LAS VEGAS — There is a side of Sean Strickland that he knows is there, but prefers to keep locked away and hidden. He shudders to imagine what might happen to him if that side of himself appeared more often during his everyday life.
It’s that lust for blood, the love of the fight, that drives Strickland. Despite the hardships he’s faced as he’s pursued a mixed martial arts career — when he turned pro at 18, he used to bicycle 20 miles one way to the gym to train because he couldn’t afford any other way — there is nothing else he would prefer to do.
And it keeps that side of him that he’s not always sure he can control satisfied and out of the way most of the time.
Fighting isn’t an easy profession. Many think the pressure builds the closer one gets to fighting for a title. But as the great golfer Lee Trevino once said, “Pressure is playing for $5 a hole with only $2 in your pocket.” The real pressure in fighting comes in trying to break through, to make a living off it and pay all the bills, and perhaps sock away a few bucks for the future.
Most fighters never make it, and Strickland, who fights Uriah Hall on Saturday at Apex in a five-round middleweight bout in the main event of UFC Vegas 33, advises those who talk to him about it to reconsider dreams of fighting.
“You know what the hard thing is, man?” Strickland asked rhetorically. “It’s being broke. People think that you’re in the UFC and you make a lot of money, but you really don’t. If you look at what they’re signing guys on for … I’ll tell guys, maybe they’re 28 years old, maybe 29, and they want to be a UFC fighter. I say, ‘Listen, man. I’m going to be straight with you. Chances are, you’re going to fight for a couple of years and you’re going to end up broke. You’d be better off being an electrician at this rate.’
“One of the hardest things with my performances early on was I was just broke. I’d have these thoughts, ‘Do I want to go out there and fight and put on a great show?’ Well, if I lose, that’s half my check. That’s another, $10,000, $15,000 out of my pocket. I’d ask if I’d just be better off going out and sticking and moving and getting my win bonus. My life has improved a lot since then and now, if I lose a fight, I’m not going to miss a car payment.”
But trying to get established is difficult. The money is not good for those starting out and it takes both talent and luck to make it.
“Fighting is the most brutal way to make money,” he said. “I tell everyone who asks me about it, don’t. Don’t do it.”
Strickland, who is ranked No. 11 at middleweight, has a duality about him, however. As much as he talks about his difficult young life as a professional fighter, he’s recently said that if pro fighting didn’t exist, he’d pay to go to a gym to fight.
Yet, that side of him that he prefers to keep behind closed doors keeps pushing to get out. He has a lust for the fights that knows no bounds.
“Like, violence? It’s in my soul,” Strickland said. “I don’t want to sound too cryptic, but if it wasn’t for MMA, I’d probably be in prison. There’s some urge in me, there’s some voice in me, that finds so much enjoyment in hurting people. I need it. If not, I’d probably do drugs.
“I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke or drink. But if it wasn’t for MMA, I’d really have to medicate myself to function. The problem is, I’m so violent, if I started drinking, it might just come out more often.”
Strickland would love for that side of himself to emerge in the cage while he’s fighting the eighth-ranked Hall. Strickland is a healthy -225 favorite at BetMGM to defeat Hall, who is +180.
It’s a fight he believes he should win, but it’s a fight fraught with risk.
“I’m better than Uriah Hall,” said Strickland, who said he feels the bout is the biggest of his career. “I’m better than him. I’m a better grappler and I’m a better striker. But he is fast, he is long and he is dangerous. So you take that combination and you’re only one mess-up away from going to sleep.
“Am I the favorite? Yeah. I’m a better fighter than he is. But we have to take into account the four-ounce gloves, the speed, the reach. It’s a war. He’s a very scary man.”
But in Strickland’s own words, he can be quite scary himself.
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