This Day in MMA History: Nov. 30

By Brian Knapp Nov 30, 2008
Few outside the inner circle of Sam Vasquez knew his name before his fateful Oct. 20, 2007 bout with Vince Libardi at a Renegades Extreme Fighting show in Houston. To most, his was just another name on just another fight card.

Competing for the first time in more than a year, the 35-year-old married father of one battled Libardi in a featherweight contest at the Toyota Center, succumbing to strikes 2:50 into round three. Emergency medical technicians tended to Vasquez for several minutes, until he lost consciousness and was rushed to a local hospital.

Despite hopes and prayers, Vasquez’s conditioned worsened. On Nov. 4, two weeks after he was admitted, he underwent the first of two surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain. He then suffered a massive stroke and was placed in a medically induced coma. Doctors could do little else to save him, and on Nov. 30, he was gone.

Since its official birth with UFC 1 in 1993, the sport of mixed martial arts had touted an exemplary medical record, minus the expected lacerations, facial fractures and the occasional broken limb.

In fact, the only confirmed death prior to government oversight came when 31-year-old Douglas Dedge died in 1998 at a non-sanctioned World Super Challenge in Kiev, Ukraine. The Chipley, Fla., resident passed out during a training session leading up to the fight but went through with the match anyway.

Despite the “human cockfighting” label Sen. John McCain bestowed upon it, not a single catastrophic injury had been reported from a regulated event. All that changed one year ago Sunday.

Vasquez was a fight fanatic, so immersed in MMA that he gave his son the middle name “Rickson.”

His wore his passion for the sport on his sleeve. After he earned a black belt in karate, he opened his own school, though he knew it was not enough to support his family. Soon after, he befriended Saul Soliz, a Houston-area trainer and promoter who worked with some of MMA’s biggest names, including former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Soliz, who promoted all three of Vasquez’s bouts, admired the dedication and love he exhibited inside and outside the cage.

“I think he had a passion for martial arts that’s not rivaled by many,” Soliz said in the days following Vasquez’s Nov. 30, 2007 death. “He wasn’t one of those guys that waited for life to happen.”

Unlike Dedge, Vasquez showed no signs of a pre-existing condition and was coherent in between rounds, according to cornerman and friend Jeff Sessions.

“If I had thought that there was any kind of major problem with him, I would have voiced that to him,” Sessions told “You rely on a fighter to tell you how they’re feeling if you don’t notice certain things. You rely on the doctors and the medical exams to dictate those things. I can teach him armbars; I can’t give him tests.”

It was later determined that Vasquez died of “complications from blunt trauma to the head with a subdural hemorrhage.” As a result of the most unfortunate of circumstances, his name will be forever linked to MMA’s history, not unlike those of Duk Ku Kim, Benny Paret and Frankie Campbell are to boxing’s. Vasquez will be remembered by those closest to him as far more than just an answer to a morbid trivia question. His death came one day after his 10th wedding anniversary.

“He’s a person that lived and love life,” Sam’s wife, Sandra, told after his death. “He didn’t fight for money. He loved it. And how many people get to do what they love and have a wonderful life doing that?”
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