An obstacle on the long comeback trail of champion fighter Miriam Nakamoto might have been cleared by an old friend -- UFC color commentator and well-known comedian Joe Rogan.
Nakamoto announced on social media Sunday that Rogan would pay for stem cell treatment on a lesion she has on her meniscus. Nakamoto must fly to Panama for the procedure, and Rogan will cover travel expenses and the treatment, which will cost around $30,000.
Nakamoto, a multiple-time Muay Thai and kickboxing champion, tore her right ACL in an Invicta FC women's bantamweight title fight in 2013, losing via injury, and has not competed since. The California native has dealt with a series of setbacks since then, including lingering issues with her knees and crippling depression. Nakamoto said that after tearing her ACL, she was unable to get out of bed for weeks, didn't bathe for a time and gained 40 pounds. In 2016, she was homeless for a week, living with her cat in her truck.
"I've known [Rogan] for a while and I know that he does believe in me," Nakamoto told ESPN. "He didn't really know that I was in that level of depression after the injury in 2013 or the circumstances around it or the lack of support I had. I had told him about it on Friday. He'd asked why I gained so much weight. I just told him. I think maybe this is him wanting to give me a second chance and he believes in me."
Nakamoto said that after tearing her ACL, she broke up with her boyfriend at the time and split with her coach and gym. Only one teammate visited her while she was recovering. In total, Nakamoto said, she has had four surgeries, including ones to repair her right and left ACL. She also had procedures on her right meniscus, the one with the lesion.
"I was pretty messed up after that injury," Nakamoto said. "That was the first time I didn't bring a world title home. And on top of that, I had a blown ACL. I was pretty depressed and f---ed up for about a year. I was actually kind of suicidal. And I didn't really do my rehab. I didn't even bathe for a while, truthfully."
Nakamoto, 42, was on Rogan's podcast last November and discussed her plight. She said she has known Rogan since 2005 from the Los Angeles martial arts scene. Rogan himself is a black belt in taekwondo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Last December, Nakamoto was nearing full health and a comeback fight when she sprained her left LCL. Then, she recently found out about the quarter-sized lesion on her meniscus, which she said she was not entirely sure how it developed. With the LCL healed, the lesion is the last thing standing in Nakamoto's way of a potential comeback bout. Stem cell treatment is the only way to tackle it, she was told. But she could not have afforded it without help.
Nakamoto said Rogan told her to be very conservative in training for six months after the stem cell treatment. She's going to listen to his advice.
"I've heard people coming back pretty quickly from stem cell, but for me literally this is a second chance," Nakamoto said. "This is something that I never thought I would get to have. So, I'm not gonna blow it."
Nakamoto is a former World Championship Kickboxing, World Boxing Council Muay Thai and World Muay Thai Council champion. She won the San Francisco Golden Gloves in boxing in 2004. Nakamoto is 18-0 as a pro in Muay Thai.
She said a return to fighting with Asia's ONE Championship is most appealing to her, because she'd be able to compete in MMA, kickboxing or Muay Thai. Nakamoto was beating Lauren Murphy in that Invicta title fight and was expected to be a major MMA star in the future because of her striking pedigree.
"I really do feel like I've had six years stolen from me," Nakamoto said. "I've learned a lot and it's changed who I am as a person, and I needed those changes and I'm a much more awesome human being because I've suffered so much and I've persevered."
What keeps Nakamoto motivated to get back into the ring or cage? She says she believes that six years after her last fight, she can still be a champion.
"I know most people can't understand it, but most people aren't world champions," Nakamoto said. "They don't know what it feels like. I don't want to leave the sport on an injury. I want to leave the sport on my terms. That's one thing. Another thing is that I always found fighting as a means to conquer my fear and master myself and express who I am. I know there are other avenues out there and I will move toward them when the time comes, but I don't believe the time is now. I believe that without this hindrance to me, I can compete with the best of them. Even at my age. ... I still believe I have it. I can feel it."