I stumbled across my first MMA fight on Spike TV back in middle school and instantly I was hooked. It was a UFC Unleashed episode, Matt Hughes versus Carlos Newton.
Hughes effortlessly lifted Newton up over his head, brought him to the cage and then slammed him, knocking Newton out and in turn winning the welterweight world title.
I was in awe of what I was watching. This sport was insane and I was in love with it from that point on. I was never really into team sports so seeing how you were one-on-one with your competition really appealed to me. I knew that this was something that I needed to try.
After a few years of being a die-hard fan, I began training at Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts as a hobby and instantly my love for the sport grew stronger, becoming an obsession that I couldn’t get enough of. It was hard work and I loved it.
Much like so many other kids, the desire to become a professional athlete was a dream for me. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I dreamt and visualized getting my hand raised while having Ultimate Fighting Championship gold wrapped around my waist.
That vision is truly what instilled a sense of dedication and a desire to put in countless hours of hard work that allowed me to fully immerse myself. MMA became a way of life for me. It helped me master my mind and face any challenge thrown at me.
That dream came even closer when I got the call up to step into the UFC Octagon in my home state of New York as a short-notice replacement against Tiago Trator.
All the years I put in training day-in and day-out had paid off. Being a part of the show with the UFC was absolutely incredible! It was even more than I ever imagined it could be. The UFC staff and the behind the scenes of it all really sealed it. From that first fight week I instantly loved being a part of the UFC.
I got to live a big portion of my dream every day and that’s not something that everyone gets the chance to say. I had some of the absolute best times of my life fighting for the UFC.
There are so many memorable moments. Getting my haircut mid-fight, standing across the cage from legends in the sport, Fight of the Night after Fight of the Night against absolute beasts of competitors, the magnitude of the events themselves.
Hearing the pop from sold-out crowds cheering me on as I made my entrance into the cage, the buzz and hype that comes along with all the craziness around fight week and of course the camaraderie gained going through those wars doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of my experiences. Every fighter coming up dreams of this and for me this was all real life.
After 11 fights in the UFC, it was a very challenging decision for me to test free agency. I was so happy where I was and couldn’t imagine life getting any better.
However, I knew something I had to do was bet on myself. Everyone knows me as an “in your face from bell to bell” kinda guy ready to put on a show, but first and foremost I’m a family man. My two daughters, wife and family are the most important factors in my life.
When my manager, Malki Kawa from First Round Management, came to me with the offer from the Professional Fighters League, it was something that stopped me right in my tracks. This was an unmatchable deal. An opportunity that would allow me to provide the best life possible for my family. To fully set my daughters’ futures up for success.
Professional Fighters League
As strong as my desire for UFC gold is and how much I will miss being a part of the UFC, this is something I simply could not pass up.
The PFL is extremely intriguing. The level of talent keeps getting better and better and their tournament-style season format is built to challenge your grit and mental fortitude. Those that follow me know the moniker I adopted from my strength and conditioning coach, John Rahn, is “Outwork Everyone.”
That is exactly what I intend on doing. As hard as it was to leave the UFC chapter behind me, I only see positive progression in my future with the PFL.
I look forward to competing with the top ranks of their roster with the ultimate goal of becoming the Million-Dollar Tournament Champion, not once but twice – and potentially even becoming the first-ever two-division champion in the PFL.
On top of the fight purse, there’s another part of my deal that made my decision a lot easier. I’ll be able to commentate for the PFL.
That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was in high school. I love this sport so much and when I’m all said and done with competing I still want to be involved in some way. Being able to make a career out of commentating will keep my passion for MMA alive when I retire from competition.
Most fighters, myself included, don’t have a backup or retirement plan and this will give me financial security doing something I absolutely love.