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With injuries behind him, Pierce ready for UFC return

Mike Pierce returns to the Octagon on Friday for the first time since 2013, when Rousimar Palhares held on to a submission for too long against him. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC welterweight Mike Pierce has a bit of advice for every injured athlete: Seek a second opinion.

Pierce (17-6) will return to the UFC on Friday to face Ryan LaFlare (11-1) at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale in Las Vegas. It will mark his first appearance since October 2013.

The Portland, Oregon-based welterweight pins some of his absence to not seeking a second medical opinion on a broken left hand he suffered last year. It was that injury that has kept him out of action for so long, not a torn ankle ligament he suffered during his last fight, a submission loss to Rousimar Palhares.

To anyone who pulls up Pierce's record, it might seem like his two-year break is directly related to Palhares, who has a history of cranking submissions too long and was released by the UFC after doing so to Pierce. But Pierce, 35, was actually booked to fight Demian Maia in May 2014, but withdrew with the broken hand. It has taken him 20 months (and ultimately two physicians) to recover from that injury.

"I would encourage any professional athlete to always get a second medical opinion," Pierce told ESPN.com. "I learned that the rough way. My recovery took longer than it should have, and I largely blame that on the first surgeon I went to.

"It's frustrating because you to go someone who has apparently been doing this his whole life and you just assume he knows what he's doing. And that's just not the case."

Pierce's surgeon wasn't reached for comment.

After withdrawing from the Maia fight, Pierce underwent surgery to repair the broken metacarpal in his left hand. His physician inserted a metal pin that essentially acted as a splint. His recommended window of recovery seemed "aggressive" to Pierce, particularly when it came to throwing punches again, but he had never dealt with a broken bone before.

Pierce followed instructions, forgoing all physical activity because the pin was partially exposed above the skin to make it easier to eventually remove. After receiving medical clearance, he felt "excruciating pain" during the first punch he threw. At that point, after months of seeing the same physician, he decided to seek a second evaluation.

"Before that first day back, I was excited -- ready to tell the UFC I could accept a fight," Pierce said. "I went to a second surgeon and he goes, 'No, you need to wait. There are still fracture lines across your bone.'

"The first surgeon had told me there was another procedure that puts a plate into your hand, but I'd have to go back and get the plate removed and let the tiny holes made by the screws heal. That sounded like two healing processes to me. Then the second surgeon tells me, 'No, you should have gotten that surgery. It gives you better alignment on the break and you just don't take the plate out. There's no reason to take that plate out.'"

Pierce is finally back to 100 percent and says he's in the best shape of his career following a 12-week camp. He's not concerned with the loss of momentum that once existed from a four-fight win streak. The UFC offered him a relevant opponent in LaFlare, who boasts a 4-1 UFC record and has lost only to Maia.

"Honestly, I don't really care that I had a four-fight win streak," Pierce said. "The Palhares loss irritates me because of how it happened, but that just doesn't play into anything I do in regards to preparing for a fight. I think LaFlare is a great opponent for me. I don't think he does anything particularly better than me, but he just continues to fight and I like that about him.

"I want to get back into this thing and get into the top 10 and start fighting the best. Whoever that happens to be now, so be it."