When Dominick Cruz came back from an injury-filled absence which felt like an eternity, he was in the center of a great comeback story. Even one of the best in the history of mixed martial arts.
Cruz was the bantamweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, before he tore the ACL on his left knee. As if the original injury wasn’t serious enough, he tore it again after a transplant from a cadaver wasn’t accepted by his body. He was away for two years until he finally was scheduled to step into the octagon in February 2014. Then, everything kept going south. Cruz tore his groin, forced to vacate the title and give up his belt.
Dominick Cruz fought back, and had his first fight in two years in September 2014, fighting in the prelim card with Takeya Mizugaki. Once the star of his division, Cruz wasn’t even on the main card and had a long long way to climb back onto the top. The first part of his comeback was complete when Cruz defeated his Japanese opponent and was granted a title shot right after his win, against T.J. Dillashaw. He didn’t lose it in a fight, but now the belt was on someone else’s waist and this San Diegan was determined to take it back.
Not so fast. How many times did we have one of “those days” where everything goes wrong collectively? That “day” lasted for almost five years for Dominick Cruz. Just when he saw the finish line, somebody took the chequered flag and ran off repeatedly. Cruz blew his right knee this time, which meant he wouldn’t fight to get his belt back until January 2016.
He did get the belt back eventually. In a close-fought rollercoaster battle with Dillashaw, Cruz won by unanimous decision to complete one of the most physically and mentally challenging comebacks the world of sports has ever seen.
In the post-fight interview, legendary MMA reporter Ariel Helwani asked Cruz if it was the greatest moment in his life. When Cruz responded with a calm “No” and followed it up with “The greatest moment in my life, was realizing I didn’t need the belt to be happy”. Ariel could only blurt out a faint “Wow”.
Dominick had already won it all, long before the fight to win it all back. He won not only the fight, but the life itself as well. It was just us mortals were finding it out now.
Still, Dominick Cruz isn’t one of those boring superheroes. When he greeted me in Chula Vista, San Diego at the Alliance Training Center with a smirk, I knew he wouldn’t tell me to eat my vegetables or brush my teeth two times a day. He’s just a very stubborn guy who can simultaneously be a zen master and a mischievous six-year-old, all at the same time. His fight technique is built on not getting hit, which helps to make what he has to say very interesting, inspirational and soothing. But it’s not the lack of concussion that make those inspirational words, it’s what he’s been through and what he came back from.
With Chargers’ status unsure and Padres not being a contender, you’re one of the few that brings sportive success to San Diego. How does the people react to that?
In San Diego, it’s a newer thing. I was the champion before, and got hurt. I had to vacate the title so that kinda took away San Diego’s following for a period of time for about three or four years while I was hurt. Now I got the belt back again.
Like you just said, the Chargers kinda weren’t doing so well so they’re getting rid of the team, and the Padres aren’t doing well. So really, I guess that moves me up in the top notch by default.
We’ll see what San Diego does with it, but absolutely, San Diego needs a champion and they have one. Hopefully, they grasp a hold of it and run with it because I’m here to keep the belt here. I was born here. I actually went to junior high and high school in Tucson, AZ. So that’s kinda like my roots to an extent, but at the same time San Diego has been a huge part of my growing success in my career. I’m happy to be here.
So you’re the undisputed San Diegan?
Yeah! Now I’ve been here almost ten years. It’s a decade. How long do you have to live somewhere for that place to be your home?
Although they’re not San Diegans like you, many MMA fighters set camp here. Is there something special about this city that makes it suitable for MMA?
Well, it’s funny because with the life that we live as fighters, you have a lot of free time, down time. And then a lot of that time is just spent training. When we’re training we like to have a good regimen, go hard, usually we go twice a day. But in between that, most fighters are looking for some sort of escape, a relaxation period. They look for a way to escape the work grind, and just being tired and exhausted.
San Diego’s perfect for that. You step outside, you go to the beach. You literally can do anything outside almost any time of the year because the weather’s so nice. Honestly, being outside is a peaceful thing, it’s a rejuvenation process. I think a lot of fighters can relate to that fact. They get done training, get out of the gym. And when you get out of the gym, you feel those endorphins from working out, knowing you pushed yourself. Then you step outside to 70 degrees in sunshine, it’s like a high. It’s an amazing feeling to be out here. So that mixed with the beach, mixed with the vast vast quantities of professional athletes, professional fighters that train here, I think the mixture is what creates basically a melting pot for mixed martial arts.
