Every UFC fighter has their own story to tell about their journey to the big leagues. And each is unique and intriguing in its own way.
However, some stars incredible backstories stand out from the rest. In this article, we?ll look at 10 current fighters competing in the UFC who have had the most unforgettable journeys on their way to becoming a professional fighter.
Former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo?s family was so poor that buying a gi for Brazilian jiu-jitsu seemed out of the question. However, a local coach recognized his potential, giving him an old one and letting him train for free. Aldo took to the sport instantly. Four months later he was already making an impression in his first tournament He?d go on to train multiple times a day and win several local tournaments.
The teenage Aldo knew that to make a career out of it, he?d have to make his way from Manaus to the bright lights of Rio. With the help of his coach and working alongside his father as a bricklayer, he scraped together enough money to get a one-way ticket. Penniless, Aldo had no option but to live at the gym ran by ?Dede? Pederneiras. He used the mat he rolled on during the day as his bed at night and ate just once a day.
Eventually, the gym moved. Aldo would have been homeless if fellow fighter Hacran Dias hadn?t offered him a place to live in his mother?s cramped home deep within the favelas of Rio. It was a rough place to live, but Aldo never lost focus on chasing his dream. In the end, it all paid off when he became a champion in the WEC and then transitioned to the UFC, defended his title seven times and became a multimillionaire in the process.
Donald?s Cerrone?s ?Cowboy? nickname isn?t just a marketing gimmick. It?s a lifestyle for the long-time UFC star, who owns a ranch in New Mexico. As a teenager, Cerrone even attempted to pursue a career as a professional bull rider, which seemed like a natural fit for this adrenaline junkie. A hyperactive, fearless child, Cerrone?s parents couldn?t handle him and sent him to live with his grandparents. They were both doctors. That came in very handy. They helped patch up his frequent wounds from daredevil antics.
In addition to bull riding, Cerrone?s other pursuits included fighting, rock-climbing, mountain biking, and riding ATVs. The latter almost cost him his life when he failed to make a jump and impaled himself on the handlebars of the vehicle, leading to him being pronounced dead by doctors at one stage. He then two weeks in intensive care after having half of his intestines removed. Eventually, Cerrone decided to turn his love of fighting into a career and became an MMA star. That helped him buy his own ranch where other fighters come to train. He also still pursues multiple extreme sports interests in addition to his successful fighting career.
Jorge Masvidal loved playing the ?Street Fighter? video game as a child. Only a few years later, he became one himself on the mean streets of Miami. The teenage Masvidal?s reputation for fighting grew amongst his friend to the point where they?d bet on him to win street fights against other local tough guys.
In the early 2000s, Masvidal caught the attention of backyard boxing sensation Kimbo Slice, who was a breakout star on YouTube at the time, and offered him the chance to fight his protege ?Ray.? Ray had a fearsome reputation and was clearly the bigger man. But the young Masvidal used his superior boxing technique to outstrike Ray and earn a stoppage victory, with the video then getting over a million views on YouTube.
?Gamebred? then agreed to a rematch. Though it was a tougher fight, he again emerged victorious after dropping Ray and eventually forcing him to quit. The recognition from that helped Masvidal make his mark in MMA. Years later as his career reaches an all-time high in the UFC, that street-fighting past has helped cement his status as one of the sport?s true ?Bad Motherf***ers.?
Born in Cameroon, Ngannou lived in poverty throughout his childhood years and was working in a sand mine by his 12th birthday. Ngannou?s father had a reputation as a street fighter. Ngannou was offered the chance to become part of local gangs, but he resisted and instead turned his attention towards boxing.
By the age of 26, he was still extremely poor. He made a brave decision to travel to France in the hopes of making his living from boxing. With no money to his name, Ngannou began living rough on the streets of Paris. A local gym let him train for free, during which time he began focusing on MMA. Ngannou quickly turned pro. With his hulking physique and knockout power, he compiled a winning record and caught the attention of the UFC. ?The Predator? has since gone on to become one of the UFC?s leading heavyweight stars. He fought for the title and now commands a six-figure salary every time he competes.
Fighting in the Octagon seems less daunting when you?ve already stared death in the face. McGee?s journey into drug addiction began when he started abusing painkillers he?d been prescribed after undergoing several surgeries during his high school years. He soon became addicted to snorting oxycontin. He progressed to Xanax, cocaine, and methamphetamine in the two years that followed.
Things got even worse when one night he took heroin for the first time. Just a few weeks later in September of 2005, he overdosed and was pronounced clinically dead after his heartbeat stopped for eight minutes. After spending over 30 days in recovery, McGee continued to battle addiction He relapsed several times in the months that followed before finally achieving sobriety due to the guilt he felt from letting his family down. The following year, McGee would make his debut as a professional MMA fighter. In 2010, he won The Ultimate Fighter Season 11 to secure a spot in the UFC where he remains to this day.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Ortega grew up in the San Pedro projects of Los Angeles. It?s a rough neighborhood where gangs were such a problem that his father put a mobile home outside the house at night to shield them from stray gunfire. With as many as 14 people living in their small family home, Ortega spent most of his time on the streets. He becoming involved in fighting, drugs, and crime at an early age.
