Alex Reid is an English mixed martial artist (MMA), fighting under Bellator, BAMA and Cage Rage. He is also an actor, a personal trainer and the winner of Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2010.
Clinical Director, Hily Perpinyal talks to him about his career as a professional fighter and discusses his physical injuries, recoveries and all things related to overcoming major hip surgery.
Q. What sort of physical injuries did you sustain as a professional MMA fighter and how did you overcome them?
Well you pretty much injure everything in every shape or form at some point or another, you crack, twist, bend rip, tear. Any athlete who is fighting at a competitive level are pushing their body to the absolute limit and put on top of the fact you have another athlete trained to try and do damage to you, so you get a lot of muscle, tendon, joint, cracks, breaks, absolutely everything on top of the rigorous training that you put yourself through. Your body can become riddled from head to toe with injuries. I can’t remember ever entering into a competition without some niggle or pain or slight injury, it’s something you just live with.
Q. What made you decide to retire from professional fighting?
For me my decision to retire was about the enjoyment factor. Obviously as you get older your testosterone, wants and desires changes. With less testosterone and less need to prove myself in a masculine endeavour, I felt less need to compete in a combat sport.
That could stem from insecurities and as you get older you have less insecurities but also I had less enjoyment. I never really enjoyed fighting. For me, it was about trying to prove myself to myself that I was a tough guy and when I finally proved that to myself I didn’t find the need to compete anymore.
I did love the competition and ‘playing chess’ with another opponent in a cage trying to figure out how to get check mate, that was fun, but after a while as you get older as I said you start to pick up a few more injuries and it’s a young man’s sport. There is a point where you can’t do what you used to do, and so I decided it is not as much fun and my body is not working like it used to be, so it might be time to hang up the gloves….but never say never, who knows I could just get in there one more time!
Q. Following your brave 300 fights, you decided to proceed with a double hip resurfacing surgery in 2018. How did you find your recovery?
After my 300 plus fights in various disciplines I really suffered from all of the knocks, breaks, sprains, tears, and ended up with osteoarthritis in both of my hips. It didn’t come on over night, it came on gradually from years of abusing my body to the absolute limit.
I put off having surgery for years as I always believed in alternative therapy such as acupuncture, shiatsu, massage and having the right diet, but it came to the point where the pain was so excruciating. In fact, my last competition in 2016 I fought on the world stage at the O2 arena and I’m known as a ‘kicker’ for 200 plus kickboxing fights. When I did throw a kick it hurt me more to throw a kick than to take one, and that was because of the shear grinding of bone on bone from the hip. I obviously manned up for the fight and I thought what the hell, I’m going to get hurt regardless and my hips are going to hurt regardless so I’ll just pick up the damage and I will have the operation straight after. Although I was thinking about this being my last fight I still loved to train and still active and as they say ‘it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’.
I still want to be active and I am also an actor and I didn’t want to be cast for only old man slightly crippled roles. But that’s how I was walking, I was in that much pain so I had the operation. I had one that was 6 months apart from the other. Initially it was very scary because I thought what am I doing, will I be able to walk again?!! I was very optimistic although I was scared and I really engaged in all the therapy, lots of physiotherapy and it really helped. I didn’t feel anywhere near the same pain or grinding but the thing is, where it had taken years for me to have bad hips and the osteoarthritis to come on, even though the joints were now smooth and I had metal plates to have my hips resurfaced, the ligaments had become so tight over years and years and they are still tight. Even to this day I have to work on regaining my full flexibility. I don’t expect a miracle cure and I’m still a work in progress and every day I feel a little bit better, I work extensively as we speak. I look more powerful and that is the one thing, having bad hips made me walk and look weak and now I have started to look strong again.
Q. How long did your recovery take and what role did physiotherapy have in getting you back on your feet and returning to sports?
I had 6 months between both hips being resurfaced so I had to recover enough from the first hip surgery to have the second one done.
My first operation was my left hip and that initially was my weaker leg. Where I previously had an ACL operation in 2006, I had some of the hamstring removed to place into my knee so that leg became weaker but strangely that is now the stronger leg because it’s playing catch up. Its caught up and has become stronger with 6 months of training. And then I had the right hip done and now my right hip is my weaker one and I am still as we speak in recovery.
I am now running but I have to be conscious how I perform everything which is where the physiotherapy comes in. If I didn’t have that physio I would be in a much worse position. I’m having to re-correct myself, and the fact that I am accountable to a professional physiotherapist once a week and knowing that if I had not improved means I’m wasting their time and mine.
I’m a very motivated person. I’m an actor, I do my bootcamps and who knows, I don’t potentially want to fight again but if the right deal came up and I was fit and healthy, I will still enjoy a ‘chess match’ as I call it, and sometimes I want to challenge myself with another like-minded individual.
Q. How are you today? Are you pleased you had the surgery?
The more I learn about my body and healing I always wonder if I could have healed myself with yoga, Tai chi or Qigong, but in hindsight what I did was so extreme I don’t think I really had a choice.
So there is part of me that thinks maybe I could have done it with the power of my mind and meditation and start to walk better. Ultimately I’m swaying more (80%) that I’m glad I had the hip surgery, there is always going to be 20% saying maybe I would have been better off without it, but I’m so glad I had the operations because I am different now and I am able to do more than before I had the hip surgery.
I guess it reminds me of how I was before I had the osteoarthritis. It’s so long ago that I can’t remember how I used to function 10 years ago. I was a supreme, elite level athlete and I try to remember that and I think I cannot do that anymore, but that was because being a supreme elite level athlete, you push yourself to the limit which had caused the arthritis. So ultimately I’m glad I had the operation.
Q. What do you do today to keep fit?
I am continually striving to not regain the fitness I had but to almost supersede it. I would like to be fitter and healthier in the next 10 years than I was when I was 30. I might have delusion of grandeur but I’m working diligently. I’m being kinder to myself these days where as before, being an ex-paratrooper, you have the mentality that if something hurts I would just pop ibrupofen, just knuckle down and be tough, but now I’m realising there are better ways of getting results for my body by being kinder and listening to my body rather than just pushing it.
I also do have the will power to push beyond my limits if I have to. I have to realise that what goes up doesn’t necessarily always come down, sometimes it breaks on the way, so I’m enjoying growing older but very gracefully.
A special thank you to Alex Reid for taking the time to give us a great insight into his life. An inspirational recovery!