Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature. – C.S. Lewis

Jay Mendez was stuck. This was not in the metaphorical sense. No, Jay Mendez was actually stuck. He could not move his legs. He was also legally blind, and in a wheelchair, the place his doctor told him to get used to because he would be spending the rest of his life there.

It didn’t make sense, but not a lot really does with a disease like multiple sclerosis. But it came at such a bad time. Everything was just starting to click. Mendez was so close to making it to the big time.

Just months before, in 2011, the featherweight mixed martial arts fighter had won a title for a regional promotion in New Mexico. He was booked to fight in Hawaii, and he was training with Guy Mezger. He had just gotten his brown belt at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu. It didn’t make sense.

Mendez had been featured in Fighters Only magazine a number of times and was sponsored by Las Vegas Choppers. His tattoo-covered body certainly fit the image, but those sponsors and features would all go away if he was unable to get out of the chair.

Mendez could hear his kids say, “Get up. Walk. Daddy, walk.” He couldn’t. Try all he might, he was not getting out of that chair.

“All that could go through my head was my kids, my career, my marriage. It’s all going to fall apart,” Mendez recalled. “I’m not going to be able to be the father I need to be. I’m not going to be able to be the man I need to be to my wife. How are we going to survive?”

A couple years later, something unexpected happened. Mendez was able to move his legs. He could stand again. He went from two crutches to one crutch. The very same man who was told he was going to be in a wheelchair the rest of his life is now running, lifting weights and even training again.

Even if you don’t believe in miracles, you have to admit that Mendez’s case is, at the very least, unexpected. However, there are other players in this peculiar tale.

What is so fascinating about this case is that Mendez claims that he was able to progress out of a wheelchair and possibly back to the cage to compete all thanks to a controversial supplement. No, it’s not testosterone-replacement therapy. Ever heard of deer antler spray?

The Fighter

Mendez, now 32 years old and the father of five children, had faced plenty of adversity before battling a disease where his own immune system attacks his body’s nerve cells and makes all other problems seem minor by comparison.

By the time Mendez was 15, he was kicked out of his parents’ house and had to fend for himself on the streets of El Paso, Texas. He had been to juvie, and he was heading down a path destined for future incarceration. Like many other fighters with checkered pasts, martial arts probably saved his life.

Mendez was involved in a street brawl with guys from a boxing gym and knocked out one of the top prospects. It was enough to get the attention of the gym’s boxing coach, who helped make Mendez the man he is today. It was like something out of a movie.

Mendez still recalls what his first coach told him: “This is more of a discipline than a street fight. You’re a good fighter, but it means more when you have discipline to go with it.”

Mendez (Facebook.com/jay.mendez3‎)

Mendez (Facebook.com/ jay.mendez3‎)

Those words had a great effect on Mendez, and they still echo in his mind today. He graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA and attended Texas Tech University. He earned a double black belt in taekwondo, and by 2011 had a professional record of 8-2-1 and an amateur record of 18-3.

It was during this time, while he was training with Guy Mezger at The Lion’s Den, that something didn’t feel right.

“I was training there and I got some…I started having tingling in my legs,” said Mendez. “I thought I had checked a kick and it hit that nerve, but it kept getting worse and worse.”

It wasn’t normal for Mendez to feel something wrong with his body. He had been diagnosed with optic neuritis, an eye problem, in 2002, but that was long out of his mind by 2011.

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. My body is very valuable to me,” he said. “I don’t even take Tylenol. I take all natural stuff.”

Then, right around Christmas, Mendez, while out with his family, collapsed and was rushed to the hospital.

“I was in the hospital for three weeks,” he said. “They did lumbar punctures—they took fluid from my spine—and that’s when they came back and told me, ‘You have multiple sclerosis.’ So, in a matter of a week’s time, I was put in the wheelchair.

“That’s when they just told me, ‘Make the best of your life and do what you can with it.’”

While Mendez has found that his faith in God, above anything, has helped him keep a positive mentality throughout this ordeal, he admits that there were times when he was feeling the full effect of his symptoms. It was at those moments that he questioned his faith.

“I’m a Christian man,” said Mendez, “but I was just saying, ‘Why would God let something like this happen to me?’”