Your trash talking is usually considered as one of the most brutal in UFC…
Really? Didn’t know that.
…even sometimes on top of names like Chael Sonnen or Conor McGregor. One user in Reddit said McGregor’s trash talk is “like your parents getting drunk at a party and making dirty jokes on you, and yours is like your parents sitting you down and calmly explaining why they don’t like you”.
Haha! It’s amazing, it’s so accurate!
How do you achieve such effect with your trash talk while not using any profanity?
Yeah, it’s hard. If you know me as a person, I actually use profanity. I try not to, but it’s not easy because I’m kinda ghetto sometimes. But I try to hold back the ghetto for the people at home. So what ends up happening is exactly what you’re saying: You hold back the ghetto, you sound like a parent. You can’t cuss, yell or scream. That’s for my mom and my grandmother a hundred percent. My grandmother was a psycho, she’d torture me when I was a kid by reprimanding me, getting in my face, telling it how it was and not holding back any punches. She never spoiled me and always kept it real with me. She lived a tough life, growing up through the depression, a very difficult era of time. And she raised me under that mindset.
With my mom who was under that mindset, she’s the same way. If I knocked my brother out or slapped him in the middle of a grocery store, which sometimes would happen because I was a mean older brother, my mom would look at me and just say “That’s one”. She’d never hit me, never yell at me, she’d never act out of anger. I knew what that meant, when I got home, I’d get one whoop with a giant breadboard. She’d never hit me in the back of the head or never cuss at me. She would literally say “That’s one” super calm and collected with no smile, smirk or anger whatsoever, completely chilled. When she’d do that, I’d freak out to an extent. I’d kinda go like “Uh, I don’t know what to do!”. I wanted her to just be mad at me. It would have been so much easier if she just screamed at me and hit me I’d be like “Okay, I get it” but she didn’t. And then we’d get home, she had this giant breadboard that I knew I was gonna get smacked in the butt with. She’d sit me down and say “Do you know why I’m about to punish you?” and I’d say “Cause I knocked my brother out in the store, Mom”, she’d say “That’s right, you’re correct. Turn around.”. Ugh! It made me so mad, I just wanted her to be mad, to be upset.
The fact that she had no emotion freaked me out even more, and that literally transcended over to my trash talk now. It probably makes me seem like a parent who tells you what to do.
But simultaneously, there’s a second piece to this: I trash talk to these people with truth. I’m not saying things that necessarily put you down as much as you’re doing those things to put yourself down. That’s what people can’t handle. They can’t handle looking at themselves in the face. 95% of the world and especially professional athletes, fighters, don’t look at their weaknesses. They only cave into their strengths and then beat people with their strenghts. Very few people attack the weaknesses in themselves, their mental and physical flaws. Those attributes are always dodged, always gone around like “I don’t wanna look at ’em, I don’t wanna see ’em”. I make sure I put them right in front of you and force yourself to deal with them right then and there. And because most athletes haven’t done that to themselves, when I do it to them they don’t know what to do with it. That’s what my trash talk comes down to I think.
You recently stated that the game has a huge potential on its mental warfare and trash talk aspects on Sirius XM. Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey earn millions from pay-per-views using their sensationalist and hype-driven styles. Do you think you’re using your full potential of your trash talking and your mind games?
I think with me, I’m just trying to be myself. I look at Conor, I look at Ronda, Ronda became successful because of her dominant personality. She just has a very opinionating state of mind, a dominant persona. Conor, he has a sweet accent, he comes up with acting skits before he talks. He looks the part, acts the part, plays the part.
Me, I don’t do either of those things. For me I don’t necessarily walk into a room and everybody’s looking at me. I don’t have that thing Ronda has when my presence is just seen. I don’t have the acting, or the accent, maybe even the jokes of Conor McGregor all the time.
What I do is, I just keep it real. I just tell the truth and a lot of my humor is pretty dry. It’s the truth, but I think it’s hilarious. To me that’s the funniest thing, the truth. Especially when people can’t handle it. I think that’s the most comical thing in the world when I tell you you’re balled as you can get, and you freak out and turn red as you can’t handle it. That hilarious to me like, you’re balled man when are you gonna accept it?
