Heading into the finals, Vinny Magalhaes was the clear favorite in the light heavyweight division Professional Fighters League (PFL) championship bout against Sean O’Connell. He mowed down his previous opponents in the first round. First it was a rear naked choke victory against Jamie Abdallah in the first regular matchup. Then he defeated Brandon Halsey by a head kick and punches to secure the top seed for the playoffs. Then he kimurad both Rakim Cleveland and Bazigit Ataev to secure his place in the finale. But O’Connell had other plans and defeated Magalhaes to win the million-dollar prize.
However, heading into the fight, Magalhaes injured his neck, so much so that he says doctors advised him not to fight. It truly was a last-minute decision as the PFL had a replacement fighter weigh in just in case he decided he couldn’t fight. But after weighing all of his options, he decided to fight hoping that he could land a lucky punch.
“If you look at that fight, I did not attempt any submissions, its not because Sean escaped my submissions, it’s not like he defended it, it’s just cause I couldn’t do it. I had a bad neck injury and it was affecting my arm strength. My best option from there was to take the fight and get rich and potentially get lucky and win an extra 900,000 dollars or I could go there and take a fight and at least walk out with a 100k. So I just took my chance, it was more about taking my chance then throw the whole year into waste.”
During the fight, Magalhaes said his mind was not on winning, it was about his health.
“I was scared, to be honest I wasn’t thinking of fighting, my main concern of during the fight, which is the wrong thing to be thinking of is, I don’t want to be paralyzed.
And according to Magalhaes, it was not a small injury.
“It was not like a small injury, none of my doctors thought I should be fighting. I had a spinal injury. There was compression on my spinal chord and I had loss of strength on my left arm and my left leg. I couldn’t hold anybody with my left arm to try strike with my right if I was on the ground. I couldn’t hold somebody with my right to strike with my left and I had no power to strike with my left. I took my chance not being 100 percent.”
In fact, it was during the fight that he had to make a decision of whether it was worth risking his health to earn a million dollars.
“In the middle of the fight when I went for the takedown, I just felt my arm go numb again and I freaked out. I went three rounds with my arm numb. It go to a point of, it was in no condition, I don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s not worth it. I have kids, I want to make sure to raise kids, spend time with my family, not in a wheelchair, that’s for sure. It’s a lot of money yes, but its not like a lifetime money. A million dollars you can burn that in 3-5 years if you’re not smart with the money. It’s not like money that’s going to change your life. I mean again, there’s always the next year to try and make it again, I just thought it wasn’t worth it.”
Now he will have a chance to win the million dollars as he will enter the PFL for the second time. But it was a last-minute decision on whether he could do it at all. In fact, Magalhaes wasn’t a hundred percent sure he would compete again.
“For two months it was in the back of my mind, I was like, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to. As a matter of fact, I think they wanted to open the season with my weight class. And Ray was nice enough to push my weight class to the last one just so I could fight cause I didn’t know to literally March if I could actually fight. So I just waited to see how my recovery was going to go, to see if I could cause you have to train hard. Everything worked out fine, at first you’re always scared, when I was training I didn’t go for takedowns, I didn’t want to risk getting injured. I was extremely careful, training with heavyweights at first. Eventually I got the confidence in training again, I just picked up the pace and here I am.”
The light heavyweight veteran is known for his prowess on the ground and he makes it no secret that’s where he wants the fight and his goal is to get in and get out with as little damage as possible.
“There’s no secret about my approach to fight, I always work to take the fight to the ground. People say well it’s a fight, fight. I don’t have to fight fight, I have to go there and perform and winning by submission I feel I perform well enough. Not just that, I’ve been in the sport for 13 years right, and if you look at my fights, I have 32 fights, out of 32 fights I have maybe four fights that I fought hard and took a lot of punishment and maybe took a lot of punishment unnecessarily. And that’s not a lot, I’ve really had five real fights out of 32 and that’s what I want to do, where I want to go with my career. It’s not like I plan on fighting till I’m 40/42, I’m not one of those guys. I want to take as little damage as possible, I don’t want to be like some other guys who saying they have signs of CTE, I don’t want to be one of those guys. I want to be able to walk away from the sport being healthy, besides joint injuries, I don’t want a brain injury, that’s for sure. So, there is no secret how I want to approach this fight, I want to take this fight to the ground and once it goes to the ground, once it goes to the ground, like I said it’ll be really tough for this guy to last a minute or two on the ground. It won’t happen, there is no escape.”
“It’s all about how am I going to be able to take it to the ground.”
PFL 3 takes place on June 6 at the Nassau Coliseum and airs on ESPN 2 and ESPN Plus.