On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. David Chao said, he was contacted by representatives for UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
They did not tell him at the time who they represented other than that it was a professional athlete. What they wanted was a clear, unbiased look at MRI results that he would later learn were for Aldo's ribs.
Chao, the former team doctor for the San Diego Chargers and a practicing surgeon in the San Diego area, agreed to take a look.
Three separate doctors in Brazil had diagnosed Aldo with a broken rib. The UFC, however, had released a statement downplaying Aldo's injury and saying that "several doctors" had confirmed the injury as a bone bruise and cartilage injury.
On Wednesday afternoon, Chao said, he was finishing up a surgery when he received another message from Aldo's camp asking if he could hurry and take a look. Unbeknownst to Chao—who described himself as a casual mixed martial arts fan that rarely keeps up with the news covering the sport—Aldo had pulled out of the fight, and the champion was taking a beating on social media from the fans and media who said he was harming his legacy by withdrawing.
So Chao said he would take a look. The team sent him a zip file with over 100 images from the MRI. With usual MRI files, a doctor can scroll through quickly, looking for problem areas. But Aldo's MRI file was jumbled, a result of the compression used before it was sent. The files were out of order, and Chao told Aldo's representative that it might take a little bit to find the slide displaying the affected area.
But when Chao got to the slides that covered the area, he immediately recognized the injury.
"The MRI image I saw shows a fracture," Chao told Bleacher Report on Thursday morning. He told Aldo's rep that the person in question needed to get it taken care of. When the rep asked if it was an injury that could heal quickly, the doctor laughed and said no.
It was at this point that Chao was informed that the MRI belonged to Aldo. They also gave the doctor permission to publish his thoughts via his Twitter account. Chao used his phone to take a photo of the MRI screen and then published the image with his analysis late Wednesday night.
The images are striking. The white-hot lines streaking across one of Aldo's lower ribs are seemingly proof that the champion indeed suffered a break. Two independent doctors contacted by Bleacher Report seconded Chao's assessment.
The images tweeted by Chao are also blurry. That, Chao noted, could be a product of several things.
"They are blurry because you have to breathe. MRIs are a three- to five-minute sequence, and it isn't easy to stay still," he said. The poor image quality is also due to the way they were taken: with a phone camera held up to a computer monitor.
Chao said that out of the over 100 images contained in the MRI file, he picked out the two that showed the clearest picture of the break. They are essentially the smoking gun that proves Aldo's injury was what he originally said it was.
"It is clear to me that there’s a fracture on that image," Chao said.
The UFC has not responded to a request for information regarding the doctors they used to verify Aldo's injury.
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report.