There are many fighters in the history who came crashing down after one defeat. What causes that?
It’s mental. You’re just not built for the sport. Plain and simple. If you’re losing and not getting better, or not using it to push you to evolve and become better, then your brain is not built for that specific portion and you need to add something to it. Or you need to look at that and say “I need to deal with this weakness”.
I mean, I didn’t just lose a fight, I lost my career and had to figure out a way to bounce back. So if you can’t use a loss to become better, if you’ve ran into some injuries like me you’re never gonna be the same. It’s a mindset. It’s stubbornness, a true want and need to evolve in this one life we’re given. You have to have that if you’re gonna succeed in life. I refuse to be stagnant, and I refuse to stand still in this life. The only reason we’re put on this earth is to keep getting better.
With the recent injuries and main event changes or cancellations, do you think there are holes in MMA camps’ preparations before main events?
Absolutely, there are holes. We’re at the building blocks of this fight game. A big part of that is financial too. We’re talking about NFL, NBA, horce racing, you name it. There’s a huge amount of money going to those athletes. That’s partially what keeps them healthy. When I’m fighting and need to fight in order to survive, that changes the health standards.
That’s the life we live as fighters because money isn’t there where it could be. That’s the price of being the building block of a sport, it’s the same with football in the beginning of their sport. They were wearing leather helmets and smashing each other’s heads. They didn’t know about concussions back then, or any other stuff we know about football now. Unfortunately now there are brain dead athletes from that time, who didn’t have the money to get the necessary research for football related injuries. Now football has the money and athletes have their team, their doctors and we have less concussions.
We are the building block of Mixed Martial Arts. We’re gonna take all the abuse, and probably the least amount of money for it. That’s just they way it’s gonna have to be until the sport continues to grow.
You mentioned a hypothetical golf career in the post-championship press conference. Big names like your teammate Phil Davis, or Benson Henderson are going to Bellator. Do you think this shows an economical imbalance in the MMA world?
I don’t think it shows an imbalance, it’s just good that there are options for these guys. The UFC is still a business. They’ll only give the big opportunities to the people that they want to give the big opportunities to. It’s their choice when it comes down to it because it’s their show and their business. So if certain people don’t fit underneath their business scheme and the way they visualize things, you can’t blame the UFC. Because it’s theirs. They started it. It’s their stage.
Now with Bellator and these other shows, it gives options to these other athletes that UFC doesn’t necessarily fit with. You can go anywhere in the world and people are laid off. It’s no different in fighting. So it doesn’t show an economic imbalance as much as it shows there’s options for fighters now, which is a nice thing.
When I mentioned the golf thing in that press conference it’s just because I’m tired of getting hurt. It’s more frustration I think. I was mad at myself for my foot being hurt again. It was hurt in the camp and it was hurt more in the fifth round of that fight. I think the fight wouldn’t be so close if I wouldn’t have hurt my foot. I think I could’ve made the fifth more my round. I still believe I won that round, but it was closer than it should have been. My movement was hindered because of the injury.
At that press conference I was really letting my own. The things that I was thinking about myself was coming out because the injuries just added up on me. And I was just frustrated with that. In golf, it doesn’t take a lot of injuries. And you still make a lot of money! That’s what I meant by that. In fighting there are lots of injuries, money is growing but it’s obviously nowhere near golf terms are. I don’t need to say that for everybody to know that. So that’s what I meant by that comment.
How do you see the concept of holding two UFC belts at the same time?
This is how I view things: There was a point when Mt. Everest had never been climbed. One guy climbed it, and thousands followed ever since. They thought it was impossible. There’s always gotta be one. Humans throughout our entire existencce have proven that once one person does it everybody follows. That’s just how we’re built. Conor’s putting everybody’s opinions aside and saying “I’m gonna make my own way”. I get what he’s doing, it’s smart. Why would you ever hate on something like that? You’d hate on something like that to hold people back where you’re at. That’s what this world is made up of right now. I’ll never hate on him for that, I’ll say “Keep it up man.” but I’m gonna try and do the same thing before you, after you, more than you. But you’re not gonna set the bar for me, I do that for myself.
Would you try to go after multiple belts?