That got completely out of control when one of his friends was shot in the back and killed in a drive-by shooting as ?T-City? watched on in horror. Remarkably, during this turbulent time, Ortega was leading a double life. He was studying Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rener Gracie and began fighting in the illegal underground fight scene. One day, local boxing coach James Luhrson approached Ortega. In front of all his crew, he asked him why he was hanging around with troublemakers and offered to train him.
Ortega agreed and eventually turned pro as an MMA fighter, became a star in the UFC, and distanced himself from his troubled past. He did this while making a positive contribution to the next generation of underprivileged kids in the U.S. with his ?Brian Ortega Foundation? charity.
On Youtube a number of years ago, a video of a young child wrestling a bear cub in a foreign land gained some notoriety. But at the time, no one knew who it was. It was only a long time later that rising UFC star Khabib Nurmagomedov confirmed that he was the boy in the video, revealing that it had been taken when he was just nine years old in the hills of Dagestan. He said the bear was,??my friend from childhood and my best sparring partner.?
Nurmagomedov received some backlash from animal rights groups for the video. But at the same time, it also increased the mystique surrounding the undefeated fighter.??It is a pity that there was nothing more interesting when he was younger,??Nurmagomedov?s father ruefully told fight.ru.??In the end, this was a test of character more than exercise.?
It?s fascinating that McGregor?s career almost fell through multiple times before he became the sport?s biggest ever star. His mother and father feared he had no future as a fighter, so they convinced him to become an apprentice plumber. But the 17-year-old hated it and quit to pursue his passion.
However, ?The Notorious? will to continue was tested after he lost his third pro fight by submission in just 69 seconds. Though he?d claim a quick TKO victory in his next fight, he drifted away from the sport for the better part of two years. Seeing that he was unhappy and heading down the wrong path in life, McGregor?s mother pleaded with his coach John Kavanagh to help him. After he made a personal visit to his home, McGregor agreed to refocus on his fighting career.
McGregor went on to win nine of his next 10 fights and claimed Cage Warriors featherweight and lightweight titles. But he was still making barely any money. When one of his training partners suffered a career-ending injury, he decided to call it quits too. For two weeks McGregor stopped going to the gym. A phone call one night from Kavanagh saying that the UFC wanted him to fight in nine weeks? time changed his life forever.
McGregor infamously admitted after his debut win over Marcus Brimage that he?d still been picking up a welfare cheque just a week earlier. He had spent the last of that on a bow-tie for the press conference. But he almost instantly had become a star. He?d go on to become a two-division UFC champion. In 2018, he was named the fourth richest athlete in all of sports for that year with estimated earnings of $99 million.
At 19 years old, Heinisch began dealing ecstasy in large quantities in Denver. He sold 2,000 pills a week until he was caught by police in a drug sting. Heinisch was bailed out of jail the next day by his mother. But facing four to six years in jail, he fled to Europe.
He bounced around several countries before settling in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. There he worked at a local bar. He slept on the beach for several months and became an alcoholic. Heinisch was then talked into becoming a drug mule. He swallowed bags of cocaine in Columbia and brought them back to Tenerife. Heinisch completed this process around a dozen times in the two years that followed. He was finally caught and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail. Heinisch was released a year early and deported back to the U.S. There, he was re-arrested for his earlier drug bust and sent to Rikers prison in New York.
There he fought an inmate wielding a knife and had a ?stab on sight? hit put out on him by a member of the Latino Kings, before luckily being shipped back to Denver, where he was fortunate to eventually be released without serving any more time. Since then, Heinisch has gone on to turn his life around pursuing a career in MMA. He?s compiled a 13-2 record including his current 2-1 run in the UFC.
At just seven years old, UFC legend Daniel Cormier?s father was murdered. An argument at a family gathering got out of hand. It led to him being shot dead by his second wife?s dad.
At the age of 23, another devastating tragedy befell Cormier when his three-month-old daughter, Kaeyden was killed in a car wreck. The distraught DC had been preparing for Olympic wrestling trials at the time. He became a recluse afterward and missed the trials. Thankful;y, he was handed a lifeline that would lead to him qualifying for the Olympics.
Cormier came in fourth in the 2004 Olympic games. In 2008, he captained the Olympic wrestling team. But he suffered more adversity. He went through kidney failure during a weight cut and had to withdraw from the games.
It?s a testament to Cormier?s character that he continued to battle on. He turned to MMA. He was completely broke during his early run in Strikeforce. But he became their heavyweight tournament champion as an alternate. Cormier then achieved fame and fortune as a two-weight champion in the UFC. He?s also one of the promotion?s main color-commentators.