In June of 2014, my career changed forever when I won the Tachi Palace Lightweight championship. Then, just two months later, I won the RFA Lightweight title. I became the promotion's first ever Lightweight champion at just 24-years-old. I was on a roll, I had won four in a row (including two belts) and life was looking good.
Directly following that RFA win, I entered the UFC on a three-fight contract.
A fighter is an active fighter if he fights three times in a year, I fought two title fights and debuted in the UFC in a matter of six months.
My first fight, I faced Gilbert Burns, and even though I never got the “Octagon jitters” that most fighters get on their first fight in the UFC, I wasn’t the victor. I lost via first round submission, but I was still confident that I deserved a spot. Burns was a huge name in the sport, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and I was still building my career. It was a tough loss for me, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me.
My next fight went much better when I faced Jorge de Oliveira in Brazil. I was the only American to bring home a win that night. I submitted de Oliveira in the first round with a rear-naked choke. Funny thing was, this fight was at the same arena I lost at previously, so it sort of felt like vindication.
Where I faltered was in the celebration. I started partying, going out and living up the UFC win. I wasn’t training as much, I was just enjoying myself. I went on vacation, I went to festivals, I ignored the gym because I had just fought and thought I had plenty of time before my next bout.
I was wrong. I got the call to fight Chris Wade on just three weeks notice. I couldn’t pass it up. I had two weeks to train, and I ended up using the last week to cut weight. It was rough, but I showed up to fight. Things didn't go my way that night, and I lost a close decision. Even after the fight, the UFC still wanted me back, and re-signed me again.
I waited for months, stayed in shape and was patient.
Unfortunately, they went through changes before booking my next fight and let a bunch of guys go, myself included. It sucked, since I wasn’t released because I lost or did anything bad. It was just a matter of rearranging the rooster. They even paid me for the fight that never happened.
I fell into a depression for a while, but then one day I told myself I had to get my act together and get back to working. From that day on, I took my career seriously, way more than I ever had before.
I used that time to hone my skills, and work on myself. I am confident that I'm 10 times better than I was when I entered the Octagon, and I know that I would put on a better show, too. I returned to RFA and have won two more fights there, one via first round TKO, the other a three-round war against a tough Brazilian.
Even though it’s only been two years since I last fought for the UFC, I think I'm a different fighter, a different man. I deserve a chance to prove that.