Yeah, of course! That’s the goal of this sport. Conor has a gifted body so he can gain size. I can’t put weight on like that. When I start training to get to a fight level, my body shrinks. I get thin. My cardio goes through the roof and my weight starts falling off. I don’t talk about this very often but the first 3-4 of my fights were in 155 lbs. I fought Faber at 145 and I had 3-4 fights at that weight too. So my career is built from 135 to 155. The second half of my career, I found my true weight class which is 135. Anything other than that is just testing myself. 135 is the weight I should be competing at. But I can go to 145 or 155 if needed. My style is also built to succeed at those weight classes. It’s about movement, not getting damage and not allowing strength to be an issue in a fight matchup. It’s not by accident. My style looks like that because I started my career fighting at 155, weighing 145. That’s what made me who I am.
I think the UFC, Conor McGregor and all these people have shown that your skillset, record, resumé has very little to do with that fight you get nowadays. I’ve accepted that. A lot of these athletes haven’t. Faber’s accepted that. I mean he’s raising his hand to fight Conor McGregor at 155 pounds to make some money. He’s raising his hand to go in there and get knocked out. He has no chance against Conor McGregor. What’s he doing there’s only some real OGs in this sport that are willing to take the fight. Come on man, nobody wants to see you fight McGregor! First of all, because you have no chance. Second of all, you’ll get knocked out. And third of all you’re old as a dinosaur like your own teammates have said about you. What’s OG about that? That you’re willing to go in there and take a dive for a good chunk of money? Of course you’d do that, you’re Urijah Faber. That’s what you do.
Before your injury, you were one of the few superstars of the UFC along with names like Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva. How big was the fall for you?
It took me a good year to really reequate my life. Because even you get out of a fight camp, you have to reequate your life. And that’s just for a twelve-week period of time. You’ll see a lot of fighters will get down on a fight camp, they just had a ten to twelve-week training camp. They go through it, fight, and win. And right after the win, you have this high, and after the high goes away in two or three days you don’t know what to do with your life. You usually end up right back at the gym, training like you did in training camp before the fight. Because your body is so used to that regimen, mindset and those endorphins every morning and every night.
When I lost, not just my belt but everything, it changed so much. It changed my lifestyle. So yeah, that was definitely a hard transition period. I hit some really deep lows. But what’s life if you don’t hit lows and get out of them?
Can you talk us through the hype with Urijah Faber at that time?
It’s a weird thing with Faber. The first time we met, he beat me. I was young in the sport, I never had a coach before and I had just met Eric Del Fierro. I’ve never even had pads held for me prior to that camp. I’d get them occasionally but you had to pay for it, and I didn’t have the money to pay for pad work or coaching. I made my own regimen and trained myself, brought people in who were willing to help me here and there.
When I moved out here to San Diego to prepare for that first match up with Faber in 2007, I started training with Eric Del Fierro. It was like, my eyes were just wide open. I couldn’t believe the things that I was learning and the training partners I had. I loved not having to think about what I was gonna do. I could just walk into the gym and have somebody tell me what we’re doing to build me into a champion. That was a good feeling for me. Having Eric Del Fierro for that very first camp, and the big show, fighting for the 145lbs world title gave me a lot of confidence walking into that fight with Faber. Still, it didn’t make up for the lack of fundementals that I had in my grappling. I was a good wrestler, but I never had a jiu jitsu black belt to roll with ever before in 2007. I have never had any instruction as to how to do BJJ. The person that I was fighting, that was pretty much their strength. It was a hole in my game that I hadn’t been forced to look at yet. When I fought Faber, I realized that it was one of the things that I had to fill the gap.
When I fought that fight and lost, it showed me what I needed to do in order to be the best in the world. And I did it. I started joining jiu jitsu tournaments, started competing at high level tournaments. I started training with Baret Yoshida, which is my first true black belt grappling coach. One of the baddest grapplers on earth, that guy is unbelievably technical and skilled. I’m proud to say I started my jiu jitsu career under Baret Yoshida. I didn’t receive any belts, I didn’t do the belt system. I didn’t do any of that, I just got the rounds in. That loss with Faber showed me that as long as I filled the gap in my grappling, nobody was gonna beat me and it actually worked out like that.
