Long before Captain America called him a villain, and a full decade before vacating the UFC Welterweight Champion he held for six straight years, Georges St-Pierre roamed Montreal streets as a garbage man. The MMA legend was your average Joe; a city employee who moonlighted as a night club bouncer, patching together training sessions in between.
Surprising? Maybe. But common among fighters facing a path that separates in-ring dreams from life’s obligations.
A look at UFC 167 salaries reinforces the perception that fighters can’t survive on one-to-two matches per year. Sure GSP and Rashad Evans cleared over $250,000 each, respectively, but nine others didn’t crack $20,000. Factor in training costs, medical expense, and travel arrangements for one’s team and they actually paid to compete.
The truth is, a fighter must have two jobs to survive. From police officers (Forrest Griffin, Mike Russow) to grade school teachers (Rich Franklin, Roy Nelson) to U.S. Army enlistees (Randy Couture, Tim Kennedy), mixes martial artists have adapted to life outside of combat sports.
Griffin’s rise to fame is well documented. His The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale showdown with Stephan Bonner catapulted the UFC into relevance, but it may not have happened had Griffin not left his day job.
The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion served as a police officer for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta, Ga. As Griffin puts it, all he really wanted to do was chase bad guys and get into gun fights. Griffin actually gave up on MMA and took the job with the department, but reconsidered after speaking with Dana White.
UFC Light Heavyweight Michael Bisping is a Jack Of All Trades. Before he sprung to a 14-0 professional MMA record, ‘The Count’ shuffled between jobs as a carpenter, salesman, mailman, DJ, and a slaughterhouse worker. The DJ gig is more of a hobby, but Bisping has taken his turn-table skills around the world.
Few people in the world love McDonalds as much as the Hamburglar and Anderson Silva is one of them. ‘The Spider’ worked for Mickey D’s before his MMA career began. He once claimed to chow down on Big Macs before and after weigh-ins, an unbelievable fact given his lanky frame. Silva would still be working at McDonalds if Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira hadn’t pushed him to continue training, as longtime manager Ed Soars once explained.
Two fighters in particular have proven that careers outside of MMA aren’t always sexy, but with an education, can be lucrative. Shane Carwin is a full-time mechanical engineer with Colorado’s North Weld Country Water District. Obviously, this isn’t something one can learn on a whim. Carwin received a Bachelor’s degree from the Colorado School of Mines and became an engineer out of college, training in MMA on the side.
Before Joe Lauzon fully dedicated himself to MMA, he worked as a network administrator for Massachusetts-based Charles River Analytics. There isn’t a job available that so starkly contrasts to the physicality involved in combat sports. The baby-faced UFC lightweight almost quit training saying that he didn’t picture himself as a full-time fighter, but rethought the decision after his success on The Ultimate Fighter.
“Their issue is always the most important thing. ‘This is the end of the world. This has to be done right now.’ It gets to the point where you want to strangle people,” Lauzon said in an interview with USA Today. “I think they all fantasize about, like, ‘Man, I would love to punch somebody.’ And I actually get to do it. I get to beat
people up.” This goes to show that no matter how geeky or awkward an IT guy seems, he may be the strongest man in the room.
Combining the courage, strength, and stamina a fighter needs, some have exchanged their MMA trunks for a firefighter’s uniform. Chris Lytle, UFC legend Don Frye, and retired Russian heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko put their lives on the line daily long before they stepped into a ring. Lytle is still active, serving for the Indianapolis Fire Department.
In the early 90s, between stints as a boxer and mixed martial artists, Frye was a Tucson, Ariz. fireman. Due to political pressure, Frye turned to MMA and earned immediate success in the UFC’s early days.
Fighters find a way to make ends meet. They are real estate agents, politicians, investment bankers, and bull riders that have an insatiable need to fulfill their dreams. Some find worldwide success, while other are relegated back to their day jobs. In the end, however, they’re all trying to get by just like everyone else.