As it turns out, there isn’t a clear-cut answer—at least, not medically. For all of science’s developments in medicine, multiple sclerosis continues to be a disease that is shrouded in mystery, in terms of what causes it and also how to cure it.

The Disease

Dr. Jonathan Gelber, a chief resident at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center who is also known as “The Fight Doctor,” shed some light on this fascinating, yet very serious, disease.

“First, I have to specify that I’m neither a neurologist nor an endocrinologist, but an orthopedic surgeon,” said Dr. Gelber. “So my knowledge isn’t expert on neurological disorders or hormones, [and] not really the deer antler spray. That being said, I can give you a basic background of MS.”

“We don’t really know the cause of it,” continued Dr. Gelber. “Nobody knows. There’s a lot of research going into it, but no one’s been able to pinpoint a cause. What we do know is that one of the key pathologies is a loss of the insulating sheath of nerves that’s called myelin, and it acts as an insulator. So it allows the electrical signals to be conducted through the body from the brain to the muscles.

“When you lose that insulation, the electrical signal sort of shorts out. And so, the cause of that, we’re not sure. Maybe either the myelin cells die, or they just—the coding sort of degenerates. And there’s been genetic theories. There’s been viral theories. There are lots of theories as to why the nerves start to lose their myelin, or insulating coding. Nobody really knows why.”

Even though MS has been historically documented since roughly 1822, answers learned through research only lead to more questions, it seems. For example, doctors can now classify different kinds of MS, but there are still questions as to why the disease acts differently with different cases.

“So, what happens is, there’s four broad groups of MS disease,” said Dr. Gelber, “but they can usually be categorized into two broader groups, and that’s relapsing-remitting (RRMS) or progressive.

“Someone [with RRMS] functions at a particular function level, and then they relapse into symptoms and they experience the symptoms of MS, including poor reflexes and muscular strengths,” continued Dr. Gelber. “Then, that bout ends, and they return to some baseline level. Now, depending on what their subset is, that baseline level may be normal, or that baseline level may be worse off than where they started.”

Progressive MS, Dr. Gelber explained, is where the symptoms continue to get worse over time.

Although there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis, there are medications that doctors prescribe to treat the symptoms and possibly slow the disease.

“Generally, when [patients] have their remissions or the more acute episodes, [treatment] usually involves a steroid regimen to help with the inflammation,” explained Dr. Gelber. “We use steroids, but they’re not anabolic steroids. Not the same steroids you use to grow muscle, but it is a steroid we often use in medicine to battle inflammation.”

Additionally, according to the Mayo Clinic, other treatments include physical therapy, muscle relaxants and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture. It should also be noted that many of the pharmaceuticals prescribed have a long list of side effects along with their intended benefits.

With a basic understanding of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, it might lead one to question whether perhaps the interesting case of Jay Mendez is merely a coincidence of a remission around the same time he started following “The Mitch Ross Protocol.” Dr. Gelber made it clear, however, that without having actually examined Mendez, he could not comment on whether or not the theory had any validity.

“I don’t know his particular case,” said Dr. Gelber. “It’s possible. You can probably draw your own conclusions on that.”

An Uphill Battle

We as a society generally have the utmost respect for our doctors. For good or for bad, there is also an extreme amount of weight that we give to their opinions. Jay Mendez, however, was a man who’d had enough of listening to the man in the white jacket.

“I was taking my MS medicine—Betaseron—and it was making all my symptoms worse,” said Mendez. “I had been taking it for like four months, and I could not sleep at night…I hated life. I [thought], ‘I just can’t do this anymore. If I get better, I get better. If I don’t, I don’t, but I’m not taking this medicine anymore.’”

Betaseron, according to WebMD, is an interferon beta, basically an immune-system protein, which “slows the accumulation of physical disability and reduces the frequency of exacerbation.” The drug is administered through injections every other day during these relapses.

There were a number of other factors that led Mendez to be open to trying alternative treatment. When he was admitted back in the hospital after his first relapse, the doctors made a medication error that put him in a comatose state, according to Mendez.

“They messed up on me while I was in the hospital,” he said. “They overdosed me on chronic pain medication, and it put me into a coma. I was in a coma for a week. So there was three months of that time that I didn’t even know if I was going to live.

