EXCLUSIVE: Julio Arce details double elbow surgery ahead of UFC Vegas 32 return

Imagine going about your day where loose bone fragments and a cartilage build-up limiting your arms from extending beyond a bent L shape. It would surely be a frustrating hindrance. Now, imagine having that limitation and being an Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter whose style is based around striking. That would seem downright scary. That was Julio Arce’s situation for the last three years. Following a double elbow surgery, he’s hoping UFC Vegas 32 offers the chance to again compete at his full potential, and start racking up some wins in a move down to bantamweight.

Julio Arce talks competing in the Octagon with limited arm mobility

Julio Arce
Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Arce, 31, has not competed in the UFC in 20 months. The bulk of that hiatus was a result of recovering from having surgery on both of his elbows. The issues in his arms started four fights ago to his 2018 win over Daniel Teymur. It’s a problem that has only gotten progressively worse and became too much to ignore. Forcing him to have surgery on them last year.

“What was happening was there were broken bone fragments and cartilage building up where the arm extends. When I punched, instead of extending my arm, I was stuck [at] like an L shape,” Arce told MixedMartialArts.com. “I like to strike. I need my range [and] I was losing that, so I was like I’ve got to get it taken care of.”

“[Before] if I’m trying to throw a jab, I can’t reach the person normally. So what happens is I have to compensate by bringing my head and upper body closer, and that puts me in danger where they can hit me a lot easier. Now, I can keep somebody away a lot easier, or not jam myself up, or bring myself so close then that the person can just blast me in the face.”

The Dana White’s Contender Series alum has had some tough luck in his recent Octagon outings. He’s lost two of his last three, and both defeats were by split-decision. With healthier limbs, maybe the New York native could have won those bouts and been on a five-fight win streak right now. It’s tough to say, however, Arce admits not addressing the issues sooner is his own fault. And just a ramification of the shared fear among fighters to go under the knife and lose valuable fight time.

“The thing is, and I’m sure a lot of fighters can agree to this, but sometimes we just don’t want to get surgery. The fighter mentalities like, we don’t want to get surgery, be on the shelf, and you feel like the world’s moving on without you, and your just kind of sitting there idling,” Arce says. “Hoping to get better faster. So we prolong it, and we’re just toughing it out. But it gets to a point where you have no other choice but [to get surgery].”

Along with his Octagon weapons of choice being rebuilt, the long time featherweight has also decided to move down to the bantamweight division for his UFC Vegas 32 return against Andre Ewell. He has sought out the help of Eric Pena, a popular nutritionist for many UFC and Bellator fighters, to make his first real weight cut in a long-time go smoothly. Although he expects some difficulty this week, in the end he believes the weight-class switch was a long-overdue necessity.

“It’s probably going to suck [the weight-cut], because I haven’t done it in a while. The thing is, I’m a small guy. You can clearly see when I was fighting guys like Sheymon [Moraes], Julian Erosa; I was the person that was technically taller than Teymur, but he was wider. You can clearly see a size difference between me and the people I am going with. These guys are cutting from a much heavier weight. I was literally cutting next to nothing,” says Arce.

On Saturday night inside Las Vegas’ UFC Apex, the former Ring of Combat champion will be welcomed to his new division by “Mr. Highlight.” A fighter that’s always looking to end fights early. Ewell’s style is one that Arce admits his a little different than others he faced before. However, his opponent’s high-octane style, mixed with is own–especially with some healthy elbows–is why he sees fight of the night potential in their July 24 scrap.

“He does bring something different to the table. And even though some other people may have similar styles and I might have seen it, there’s always that person that adds a little extra spice to it. I feel he adds a little extra spice to his things. I’m just ready to put on a banger. I feel like this fight is a sleeper fight and I can’t wait for it.”