Bryan Baker will return to the Bellator cage against Vitor Vianna this Saturday at Bellator 54 in hopes of making it back to the finals of the promotion’s middleweight and if one this is certain, this time it will be easier (at least for him).
Two weeks before the start of the season two middleweight tournament, Baker was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (or CML), a challenge that Baker tackled with the same heart and strength that has made him a successful fighter. MMAFrenzy recently spoke to Baker regarding his story ahead of Saturday’s MTV2-televised fight with Vianna.
It all started when Baker’s coach, MMA pioneer Thomas “Wildman” Denny, decided it was time to move his gym to Denver, Colorado. Baker followed his coach to Colorado and, like everyone else that followed Denny, he struggled with the change in altitude. While this is hardly uncommon for anyone experiencing a drastic change in altitude, Baker began to suspect something was wrong as everyone else adjusted while he actually got worse. Baker says, “I thought man, my body really doesn’t like this altitude. I started turning colors, I was like a yellowish green and very pale.”
At that point, Coach Denny arranged for Baker to see one of the most respected doctors in the MMA community, Dr. Alex Constantinides. Dr. Constantinides, more commonly known in the MMA community as “Dr. Alex,” told Baker’s coach “Thomas, get this kid to Dr. [Douglas] Reznick right away.” At that point, Baker did not think that cancer was an issue but Dr. Alex’s (whom our thoughts and prayers are still with) recommendation was followed. What followed next was a confusing and sobering moment for Baker as Baker found himself in the waiting room of a cancer center.
Baker had no clue what expect as he waited in the waiting room for Dr. Reznick as the though of cancer had not crossed his mind. When he saw the doctor, Baker was told he would need a bone marrow biopsy, a very painful procedure used to diagnose the possibility of cancer. Dr. Reznick used the bone marrow biopsy to diagnose Baker with CML. Baker was shocked by the news. His first thought was “am I going to be able to fight again?” Dr. Reznick told Baker that he did not know the answer to that but that they had to get him on medication, where they would then judge things based upon how he reacted. While Baker admits an understandable moment of fear and doubt, he quickly rallied, telling himself “this was not going to beat me and I’m going fight through this, I don’t care what goes on, I’m strong–minded, and my faith in God leads me through every situation in my life. Once I did that, I knew I was going to have to go through some challenges but God would be with me every step of the way and he honestly has been.”
Meanwhile, while undergoing treatment, Baker amazingly participated in the Bellator tournament and did impressively well. Baker again credits his faith in God but also credits his coach and his team for pulling him through this, stating, “they kept me motivated and strong-minded because it was like ‘whoa, these guys believe in me.’ I thought I could still be a champion.” While Baker came up short, losing in the final to Alexander Shlemenko, he still credits his team for pushing him and growing together.
While Baker has been in remission for over a year now, he still feels the effects of his condition today. I asked Baker what had changed the most in his training regime and he stated he eats a different diet, he listens more to his body, and that healing takes him longer than most since he cannot push through injuries or fatigue like he used to. Baker also stated that he is constantly learning more each day and that it is a constant challenge to make weight because he cannot rehydrate like a normal person. Most of all, Baker again credits his faith and is very thankful for the help he has received, including being given a two-year supply of his $5,000/month medicine for free.
No matter what happens in his fight career, Baker has, in my opinion, already accomplished his goal of “being a hope or inspiration to anyone that’s struggling.” No one can question Baker’s heart or determination. This was true even before this ordeal, as Baker was willing to step in on less than two weeks notice to replace former WEC champion Paulo Filho against current UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen but it is even more true now. With all the trash talk and outside the cage nonsense going on these days it is refreshing to hear a truly inspirational story such as Baker’s.
This story, however, is far from over as Baker looks to defeat Vianna on Saturday for a possible shot at that $100,000 check and a chance to possibly erase one of his only two career losses if Shlemenko advances as well. No matter what happens though, expect Baker to give nothing less than his all. An attitude that has already helped him defeat a much more challenging opponent.