Aaron Aby: Football with Gareth Bale to cage fighting via struggles with cancer and cystic fibrosis
Last updated on .From the section Mixed Martial Arts
You would be forgiven for thinking that a cage fighter's biggest challenge would be avoiding the attacks of opponents.
But Welsh flyweight Aaron Aby was fighting battles for years before even stepping into the cage.
Diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at just two weeks old, the Wrexham fighter has spent a lifetime coping with health challenges, even overcoming stage three cancer.
He received the all-clear in March 2019 after intense chemotherapy, making his fighting return eight months later.
Aby hopes that his career shines a light for those with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disorder of the cell membrane that mainly affects the lungs and digestive system.
"One of my aims when I started MMA was to promote cystic fibrosis and my life in a positive frame and give people hope.
"I know when you're going through tough times you just need that bit of hope to cling on to and that's my aim, to keep doing that at the highest level."
Aby represented Wales at football from U13s right up to U17s, playing alongside Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Gareth Bale - and also shone in gruelling athletics races.
"I feel very fortunate to play with some of the people I played with and I represented Wales in football and cross-country.
"When I was younger one of the recommendations was for kids with cystic fibrosis to not participate in sports in case their lungs couldn't cope with it, but mum and dad always pushed me into all sports."
While on these football trips, Aby kept his condition hidden.
"I didn't tell anyone I had cystic fibrosis because I didn't want to be picked or not picked because of it so it was something I kept under wraps.
"When I'd go away with Wales to European countries I'd be sneaking my tablets from my pocket so nobody would see me and ask questions."
Aby was training with Wrexham AFC in the mornings when an excitement for mixed martial arts (MMA) took hold.
He would go with his father twice a week to a class for people with cystic fibrosis run by his uncle Julian. Those classes quickly expanded to three or four nights a week and so did the desire for amateur bouts.
"What I liked about mixed martial arts was I was in control of the results more," said Aby.
"I had more control over the destiny, nobody had to pick me and I didn't have to rely on team-mates.
"I like the competitiveness, the tactics, the nutrition, everything about it."
After his cancer diagnosis, Aby was made fully aware of the gravity of his situation.
"Being told 'you might not survive, it's going to be a long road back for you', I held onto the thought of competing again," he said.
He then received a text from Cage Warriors matchmaker Ian Dean offering a bout in Cardiff. At the time, Aby was in hospital having chemotherapy and explained the situation to Dean.
Dean replied: "There will be a pair of yellow gloves waiting for you when you get back."
And get back he did, with Aby pushing himself to return to fighting fitness.
"For me, the cancer journey, even though I'd had the all-clear, wasn't over until I competed again," said Aby.
"It's one of the things I'm most proud of because myself and everyone around me who got me through it were making that walk with me to compete again.
"Now I'm on Cage Warriors and enjoying every moment of it."
Aby will face Frenchman Samir Faiddine on Saturday at Cage Warriors 132 in London and while wary of his opponent believes he can win.
"He's a former world champion, he's beaten someone I've just lost to, but I can see ways to get a victory.
"He's explosive, but I'm going out there to perform my best and I do think I'll be able to finish him.
"I'm going to go out there, enjoy it, fight hard and hopefully come away with a victory."