in me getting back here.”
Previously in the UFC, the greatest comeback from injury was that of Cruz, the former bantamweight champ who endured two major layoffs in his Octagon career — the latter of which lasted 1226 days.
Elsewhere, UFC greats like Brock Lesnar, Miesha Tate and Georges St Pierre have all had longer layoffs between fights, but none of those were because of injury.
Asked about breaking the record, Pedro said: “I actually wanted to find that out.
“I knew Dominick Cruz had a massive lay off too but I didn’t know if anyone else had been out for over three years.
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so proud of myself – not folding.
“It’s almost bringing me to tears now talking about it.”
In preparation for his return, Pedro initially began training camp in Dubai with Australia’s favourite heavyweight Tuivasa, before returning home for a stint at Alexander Volkanovski’s gym in Windang. While there, he also trained with members of Auckland’s famed City Kick Boxing team when they visited, including fellow light heavyweight Carlos Ulberg.
To round out preparations, Pedro headed north to Brisbane and the Gold Coast, where he sparred heavyweight brothers Justin and Junior Tafa.
Asked if there was even a sense of pride that came with his new UFC record, Pedro replied: “F…ing oath, man.
“No one knows how tough some of those times have been for me.
“It’s been rough.
“But I just can’t wait to get back in there now.”