“I was hooked up to all these heart monitors. I couldn’t move my legs. Every time my kids would come see me, they would just cry. I thought, ‘This is it. There’s no way anything can get better.’”

Thankfully, Mendez made it out of the hospital. He was in a wheelchair, but he was alive. He was constantly haunted by his doctor’s words ringing through his head: “Get used to life in a wheelchair.”

Unfortunately, the bumps in the road weren’t over. Mendez cites his disease as a factor in his divorce from his wife. In retrospect, he can see how his condition had changed him and what a burden he was to his family.

“I was an asshole,” Mendez admitted candidly. “You know, I blamed everybody for me being that way, and I wouldn’t go to church like I should. During that time, I turned my head away because I didn’t understand why all this was happening to me.

“Shortly after that, I got divorced. It was hard on her. It was very hard on her. We’re good friends now. We get along, but it was a lot to deal with for me, but also for her.”

If his health problems and personal problems weren’t enough, there were also the accompanying financial woes. He had lost his health insurance. According to Mendez, he was only getting $800 a month from his disabilities check. A doctor’s checkup cost $600, and his medication cost $1800 a month. You do the math.

The Deer Antler Man

Enter Mitch Ross.

Who is Mitch Ross? Well, that’s a tough question. You see, the answer depends on whom you might ask.

The state of Alabama? They might call him a charlatan.

Ray Lewis? He might deny even knowing anyone named Mitch Ross.

Bill Goldberg? Joey Beltran? Evander Holyfield? Mike Tyson? Gary Goodridge? They might sing his praises.

Of course, with any testimonial, positive or negative, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Despite all of the negative claims of Ross committing nefarious acts, you really do get the sense that he wants to help people when you talk to him. And for all the assertions that he is some sort of miracle healer, there have not been substantial studies to back up the claims about deer antler spray.

In fact, scientists associated with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) only declared the substance legal after finding that “it resulted in infinitesimal amounts [of growth hormones] actually being taken into the recipient’s body.”

Ross has his own definition of himself.

“I’m not a doctor. I don’t practice medicine. I’m a Christ-modeling Christian, and I believe that God is using me as a faith healer,” said Ross. “These nutrients are things that I recommend and provide for people like Jay, or Ray Lewis, or whoever else I’ve helped.”

Two years ago, while his old company was still afloat, Ross became aware of Mendez’s case and sought him out to offer his services. Ross had been working with former UFC, Pride and K-1 fighter Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge, and he claims that his deer antler spray product helped alleviate Goodridge’s symptoms of suicidal thoughts due to extreme brain trauma.

Ross, while confident in his product, wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen with someone like Mendez who had such a serious disease.

“I just put him on the protocol of what I thought would help with his issues, and it did help,” said Ross. “And then, during this time, my company was shut down in the State of Alabama.”

As reported by 60 Minutes, Ross was charged with 234 counts of deceptive trade practices. He was called a “sham salesman.”

“So Jay was without stuff, and he got back into the wheelchair and the hospital, and we couldn’t do anything,” Ross continued. “He got back on the protocol, and he’s doing better. It is what it is.”

According to Ross, whether you are someone looking just to make some athletic gains or you have a serious condition like Goodridge and Mendez, the protocol is essentially the same.

“It’s set up to do whatever they’re trying to accomplish. It’s all about rejuvenating the body,” explained Ross. “It’s all about…I believe a lot of it is God, too. It is what it is. When I started working with Goodridge, I never would have thought what happened [would] happen.”

Ross confesses that he was also pleasantly surprised by Mendez’s results.

“I mean, how many people do you get to work with that go from being in a wheelchair to back in the ring?” he asked.

If we take Ross’s claims at face value and this deer antler spray product really can combat MS or help with traumatic brain injury, then should it be a supplement that’s allowed in professional sports? Ross thinks so.

“Absolutely, it’s fair” he said. “It’s natural, and if we don’t allow these athletes to take care of themselves, then they wind up like Jay or like Goodridge or like all the rest if you don’t have a proactive protocol.”

The Spray

Alternative medicine, and the idea of using horns for their medicinal properties, has been around much longer than Mitch Ross and deer antler spray. In actuality, long ago it was probably just called “medicine.” Isn’t life funny?

