01 Jan Eric Spicely opens up on UFC release, antidepressants after severe concussion in Deron Winn fight
Eric Spicely holds no grudge against the UFC and expects to fight his way back into the octagon after the promotion recently released him from contract.
“I have no regrets,” he told MMA Fighting on Monday. “I didn’t sh*t talk the UFC. I understand what’s going on. I didn’t fulfill my contractual duties, and I can only go forward from here and be positive.”
Spicely said he was pulled from the fight after he “miscalculated” his weight cut, arriving on fight week over 20 pounds heavy for a scheduled bout against Markus Perez at UFC Vegas 5.
“I didn’t know what to expect, and it just went wrong,” Spicely said. “I thought I could get the weight off, but I couldn’t. I made weight on six days’ notice last time, so I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem making weight.”
The veteran middleweight attributed his struggle to a regimen of anti-depressants he started over six months ago to treat symptoms of a “really bad” concussion he suffered in a June 2019 loss to Deron Winn. He said he was unable to go outside for one month after the fight and was severely depressed afterward.
The medication helped Spicely return to training after a long period of listlessness, but he said it turned his body against him on the week of the event.
“I’ve been fighting for a long time, and it was just after the Deron fight, I had a concussion for so long, and I was just so depressed after, I started taking medication,” he said. “Naturally, with a lot of them, one of the side effects is you start gaining a lot of weight. It’s very hard to lose weight. So I’ve been trying to figure it out, and the weight cut just went f*cking south for the first time in my career.”
Even before Spicely showed up, things had already started to go south. He lost both of his corners when they were denied entry into the country from Canada, where he trains at the famed Tristar Gym in Montreal. Due to the quarantine requirements of the UFC’s COVID-19 policy, he improvised training by propping his mattress against the hotel wall.
Nevertheless, Spicely and his team pulled out all the stops to make weight. His manager, Daniel Rubenstein, secured octagon veteran Tom Lawlor as a corner, and a rep from Lockhart and Leith, UFC weight-cutting specialists, helped during his cut.
At one point, Spicely went up to 220 pounds, so he stopped taking his medication and reported a five-pound loss. Meanwhile, Rubenstein negotiated a 195-pound catchweight fight.
On Thursday at 10 p.m., the manager said, Spicely reported multiple blackouts and, at 210 pounds, anxiety attacks in the bath. After switching to a portable sauna, the fighter said he’d lost one pound in two hours, but added, “I feel less like I’m dying.”
Twenty minutes later, Spicely reported another blackout, and Rubenstein said he called the fight. Spicely said the UFC’s doctor, Jeff Davidson, also recommended against cutting more weight.
“They were in my corner,” Spicely said. “They went to bat for me. My manager went to bat for me. There was nothing we could do.”
Spicely said he apologized via email to Maynard and offered to change his medication so he could fight without issue. But when he landed in Montreal, he got a text from Rubenstein with word that he’d been released.
After the Winn loss was awarded “Fight of the Night,” Spicely thought he’d impressed the UFC enough to earn some job security; he was told he could fight out the remaining three bouts on his contract. His previous stint ended on a three-fight skid.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to anything,” he said. “I don’t think that I’m being treated unfairly. It’s a bummer, but it’s the way the cookie crumbles. It’s unfortunate. I haven’t fought in one year, I haven’t made money. I was supposed to fight in March, but the coronavirus happened and the fight got canceled, and they said they’d rebook me soon. This is the first fight they’ve rebooked me, and it’s been a hard one, for sure.”
Despite the physical and psychological consequences of his career, Spicely said his goals haven’t shifted at all. Admitting his use of anti-depressants helped him discover his journey isn’t unique.
“Once I started the medication, everyone saw a complete change in me and my attitude and my emotions,” he said. “I feel so much better. I’m telling you, I think this might have been ‘Fight of the Night’ with Markus Perez. If anything, everyone’s been very supportive of it. It hasn’t been a bad thing.
“I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, so getting punched in the head is only going to make that worse. It’s not like it’s just from this or it came out of nowhere. I think you’d find 95 percent of fighters – maybe that’s a high number – or 75 percent of fighters are struggling with the same thing. And I know they are – they’ve reached out to me. They’ve thanked me for speaking about it because they didn’t have the courage to speak about it. This is what we signed up for. This is what I love. I’m not ready to give up yet. I know what the consequences are, just like everyone who plays football and everyone who does a contact sport. We all know the consequences, but the heart wants what the heart wants.
“I think for most people, it’s a dirty secret, and even for me, I probably should have started taking them a long time ago, but I didn’t want to admit to myself there was an issue, or I was embarrassed. The response that I’ve gotten is just so overwhelming and positive, and even when I started them and I told my coaches and friends, it was like, ‘Yeah, OK, it’s normal.’ A million people are going through the same thing, and it’s not that big of a deal.”
Spicely said the “old” him would have taken his second release as a mortal blow. Now, he just looks at it as another setback to overcome. He’s ready to move on. First on his list of priorities is a way to support himself on his way back.
“I literally have no money in my bank account, so I have to figure out how I’m going to work, and I can’t work in Canada because I’m not a citizen,” he said. “But this is where I train, so it’s going to be interesting.”