Bisping, Woods, Jordan: Athletes who competed through extreme injuries and illnesses

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Michael Bisping knows better than most that injuries are inescapable in sport.

While certain athletes might have cleaner bills of health than other, competing in the upper echelons of elite sport brings with it the sort of wear and tear that can crush the most promising of careers.

Naturally, the risk of injury shoots through the ceiling when you talk about combat sport and the UK's first ever UFC champion had to combat one of the worst ailments imaginable in the octagon.

Bisping's brutal eye injury

Bisping suffered a detached retina during his knockout defeat to Vitor Belfort in 2013 and has openly admitted that he fought with little to no vision in that eye for the rest of his career.

Or to put things another way, Bisping essentially became UFC Middleweight champion, defeated Anderson Silva and fought Georges St-Pierre all with one eye.

Speaking to the High Performance Podcast, Bisping opened up about the injury by explaining: "When I got knocked out at UFC 100, when I got head-kicked and ultimately lost my eye ball, you're not cleared to fight.

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"So, I lied. Not only was I risking vision in my eye, I was lying to everybody, I was lying to doctors, I was lying to the UFC. I can say that now because I've been retired for a while but at the time it was the worst-kept secret ever.

"But giving up never even occurred to me. I have always been driven by my wife and my kids and trying to give them the best life because I've been there and I know how hard it is. Life is tough. Just to get by in life is tough.

"We take it for granted that everyone has a roof over their heads and we've got food in the fridge and all the rest of it, but the world is a tough place and this is what I felt I could do. I wasn't going to stop. I was going to give up."



Athletes who competed through injuries

It's pretty easy to see why Bisping's autobiography has been titled 'Quitters Never Win' because to battle through one of the worst injuries imaginable at the top of the fight game is truly remarkable.

However, although Bisping's astonishing commitment and tenacity is truly a unique case, the British legend is by no means the only top athlete to have continued competing through a brutal injury.

1. Kurt Angle wins gold with broken neck

With the help of numbing injections, Angle overcame two bulged and herniated disks, two cracked vertebrae and four pulled muscles in his neck to be crowned the Olympic freestyle wrestling champion in 1996.

2. Cesc Fabregas takes penalty with fractured leg

Not only did Fabregas play out the remaining stages of a Champions League clash with Barcelona on a broken fibula, but he scored a pressure penalty to draw Arsenal level with the injury, too.

3. Tiger Woods wins US Open with fractured leg

It's astonishing to think that Woods won his last major until the 2019 Masters with two stress fractures in his tibia and a knee so badly injured that it required reconstructive surgery the next week.


4. Brett Favre playing on with tonnes of injuries

Quarterback Favre once led the Southern Mississippi to victory just five weeks after having 30 inches of his intestines removed and later played on through everything from a broken thumb to ankle damage.


5. Bert Trautmann wins FA Cup final with broken neck

Trautmann remarkably played the remainder of Manchester City's 1956 FA Cup final triumph despite having broken several vertebrae in his neck after colliding with Birmingham City's Peter Murphy.


6. Franz Beckenbauer plays on with broken collarbone

With West Germany having used all their substitutes against Italy in the 1970 World Cup semi-finals, 'Der Kaiser' decided to play on with a broken collarbone and dislocated shoulder by simply wearing an arm sling.


7. Ronnie Lott gets his finger amputated

During the 1985 season, Lott was involved in a collision with Tim Newsome that mangled his left pinkie. He played the rest of the game, taped it up for the season finale and then had the tip amputated to avoid a longer lay-off.


8. Dietmar Hamann battling AC Milan with a broken foot

X-rays after the 2005 Champions League final showed that Hamann had played the closing moments of Liverpool's famous triumph and even took a penalty in the resulting shootout with a broken foot.


9. Kerri Strug vaults through the pain barrier

An infamous moment in Olympic history, this, where Strug was asked by Béla Károlyi to vault with an injured ankle to secure gold for Team USA. She heroically pulled it off, but would never compete again.

10. David Haye splitting his Achilles tendon vs Bellew

Insert as many little toe jokes as you like, but Haye showed great resilience to battle through a ruptured Achilles tendon for five rounds in a fight where Bellew also ended up with a broken hand.

Bonus: Michael Jordan's legendary 'flu game'

Ok, so this is technically an illness as opposed to an injury, but it only felt right that we included Jordan's legendary 'flu game' where he remarkably battled on to notch 38 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists against the Utah Jazz.

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While all those examples are different and unique in their own right, they all share a common gene of commitment to sport beyond which mere mortals like myself can barely begin to comprehend.

It goes without saying that there are not necessarily case studies that should be blindly applauded without looking at the downsides because competing with injuries can be damning in the long run.


Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

And let us clarify that these are just 11 examples because there are plenty more cases of athletes battling through injuries. These just happen to be some of the most famous and eye-opening.

However, in the instances where the athlete themselves were behind the decision to continue fighting on, then I can only tip my hat and say that you've got a lot, lot more minerals than me.

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