As much as I dislike Faber and as much as the things we’ve gone through, that period of time was what kept us moving forward, kept us fighting because he kinde stayed as good as he was and I kept getting better. That allowed me to beat him in 2011, which is four years later. That second fight with me winning the world title is what kept us in the loop, kept us fighting and disliking each other. Plus he says stupid silly stuff. It’s a big mixture of things.
It’s been almost ten years since your first fight against Urijah Faber. How do you think your rivalry changed?
That’s a hard question to ask because I see us possibly being slayed to fight again soon. I thnk we gotta get through this next stage. I’m healthy again, even though he’s old as dirt he’s still going… We’re gonna meet up I think. It’s gonna be interesting because that could put a close to a ten year rivalry. It’s funny how it works. In the fight game, the people you dislike the most are usually the ones that stick to you like a tick. Because everybody wants to see you fight people that you don’t like. As ironic it is that we don’t like each other and stay as far away as possible, that almost forces us to stay in the same vicinity of each other altogether. So it’s a very weird irony.
How do you think you and Faber will look back at your rivalry in ten years?
We’ll look back at my belts and he’ll be really bitter and sad that he never got to touch them. Maybe I’ll let him shine them so he can touch!
I know Faber pretty well just by being around him and he’s always bragging about not caring about money, not caring about possessions. You don’t care about it because you haven’t had to live completely without them. I grew up in Tucson, AZ in a trailer.
When you grow up like that, living paycheck to paycheck with your mother, it gives you a different idea of how important it is to have a little bit of money, to earn it and hold onto it.
I don’t know what his growing process was, but we have a different outlook on how important money is in our lives. We grew up in different fundamentals as children, and with our family members. I raised my lifestyle to being really broke to a level that I don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck anymore. I can afford to buy my mom a trip to go somewhere every now and then, I can help her out on some bills… Little things like that which I couldn’t do without the sport of mixed martial arts. I’m very grateful for that, and it keeps me grounded to know that this is a lifestyle that I was able to make a living out of. And it gives me peace.
He just has a completely different mindset. Just our upbringings from children to grown men has made us clash a little bit as it was made us bump heads. We just had different mindsets of what made us successful in our own right. Those are our differences, and in some way that’s what also brought us together to contiue to keep fighting.
Do you think you complete each other in any way? Are you the yin to his yang?
You know the truth is this: When you look throughout history, the best rivalries in the world make the strongest people. The strongest rivalries will make you the strongest. People who don’t like you, drive you to become better or keep growing because you want to be better than that person, beat them, shut them down or tell them they’re wrong. In some weird way I’ve driven Faber to become better than he was, and in some ways he’s driven me to become better than I was in the beginning of this sport. There’s a mutual respect in the fight game. I think the way we butt heads is how we live life outside of fighting. And that’s what’s created the rivalry.
As if someone was constantly moving the finish line further and further, how did you deal with all of the setbacks?
With the setbacks you just gotta keep your head down and keep taking a step forward. I wish I had a crazy thing I taught myself so that everybody can grasp a hold of and say “Oh, that’s how he did it!” but when it comes down to is honestly just not listening to what other people say about me. One: getting very thick skin. Understanding people are gonna have opinions about you no matter what you say or do. You could try to live underneath the world’s perception they believe you’re supposed to live as long as you want to, but they’re still gonna judge you at the end of that. Once I grasped a hold of that I realized I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, shut out the haters, put some earphones on and keep grinding.
I knew what I was capable of, nobody else does. That’s the truth for everybody on Earth. Everybody has an opinion of what they believe you’re capable of from their own vision of you but nobody knows you like you know yourself. I knew that no matter what anybody in the division, anybody in the UFC or the fans all around the world thought about me I knew what I was capable of. I knew I could come back as long I stayed in the limelight, kept learning about the sport, kept exercising and staying fit as possible even with the injuries. Age was on my side too. All these things in my head, I just kept walking forward. It’s like climbing a hill: The second you stop, you lose momentum and you roll backwards. You just gotta keep moving forward.
You mentioned in your previous interviews that letting go was an important part of your comeback. How does one let their dream go with hopes to achieve it in the end?
That’s such a good question. That was probably the hardest thing for me. Because it’s not something that you learn or you’re taught when you’re growing up. It’s always “hold onto your dream and never let go”. That’s all you ever hear. I had a different predicament that I had to learn through. It was “in order to keep your dream and never let go of it, you’ve gotta let go of it”.
