The fight was only days away. But it didn’t happen.

Virgil Zwicker was set to headline Strikeforce Challengers 19 against Lorenz Larkin. Instead, he received devastating news about his health.

“They were basically saying I had blood clots on my brain,” Zwicker told The MMA Corner. “Initially, when the fight got canceled, I was heartbroken. I trained my ass off for that fight; I was on a diet forever; I was feeling great. I thought that match-up was a perfect match-up for me.”

With the news from his pre-fight medicals, Zwicker went from preparing for his first headlining spot with Strikeforce to contemplating the end of his fight career. He was a husband and a father and had his family to consider; he couldn’t take the chance of stepping into the cage if it meant putting his life on the line. There was just one problem: it turns out that nothing was ever wrong with Zwicker.

“On one of the angiograms that I did, I didn’t go to the UFC guy—(Dr. Richard) Gluckman,” Zwicker explained. “They sent me to a place where it was just like really old machines that they used. Basically, something came back that wasn’t there on the x-rays. So, long story short, it took me about five to six months to go to different specialists to go in and see that basically it was their fault that they’d messed up with their machine.”

Virgil Zwicker (Facebook)

After months of living under the belief that his fight career might be over, Zwicker was finally cleared to return to action in February. Up first for the light heavyweight prospect: a fight against Carlos Augusto “Guto Inocente” Filho, a Brazilian with a 5-0 record with his wins scattered over a stretch of five years. The fight was signed for May 19 on the preliminary portion of Strikeforce’s Heavy Grand Prix Finals card.

“I really don’t know too much about him other than that he’s a world kickboxing champion in Brazil,” Zwicker admitted. “He’s very, very good on the ground. I hear he’s got a black belt on the ground.

“He has lots of experience outside of the ring, in kickboxing. (He’s) a very game opponent, and I got to be careful with him and just make sure I stay to my game plan.”

Although Inocente is undefeated, there have to be questions surrounding his sparse on-again, off-again MMA resume. The highly decorated kickboxer won his mixed martial arts debut in 2005 and followed up 16 months later with another win. It was four years before he returned to action in professional MMA, winning three more fights in a month and a half span. Yet, after reeling off those three wins, Inocente, who has trained with the Constrictor Team in Brazil and Imperial Athletics in Florida, has not seen action in approximately 20 months. Now, he’ll step into the Strikeforce cage against Zwicker, a 12-fight veteran with a 10-2 record, and a bit of ring rust of his own, following the head injury debacle.

“I know I’m eager to get back in there,” confessed Zwicker, who has been preparing for the fight with the likes of Dan Henderson, Jared Hamman and Ovince St. Preux. He’s also brought in a number of kickboxers and hired a new nutritionist. “I don’t know how he feels, but I know I’m ready. It’s my second home in there, so I’m ready to go in there and close that cage and show him where he’s at.”

Interestingly enough, Inocente could have been UFC-bound. The Strikeforce’s larger sister promotion under the Zuffa banner had offered Inocente a four-fight deal, but on the advice of his team, the Brazilian opted for a contract with Strikeforce instead. Zwicker and Inocente are now part of an interesting landscape in Strikeforce’s light heavyweight division.

Dan Henderson vacated the promotion’s 205-pound title belt when he migrated to the UFC, and former champion Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal was released after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Beyond two other former champs—Gegard Mousasi and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante—and Mike Kyle, “Feijao’s” opponent on the May 19 card, the pickings are rather slim and the winner of Zwicker’s fight with Inocente might not be too far down in the pecking order.

“I think I’m on my way,” Zwicker said confidently. “I beat this guy, I’m one or two fights away from the title.”

The Strikeforce heavyweight division is already headed for extinction, with the Heavyweight Grand Prix Finals bout between Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier likely signaling the end, or near end, of the big men in the promotion. There have been ongoing rumblings that Strikeforce itself might be knocking on death’s door. For Zwicker, a run at the Strikeforce title isn’t exactly as appealing as another possible course to his fight career.

“I’d rather go to the UFC,” Zwicker admitted honestly. “Strikeforce is so much uncertainty; I could become their champ, and then the next show I’m going to be gone. They’re not putting in enough effort into the production. It’s the second biggest—I don’t want to be the second, I want to be fighting for the number-one biggest company.

“I definitely love what they’ve done and how they’ve treated me, but I’d just rather have a job that I know that I have.”

Zwicker (R) sparring with Dan Henderson (Facebook)

Such a move would throw Zwicker in with the UFC’s 205-pound elite. While Jon Jones is the king of that mountain, Henderson, a man who Zwicker holds in high esteem, sits perched in the No. 1 contender slot.

“(Dan) only gets up for these guys, the guys that are at the top is the only people he wants to fight,” said Zwicker. “It’s weird because, you know, you see him in the gym, he’s in there everyday and he’s just so calm and collected. He doesn’t have nerves; he doesn’t get nervous.”

With Jones recently feuding with and defeating ex-training partner Rashad Evans, talk always abounds regarding teammates fighting. While Henderson’s age and status among the elite, and Zwicker’s current spot further down the ladder and the time it will take for him to climb those rungs, makes it highly unlikely that the situation would ever arise, Zwicker would not be one of those fighters to refuse to step into the ring with a teammate.

“I’m in the ring with (Henderson) five days a week, so of course,” joked Zwicker in regards to accepting a fight with his training partner. “Dan is a Hall of Famer. He’s probably going down in the books as one of the best fighters in the history of fighting. For me, it would always be an honor to fight somebody like him.”

In a more realistic outlook, Henderson will likely retire before Zwicker ever conceivably earns a shot at the UFC light heavyweight crown. For “Rez Dog” it’s not about defeating the legendary fighter he spars with on a weekly basis. Instead, it’s about one day stepping up to carry the mantle for Team Quest.

“My goal is to live up to (Henderson’s) expectations and get there. Eventually, I’ll be his successor at that weight class.”

Virgil would like to thank his coach Billy Scheibe, his teammates at Team Quest including Dan Henderson, Dynamic Fitness and his strength coach Kevin Duenas for keeping him in great shape, his nutritionist Norm from Elite Fitness and Alchemist Management.  He would like to thank his sponsors: Pala Braves, Team Kupa, UEI Water Company, Jalapeno Bar & Grill in Escondido, Baad Medicine, Amelia’s Heart Foundation and Valley Center Pawn Shop.  He’d also like to thank his parents, brothers, sisters, and most of all, he’d like to thank his children, Duke and Maniya, and his wife, Carla. Follow Virgil on Twitter at @virgilzwicker.

Top Photo: Virgil Zwicker (Facebook)