Neck Injuries Jeopardize Lutter’s MMA Career

By Tristen Critchfield Nov 23, 2010
Travis Lutter (left): Peter Lockley |

As the neck problems that have plagued him over the past 10 years increase in severity, Travis Lutter has decided to take a wait-and-see approach regarding the status of his mixed martial arts career.

The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt last fought against Rafael Natal in May as part of the Moosin “God of Martial Arts” event in Worcester, Mass. There, Lutter was knocked out in the first round, a loss suffered in part because his neck ailments flared up in the final training session before the bout.

“I actually had a real bad stinger -- the worst one I ever had,” he said. “I thought I’d be OK in the fight, and as I got hit in that fight, I knew I was in trouble. My neck was real bad.”

Lutter began experiencing neck problems a decade ago when he was dropped on his head in a jiu-jitsu match. He had his first MRI five years ago and has had two more since. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 4 winner, who has recorded wins over Marvin Eastman, Patrick Cote and Jason MacDonald during his 16-fight career, is battling four bulging discs, bone spurs and, most problematic of all, narrowing of the nerve canals in his neck.

“That’s probably the scariest thing that I’ve got going on. The nerve passages control everything in your body. If they get too squished, you could have atrophy and motor function loss,” Lutter said. “The other thing is those passageways, since they’re narrower, they don’t have to have as much inflammation to cause pain and atrophy and things like that. That’s the thing that makes me the most nervous.”

Doctors have told Lutter he could undergo surgery as a potential fix, but the Dallas resident would rather let the injuries heal on their own.

“I just feel like it’s bad a lot of times,” Lutter said. “Other guys have had success with surgery, but I’m not sure of it. I don’t want to open up that can of worms. I’m just trying to let it heal on its own.”

Lutter recently began training his wrestling and jiu-jitsu for the first time since the loss to Natal. His next move will involve a somewhat deliberate process.

“I took time off from training and jiu-jitsu to try to let it heal,” he said. “That’s what they advised me to do after I got an MRI, but I’m not back to sparring or anything yet. I’m just waiting to see how my neck is gonna be. I’m gonna give it a few more months and then make a decision after that.”

Going under the knife would be a last resort, and Lutter admits the option would probably spell the end of his career inside the cage.

“If I had to do surgery, I’d probably be done,” he said. “You know, I’m 37. If I had surgery, you a have a recuperation time and all that other stuff. I’d probably be done with MMA at that point -- I don’t see an upside.”

Lutter compiled a 2-4 record in the UFC over a four-year span and wants another shot in the organization. Before Chael Sonnen took Anderson Silva to the brink of defeat at UFC 117 in August, it was Lutter who provided the middleweight champion’s most serious threat at UFC 67, as he exposed “The Spider” to a ground-and-pound assault from full mount. Although Silva ultimately prevailed, those types of moments keep Lutter battling to stay in the game.

“It’d be fun to make another run ... I’m still there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting the neck back into the position where I can go through training camp and still be relatively healthy. I think when I’m healthy, I’m tough to beat.”
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