Nate “Rock” Quarry was a professional mixed-martial arts (MMA) fighter until debilitating back pain forced him to put his career on hold. On June 14, 2006, Nate underwent the minimally disruptive XLIF® procedure to treat his condition. Just 15 months later, he returned to competitive fighting in a highly publicized “comeback fight.” Today is the sixth anniversary of that inspiring victory. Here, Nate tells the story of that fight in his own words. To read more about his experiences with back pain and XLIF surgery, download Nate’s Story brochure [PDF].

Within three months after having spine surgery, I was back in the gym training again. Can you believe it? I said training!

Understand this: any surgery involves pain and no operation is fun. I had some pain and discomfort at my incision site, but it was nothing compared to my pain level before having the operation. It’s a lot like exercising. You accept that there will be soreness involved in a workout. But it’s temporary—and you know the benefits will be rewarding and worth it. I was determined to reach my biggest goal of all: returning to my sport. I wasn’t about to let anything get in the way. And before I knew it, my body was in top condition again.

Within 15 months after my operation, I was looking to complete my comeback by returning to compete in Las Vegas. My opponent? An old adversary: Pete “Drago” Sell.

On September 19, 2007, I returned to my sport absolutely convinced that I would win again. Sell, on the other hand, claimed that he was going to “crush the Rock” and derail my comeback. Unfortunately, most folks believed him.

“Quarry has been through the ringer during his tumultuous mixed martial arts career and still faces an uphill climb,” wrote one sports reporter. “He needs a miracle if he hopes to stay alive tonight,” said another.

It had been nearly two years since I’d last stepped into a fight. But that night I was back. I was the underdog for sure, but I was back in the ring in a highly publicized “comeback fight.”

With the crowd roaring and cameras flashing, I psyched up for what I’d gone there to do: get my life back. My thoughts turned instantly to the person I fight for and I fixed my mind on the most perfect face I know—my daughter, Ciera. If I don’t do what I have to do, if I don’t bring to this fight every ounce of heart that I have, I might not be able to provide for my little girl, I told myself. This will be the end of our dreams. If I can’t do this tonight, how will I ever be able to convince her to follow her hopes and become whatever she desires?

Seconds later, my opponent and I were announced and the action began. I immediately threw a low-lying kick and Sell countered with a one-two to my head.

My head cornerman groaned, “Here we go. This could be a long night!”

For what felt like an eternity, we exchanged countless punches, kicks, knee strikes, and elbows. He nailed me and I hit him back. We were both winded. When the second round started, I threw a lazy left jab. He countered with a straight right that found its home—my jaw! I crashed to the mat, temporarily stunned.

I managed to get up, but later on in the same round, Sell threw a Superman Punch. That’s when a fighter jumps into the air and swings with a hard right hand. He hit me square in the head. But this time, instead of falling to the mat, something switched on inside me. I just stood there…grinning. Is that it? I asked myself. I’ve taken everything he’s thrown at me. If that’s all he has, I’m not going anywhere. And I’m certainly not going down!

Sell stared at me with a shocked expression that seemed to say, “What does it take to drop this guy?”

Between rounds, I noticed something else about my opponent. During the first round, he had been jumping all over the place, moving constantly. But then he seemed to be slowing down. He wasn’t moving as much anymore. This is my moment, I told myself. I have to finish him—right now!

As the bell rang to start the next round, I rushed toward him and connected with an overhand right thrown as hard as I could. It dropped him. Then I landed one more punch for good measure and knocked him out cold! It all happened so fast. The next thing I knew, the referee was jumping in to stop the fight.

I won! It’s over! I’ve come back…all the way back!

Nate Quarry is now retired from MMA. Today, as a Patient Ambassador with The Better Way Back, he helps other patients considering or recovering from surgery and helps educate surgeons about minimally invasive spine surgery.