How does that even make sense? Well when you’re the type of person that I am you have to add that to the equation of never let go of your dreams. If I’ve never let go of my dream of being a world champion, being the best fighter in the world and always getting better at it, then I never would have stopped. If I didn’t stop then I wouldn’t heal. If I don’t heal I never get to accomplish my dream in the end anyways. It was a weird position where I had to let go of that in order to heal. Then my dream would actually be relived through the mental process of letting go.
I learned a whole different dimension of what it takes to be the best at something, and that’s the mental dimension of it. It wasn’t just physical, it was “How do I grasp my mind around this?” and to stay in the mentality, but not break my body down. But still, keep my body where it needs to be to stay a high level athlete. It wasn’t easy, that was the hardest part no question. It was shutting off “I’m the best in the world”, training non-stop and never getting tired. By turning that off you just say “You know what, I’m gonna sit behind the desk. I’m gonna let my body make me do what it’s gonna do but I’m gonna keep using this situation to evolve and become a stronger and better person”. You can break away from your dreams to continue and evolve to a bigger and better place that you’re not gonna fall back on your dreams, you’re only gonna add to your dreams. But now it’s a different dimension of dreams that you didn’t know it could have been there. That’s the key. It’s just understanding that by giving up on one dream doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the dream altogether. It could mean that you’re adding to it in a whole different dimension, if you focus on evolving.
You fought on the prelim card in UFC 178 in your comeback to an entirely different UFC. And then you went on to claim your belt back the next time you were in the octagon. Is ring rust a physical or a psychological phenomenon?
It’s psychological in my personal opinion. I don’t see it as ring rust though. I see it as doubts that were not dealt with before the fight happened. I mean, you gotta shut out all the doubts, you have to. and the only way to do it is to really challenge yourself in practice. I challenged myself through and through in my training camp , therefore there was nothing for me to challenge myself during the fight. Nothing I hadn’t seen, no hard parts that I haven’t been through in camp that anybody in the cage could top. I was training with four or five different guys in one session, and when fight on fight night I’m only facing one guy. So it becomes quite easy, fun, and exciting. I’m not saying that the fight was easy, but it’s a mentally easier thing than fighting five people. There’s just no way they all beat five people.They ‘ll always be in better shape than you because there’s five of them and only one of you. You’re fighting an uphill battle when you’re in my camp. And then when I get to the fight, I get to enjoy it, which takes away ring rust. Losing a whole lot in camp helps you prepare for nothing but winning on the night that actually matters.
What inspired you while you’re on the sidelines?
I got my inspiration from the guys that come in the gym trying to start their career. When you look at them, you see something in their eyes. You see the panic. You see the need to make it. You see the punishment they’re willing to take. I grabbed ahold onto that, the look in these guys’ eyes. Macio, Teco, who drive across the border from TJ. The guys who come from Arizona that live here in the gym or in a floor somewhere in a garage. They have nothing and they got this look in their eyes, you can tell they’re scared of not making it. I hold onto that to remember what it takes to get to the highest level because I had that too at one point. When you remember that, you keep the work ethic that gets you there.
How easy or hard do you think it is to be happy in today’s world of competitive sports, and especially in combat sports?
I think it’s hard to be happy in life, period. Because of the way the world has gone and the direction they’ve gone with social media. Everybody has an opinion, everybody has a voice, everybody has a word. Every single person on this Earth could give their opinion on something. If it’s no accepted then you’re a racist, or you’re shutting people out, you’re all these condentations and it’s just silly.
That being said, political correctness is at high, which makes life nearly impossible because you can’t be real living in political correctness. You have to just tell people how it is. That’s why I love fighting. I don’t have to be politically correct in the fight game. If somebody says something stupid I’m gonna tell them I’m gonna slap the silly out of them. It’s a peaceful thing. If I’m working at 7-Eleven and my boss tells me that I’m lazy and I need to get to work and I tell him “You’re fat, you need to get the coffee stain off your shirt and comb your hair in the morning” I could get in a lot of trouble for that! But in the fight game it doesn’t matter, we could just fight and it’s sought.
