The toughness of Burgos (14-3) is well documented. The talented New York native has built a reputation as one of the most durable fighters on the roster during his rise into the UFC featherweight rankings. Surely, that inner fortitude was instilled by his family and some tough years as a youth living in Monroe projects in the Bronx. But it seems that back surgery as a teenager might have also helped to shape his unbreakable will.
Burgos discovered MMA as a 15-year-old in ninth grade, however, just six months later he found out an ongoing issue with scoliosis required surgery. A surgery that was expected to put an end to any hopes he had of becoming a professional fighter.
Shane Burgos’ MMA career almost ended six months after it started
“For most of you that don’t know, scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. Ninety percent of people have it, but my [spine] was like a question mark basically. It when from 24-degrees to 49-degrees within a year when I hit my growth spurt. That’s when the doctors said, ‘We’ve passed a point of you wearing a brace. We don’t have any other options,’” Burgos told UFC announcer Brendan Fitzgerald on his Fitz Nation podcast.
“‘You can either get the surgery or it’s just gonna get dramatically worse over the next couple of years and you’re eventually gonna be disabled’ — for lack of a better word,” he continued. “I got the surgery in tenth grade, and the doctor said you’re probably never going to train again. I [was like], ‘I just found MMA, you’re telling me now I’m never going to be able to train again? Okay, whatever you say.’ I was crying about it. I was f*cking pissed. I was really upset.”
Shane Burgos: ‘I woke up and it was like I was paralyzed. I could not move‘
The procedure was a serious undertaking to correct significant issues in the 16-year-old’s back. And with serious surgery also comes a just as consequential a process to recover. A process Burgos still considers as one of the toughest challenges in his life — which is saying something for a man who’s been in a cage fight with the likes of Calvin Kattar and Edson Barboza.
“It was probably the worst recovery process I’ve ever had,” he recalled. … “It was bad. I was in tenth grade, I had to miss a decent amount of school. I was home-schooled for a little bit because I couldn’t really do much. I was in and out [after surgery] the first day. … I woke up and it was like I was paralyzed. I could not move. The pain was so f*cking bad. I had morphine, and if I can feel through the morphine you know it’s bad.
“I ended up losing a lot of weight. I left the hospital [weighing] 118, 119-pounds. I was almost six feet [but] imagine me [at that weight]? I had a bite of bread the entire time I was in the hospital. It was miserable,” he continued. “I got home and I couldn’t bathe myself. I had to wear my f*cking underwear in the bath tub and my mom had to give me a sponge bath. I couldn’t move. [After a bath] I’d go right back to the bed. That was my life for basically the first week. Until the next week came and I was able to move around a little bit, and my mom stopped giving me baths. So that was nice.”
Burgos recalls the fear of almost needing a second surgery
Unfortunately for Burgos, he was a teen at the time, and they are world-renowned for their poor decision-making skills. Four weeks after surgery he was feeling strong and daring. Instead of playing it cautious and listening to his doctor’s advice, he was already out and about skateboarding, riding a bike, and even back to MMA training.
That nearly became a catastrophic mistake when a grappling session ended with “Hurricane” tied up and his spine making some abnormal cracking sounds. It was serious enough that he went back to his surgeon and X-rays revealed his spine had not recovered properly, and the steel rods that were inserted in his back had not fused to his spine as expected. Suffice to say, his doctor was displeased.
“[The doctor] was pissed, rightfully so, I was an idiot. So he was like, ‘I told you not to do anything.’ I was riding bikes, skateboarding, jumping trampoline, I’m sure all that, plus the f*cking grappling didn’t help,” said Burgos. “So he’s like, ‘I told you not to do anything, so now this is what’s gonna happen, if this get’s any worse, you’re gonna have to do another surgery.’ And I started balling, and [saying], ‘No, no, no, no,’ because that was the worst week of my life. I was like, ‘I swear to God, I won’t do anything.’ I didn’t do sh*t until I saw him again.”
Fortunately for the current father of two, an X-ray three months later showed the rods had fused and he was on the necessary path to recovery. Eventually, he returned to training, and the rest is Octagon history.