Angela Magaña: Fighting for Her Life and Team La Perla

Apr 20, 2019
1:01 PM

After spending nearly two days in a coma, MMA fighter, Pan Am wrestler and Puerto Rican Olympic hopeful Angela Magaña is finally awake.

“After I was a little more aware of my life this video was made. Now begins my road back to ,” Magaña tweeted on Saturday morning.

“I’m alive. I guess there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be alive,” she said in the video. “I was very afraid of dying.”

“I’m ready to fight. Combate, I’m coming back, man,” Magaña added.

According to her coaches and teammates, she plans to continue fighting for her barrio, inside the ring and out. And while her trainer Gabriel Lastamus remains cautiously optimistic, he could barely contain his excitement over text.

“She’s up and joking,” said Lastamus, who has been communicating via text from Magaña’s phone. “She is awake!!!!!”

Magaña, 35, underwent successful emergency spinal surgery to repair a nerve block —a complication that arose from a herniated disc— in San Juan on Tuesday.  Though the surgery apparently worked, Magaña slipped into a coma and had been unresponsive for hours after the operation, but eventually regained control of her fingers and toes.  

“She is starting to twitch the eyes, and toes…” said Lastamus over text on Wednesday. “But she doesn’t have an enzyme to break down the anesthesia.”

According to Lastamus, Magana’s allergy to anesthesia is hereditary. It’s extremely rare —affecting only one in 200,000 Americans each year— but her aunt allegedly died from similar complications. The fighter voiced her fears in her last social media post before undergoing surgery.

Since then, Magaña’s coaching staff had been updating her Twitter account with posts and videos.

Magaña is no stranger to adversity, and neither is her Twitter feed. While Magaña is known for her “bad girl” MMA persona and controversial social media presence, she has spent the last few years advocating for the needs of the members of her community in La Perla, a barrio of Old San Juan, which has been historically underserved by the government.

Magaña’s social media feed became a loudspeaker for the needs of Puerto Ricans during Hurricane María’s protracted aftermath. In the absence of government assistance, people in La Perla began turning to her for supplies and aid.  

“Nobody wants to give us aid in La Perla. FEMA came once, and they never came back,” Magaña said during an interview in her oceanfront gym last month. “I have a little bit of a social media outreach, so I was able to get a soldier who was coming to do like some private security bring me some tarps. Different fans were contacting me online, and we even got some emergency meals from someone in the state police in New York.”

Magaña, originally an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, moved to La Perla three years ago. She cemented her legacy in Puerto Rico around a year ago, when she opened the barrio’s first boxing gym, and founded “Team La Perla,” the neighborhood’s first boxing team. Since then, she has been embraced by locals, and even qualified as a wrestler for the 2019 Pan Am games. It’s her fighting nature that will hopefully land her back on the mat in time to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games as a freestyle wrestler, representing Puerto Rico.

Magaña in La Perla (Photo by @erikruthoff)

“I’m actually on the world team for Puerto Rico at 53 kilograms for freestyle wrestling,” Magaña said last month. “I’ll be representing Puerto Rico in the Pan Ams, trying to qualify for the Olympics.”  

And she’s doing it for La Perla.

“La Perla has always been like this stepsister of the island,” Magaña said. “We’ve never had any help. If a house burns down, we have to extinguish it rebuild it ourselves. Ambulances don’t come down here. Cops won’t come down here. I just have a lot of pride that I’ve moved here and have won the support of the locals, and this means a lot to all of us.” 

Magaña believed that keeping positive and fighting relentlessly has been essential in her community’s survival and recovery from the storm.  That’s why she even continued to train for fights, even when she was diagnosed with a rare form of anemia during the storm’s historic aftermath.

“I shouldn’t have done it,” Magaña said last month, “but I just felt like I couldn’t give up, that I had like the pride of Puerto Rico on my back and I had to get in that cage and prove that we were still there to fight, and then like nothing could bring us down.”

But that fighting instinct is what may have landed her in the hospital to begin with. After experiencing a herniated disc earlier this month, Magaña continued to train —and the injury began to affect her spine and nervous system.  She was then rushed to the hospital— and kept updating her Twitter. When she went under the knife, her trainers and “Team La Perla” kept the feed active. Now, according to Lastamus, Magaña is awake and already talking about wrestling.  

“She says she’ll still be fighting and on the Puerto Rico wrestling national team, and nothing can take that martial arts fighting spirit,” Lastamus said. “She keeps talking about fighting, we want her to recover.  You can’t turn that off on her.”

Featured image of Magaña in the ring by @erikruthoff


Joaquín Colter is a journalist. A CUNY Graduate School of Journalism alum, Joaquín has worked as a production intern and contributing producer at Studio 360, a reporting fellow and composer at The GroundTruth Project and an audio producer for Latino USA. He keeps Puerto Rico in his heart, which he wears on his sleeve. He tweets from @ShinyIslands.