It is hard to live happy because you have to shell a lot of your thoughts or your emotions. You have to keep it in, you can’t just explain what you’re thinking and feeling anymore. It’s literally not allowed. So it’s making people crazy, it’s making people depressed, it’s making people sad. I hate it. I try to say things exactly the way they are all the time, every chance I get to put that out that I’m not one of these people who walk on eggshells around anybody. I’m just not gonna do it, I refuse to. Because that’s not where happiness is. It’s just keeping it real.
It’s hard to be happy in this day and age in my opinion but it’s something you have to choose. Happiness is a choice. It’s something that I had to choose in this period of time especially without having my career. But I didn’t know that until I lost everything. That forced me to realize I needed to find real happiness. Because I was using fighting, training, sweating and all those endorphins to keep myself at a happy level. When all that stuff got taken away, my job, my livelihood, my career… It hit me in a real low, it put me in a really low place as I didn’t have my manhood and identity in a sense. But I wouldn’t have never known that that was what I thought of myself until I lost it. Once I lost it I said “Wow, you have nothing down without these things. You need to get yourself together. You really need to get your mind together”. And those were my choices: get myself together or sit there and be sad about losing everything.
I chose to go on a positive direction and make the worst thing that ever happened to me make me the strongest that I could have ever been. Because that’s the choice you are given when you face adversity. The adversity is gonna make you tougher, or it’s gonna make you weaker. I was just stubborn enough that I decided there was no way it was gonna make me weaker. Absolutely no way.
In today’s world, do you think we’re fully allowed a pursuit of happiness?
I think that everybody have the idea that they wanna be happy. But nowadays, I’ll tell you this for myself, I thought that having the world title was gonna equal happiness. I believed having that belt, having a nice car, having a beautiful girlfriend, a nice house, a cool dog… I believed having all these things around me was the answer to that little hole that was missing to make me extremely happy all the time. The truth was none of those things were it. It was in myself. I think that the biggest mistake that we’re not taught growing up and we’re not taught nowadays is that happiness comes from being selfish and looking at yourself, inside yourself. You can’t be happy with anything else unless you can be happy in your own skin. Imagine you’re sitting in a blank room, by yourself, no friends, no family, no money, nothing around you. You’re just sitting in a blank room starting live all over again with nothing. Would you be happy?
I think everybody would want things to find that happiness. They wouldn’t just sit in there and go “You know what, I’m gonna sit in this blank room and be happy just because I’m here”. Nobody does that. That’s the pursuit of happiness. When we look at ourselves with no outside sources at all whatsoever and be happy in our own skin, that’s true happiness. Then when you get all those things around you, it’s just a cherry on top to life. Now we’re happy. Now we’re not putting pressure on our friends, family, our girlfriends, husbands or wives to make us happy. Because we’re already happy on ourselves. I don’t need the belt to be happy. I don’t need training to be happy. I don’t need a nice car to be happy. I can walk down the street and be happy, because I’m happy in a blank room in my own skin by myself. That is unseen, and that’s what I realized when I lost everything. I wasn’t that person. I wasn’t the person that could sit in a blank room and be happy. When I realized it, I said “That needs to change”. That was my pursuit. My own pursuit of happiness has been to have nothing, to have noone, to see nothing, to see noone and still be happy. That’s a lifelong goal and I’m still pursuing it as we speak. But with my mindset being on that, I found far more happiness and far less stress in my life.
Does happiness drive you to success, or does success drive you to happiness?
That’s exactly my point. Happiness has driven me to success in that second portion of my life. But success drove me to what I thought happiness would be in the first portion. You could look back at my career and say “I remember Dominick was champion at 26 years old back in 2012, he had the belt and all the things” but when I look at that Dominick, oh my gosh there were so many things I didn’t know. I blew my knees out, lost everything, realized nothing I ever had was truly deserved but it’s just something that you’re blessed with. Nothing is yours. I learned that through that period, nothing is yours and nothing is real because it can be taken away anytime. Once I realized that, I understood that happiness was not gonna come from success, but from finding happiness with no success. When you can be happy with nothing, then you can come back and fight for the title. Start your career all over again and fight with Mizugaki in the prelim card, be back in front of the cameras and give interviews. I now believe that this life is a blessing rather than something I’ve earned. Because it can all be taken away tomorrow. I’m just enjoying the ride now. I had it all, I had it all taken away and I’ve earned it all back again.