Tatiana Suarez should be one of the top contenders for the next shot at the UFC strawweight title, with an 8-0 record and five straight wins in the UFC, but all plans are on hold as Suarez deals with a neck injury she aggravated in June.
"I've always had disk issues," Suarez told Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on Monday. "My disks are inflamed, and they're pushing into my nerve, making my left side atrophy.
"It's getting better. I still can't go live yet. Everybody's like, 'Well, why aren't you calling out for a title shot' and this and that, and I just feel like I can't fight, so why do that? There's no point. I'm just getting better in the meantime, and I'll be back."
Suarez tweaked her neck in the lead-up to her fight with Nina Ansaroff in June, then again during the early moments of the fight, when she went in for a takedown on Ansaroff.
"Two weeks before the fight, I was sparring and I shot on somebody and my head hit the wall, and it just messed up my neck completely," Suarez said. "And it sucks, because I had gone from the time I fought Carla [Esparza] to two weeks before that [Ansaroff] fight without any injuries, and that's unheard of, for me."
She won the fight, but recovery has been slow and has hit several roadblocks along the way.
Suarez had to turn down fights with Michelle Waterson and Jessica Andrade because the injury has limited her ability to train. In the immediate aftermath of the fight, Andrade struggled to use a bow and arrow, swim or do even simple yoga poses.
Suarez has felt some strength return to her arm, but for now, it's wait and see. Suarez said she's fine doing day-to-day tasks in real life, but the pain starts when she's working out. She has tried several treatment options, including a cortisone shot and stem cell therapy, hoping to avoid surgery on her neck.
"I'm a little nervous to do the surgery route," Suarez said. "I've talked to a couple of athletes that have had it, and they say it worked for them. But a lot of the athletes that said that they had it were not grappler-based athletes. It kind of didn't give me any ease of mind."
Suarez's neck issues can be traced back to her wrestling days. In 2011, Suarez had surgery to remove a cancerous thyroid in her neck, and her recovery led to Suarez avoiding high levels of impact for two years, which allowed for significant recovery.
Listening to Suarez's recollection of the Ansaroff fight, it's clear why she's taking her time and considering all of her options before diving into another fight.
"The entire fight, my arm was numb, my face was numb," Suarez said. "I think it's really scary, because you don't know what's going on in there, you don't know what could mess it up. It's a scary thing to have to worry about during your fights."