The deer antler velvet, which is the important part of the spray, has been used in Chinese medicine for millennia, but the deer antler velvet is only one substance in a long list of alternative medications. In other cultures, rhino horn has been believed to increase fertility. Acupuncture claims a wide array of benefits. And who could forget about ExtenZe, those over-the-counter penis-enlargement pills? Yes, before you quickly judge traditional Chinese medicine, just remember that you can buy “natural male enhancement” pills at a gas station.

Dr. Gelber helped clarify what it is about the deer antler velvet that people believe can bring them a competitive edge in sports.

“From what I gather, the claims of how it works is related to insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1,” said Dr. Gelber. “And IGF-1, for all intents and purposes, is a growth hormone, and in its concentrated form [it] is banned by the NFL and other major professional sports.”

While IGF-1 is, without a doubt, a powerful hormone, the question is whether that is actually transmitted through an oral spray.

“I haven’t seen any studies—scientific studies, I should specify—that definitively say there’s IGF-1 in there,” said Dr. Gelber, referencing the products Ross promotes.

“I’ve also seen reports from endocrinologists that give IGF-1 to their patients. They have to give it to them in a syringe in a liquid form through an injection,” Dr. Gelber continued. “I think the claim is that the IGF-1 itself is an unstable protein, and the fact that it can be delivered through a spray, and be effective, is highly unlikely.

“So there certainly is a benefit of the body to IGF-1, but whether that’s being delivered through the deer antler spray, I don’t think anybody can scientifically say that’s true.”

Back to the Cage

Like most other people, Mendez had his doubts when he first spoke with Ross. Who wouldn’t be skeptical? A spray that can make the crippled walk again? Sounds likes something from The Jetsons.

“When I was introduced with Mitch,” said Mendez, “I didn’t even ask a whole lot about it. He just told me he could help me, and I was willing to try anything I could to get my life back together—help me get my kids back, help me be good to them. So I was willing to try anything.

“I had to give him a shot. I had to give the ‘Mitch Ross Protocol’ a chance, and I’m glad I did.”

Mendez (Facebook.com/jay.mendez3‎)

Mendez (Facebook.com/ jay.mendez3‎)

After being in a wheelchair from 2011 to 2012, Mendez was out and about feeling like a man on a mission. Anyone he saw with any injury, he would defer to the “Mitch Ross Protocol.” He wanted to show that he was living proof that Ross was no “sham salesman” con artist. He wanted to be living proof that through hard work and tenacity, anything is possible.

“This guy came out of nowhere to help me out,” said Mendez. “I wanted to be able to help somebody change their life to be back how they used to be.”

Mendez has been talking with the Oklahoma MMA promotion Xtreme Fight League about making a comeback this summer. Mendez says that for his first fight he would compete at lightweight instead of his usual featherweight so it will not put too much strain on his body.

It begs the question…why fight again? If you’ve gone from a wheelchair to walking around and resuming your life as it was before the disease, haven’t you already won? For most, maybe. Not for Jay Mendez.

“I don’t want to feel like the disease beat me,” said Mendez. “I want to feel like I beat the disease, and that’s a fight in itself. Whether, at the end of the fight, if my hand’s raised, I get TKO’d or I get submitted, I still won the fight because I came back to do what somebody said I would never do again.”

Final Thoughts

This story is but a small sliver of Jay Mendez’s life. There is no way that I, nor most of those that hear this story, can even comprehend the feelings of anguish he’s felt, but also of the triumph.

Here’s my take:

Does Jay Mendez believe that the deer antler spray allowed him to walk again? Absolutely.

Does Mitch Ross believe that he is giving people a product that will help them? Absolutely.

Do you have the right to think that all this deer antler spray stuff is complete and utter nonsense? Absolutely.

The fact is that without extensive testing on Mendez or the supplement, there’s no way of knowing how he made such a dramatic comeback. However, you don’t have to be a religious person to consider Mendez coming back to the cage, if for only one fight, as an absolutely miracle.

I would like to thank Jay Mendez, Mitch Ross and Dr. Jonathan Gelber of FightMedicine.net for their time. Also, thank you to Leah Tully for helping with the research.

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.

  • Marcia

    Wonderful article Zach. Keep up these great stories.

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