Could you please tell me a bit about your life growing up?
Yeah, man. I grew up in Layton, Utah on a family farm. We did various chores on the farm and just grew up working, man. I wrestled and did karate—I got into karate when I was about five—and I did that for a number of years. One of my instructors was doing some mixed martial arts training and he said, “Hey, man, you should start wrestling.” I started wrestling and I, kind of, mixed the karate with my wrestling. The first show that I ever saw was ‘The Smashing Machine’ with Mark Kerr—that was the first time that I really saw mixed martial arts and I said, “Wow, man—I want to do that.” Basically, all of the training that I’ve done since I was five, six years old was to become a mixed martial arts fighter later on in life.
This was always what you intended on doing?
Yeah—that was the idea. I wrestled, did karate, and later on got into kickboxing—to become a better martial artist—and then I got into two professional boxing matches. I started competing in jiu-jitsu regularly. I was training jiu-jitsu under a certain guy—he would teach me once or twice a week—and I would come back to teach it to the guys in our gym. That’s how I learnt it; it was very basic blue belt-stuff in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I did that for a couple years and competed as much as possible. Competition breeds champions, so I competed as often as possible; competing in boxing, jiu-jitsu, open wrestling tournaments—that all really helped me progress. February 7th, 2007 was my first mixed martial arts fight and before that, I had competed in 60 or 70 jiu-jitsu matches and I had some open wrestling tournaments that I did pretty well at. I also wrestled in high-school and I did pretty well in that; I was a two-time 5A state-placer and I had a scholarship offer. I ended up losing my scholarship offer, though, because of Title-9. And I didn’t have enough money to go and wrestle out of state, either. I decided to go to a college—Weber State University—and I started hanging out with a couple of my old friends that used to drink and party. I was pissed off at the world, because I wasn’t wrestling and the school that I was going to didn’t offer wrestling—neither did any other school in Utah—and I started partying and drinking. I got into a wreck and shattered my collarbone and was put on pain narcotics. I started mixing the narcotics and, two years later, I ended up overdosing on heroin. I was damn-near homeless; I had lost everything.
When you were using drugs, how would you describe your life?
In the beginning? My dad was a beer-drinker, so when we were out camping, we would sneak into my dad’s cooler and we would take a couple of beers and go drink them. I was really responsible in high-school, though; I got pretty good grades, my attendance was really good, I focused mostly on wrestling, too. I did really well in high-school and during the summers I would work, so I might have a beer or two on the weekends—underage—or we would go to where we have a property and have some beers and get drunk. But I always kept it to a minimum. After high-school was over, I started experimenting with muscle relaxers, Xanax, and other pharmaceutical drugs. Then I started mixing all of that with alcohol and it just got progressively worse from there. I figured I was born an alcoholic and a drug addict; that’s the only thing that explains why I can’t have just one beer or, when I’m prescribed a narcotic, I can’t just take them as prescribed.
Do you think had you had the opportunity to wrestle in university all of that could’ve been avoided?
For years, that was a big resentment that I had; “all of this shit would’ve never happened,” I would think. My dream was to be a Division I national qualifier or an All-American; that’s what I wanted to do. I also wanted to study to help people who are suffering from diabetes; I thought that I would be able to help people out that weren’t raised properly, that weren’t taught to eat properly—that’s what I wanted to do. I thought that I could be a dietician on the side and pursue a career in martial arts, but things work out for a reason, man. I tried out a few times for ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ but I didn’t think they would pick me, so it was a huge surprise to be picked for ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ What I did have was a story, though; I had a drug overdose, I was a drug addict, and an alcoholic, I had been in trouble with the law, I had lost all of my material possessions, I had been to jail multiple times—I was facing felony drug charges. I knew I was a good guy, but I just couldn’t show it when I was drinking and using; I couldn’t do shit, man. I had a hard time going to work, I had lost my relationships with my family; all of the people that I was hanging out with were shooting and doing dope. They said that they were your friends, but I don’t know how good of a friend you can be when you’re strung out on heroin [laughs]—other than trying to hook you up with their heroin, I guess. That’s where I ended up; I ended up in a trailer—messed up on numerous drugs—with a cousin of mine.
Do you reflect on your past a lot?
Yeah, quite a bit. It’s part of my story, man. The reason why I fight and compete are pretty clear to me. I compete to carry the message of other people that struggle; there’s a way out, so if I can do it, you can do it. I’m no different than anyone—I’m no different than you, man—I’m just a professional mixed martial artist. Number-two; I do it for the pay-out, so I can provide for my family. I can pay for a home, clean water—and everything else, of course—and I can be able to be a family man. I’ve got a wife and two sons, so this allows me to provide for them. I also do it because I love the competition; I enjoy the training, I enjoy coaching people, I enjoy cornering people. I also have very good relationships with me coaches. I have multiple coaches, but my two main coaches are John Hackleman—the owner and the founder of The Pit—and Jason Mertlich—he’s my jiu-jitsu, ground, and conditioning coach—and they’re equal. It’s a big family and I’m very connected with them; I’m very close to John Hackleman and Jason Mertlich, too. I had a coach that didn’t show up for five weeks and I found out that he was taking money from me—and it was very difficult for me to let him go—but I asked Jason if he would take me through his belt system. He’s a black belt in FOUR7 jiu-jitsu—it’s a really unique combat jiu-jitsu system for mixed martial arts. It’s, like, a 10-15 year process and he stood up and took on the challenge, came on as one of my head coaches, and he’s done a fantastic job. We’ve got a really great relationship and he’s a great coach. I’ve also got four or five training partners who are really close friends and I’ve got an active life in recovery. Sober comes first, though; if I can’t stay away from drugs and alcohol, then I can’t have any of this. I was living in a meth lab trailer, using drugs—I couldn’t even hold a job—and now I’m a pro athlete in the UFC and I won ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ I just recently bought a home, I’ve got two vehicles that I’ve paid for, my debt is paid off—and I’m not rich by any means—but I’m comfortable and I’ve got my family. I couldn’t ask for a better life, you know? This life allows me to convey my message and, maybe, help someone with their recovery—you couldn’t ask for more, dude.