I grew up in the midst of gangs and had what most people would probably call a rough upbringing. But I’ve always been of the mentality that everything I’ve had to deal with, all the good times, all the hard times, all the tragic times, have come together to make me what I am today.
I’m a fighter, and damn proud of it, but I’m also a son, a brother, and most importantly, a father. In fact, being a father is a large part of why I do this.
My son, Chris Jr., is 11 years old, and from early on, I knew that I had to be there for him and I had to lead him into the right life.
Growing up, we lived in an area with gangs on both sides of us, so you either joined one or you got bullied by both. My brother, Sean, joined a gang when he was a teenager, and that eventually led to our family losing him.
He was shot down in the street.
I’ll never forget the day my mom called, crying, to tell me what had happened.
I carry my brother into the cage with me every time I fight – I have a big tattoo on my chest in his memory – but I try not to think about him too much. It just hurts too bad. It breaks my heart every single day. I have a younger brother, and I think about him a lot, but it hurts too much to think about my older brother.
I kind of thought gang banging was cool when I was growing up, but my brother never pushed it on me or tried to make it sound any cooler than it was. But even before I lost him, I knew it wasn’t the right life for me.
Chris Jr. was born when I was just 17 years old and still in high school. I understood then that there were things I needed to do and being a gangbanger was not one of them. And when my brother died, that really made it click.
Anybody could pull a gun out and shoot anybody; it doesn’t take a man to do that. I grew up without my dad, and I didn’t want that to happen to my son. So I made the choice that it wasn’t going to happen to him, at least, not if I could help it.
Still, life always has a few curve balls in store, and even though I made the right choice to avoid the gang life, I got hit smack in the face with one of life’s curve balls when I wasn’t looking.
I tore my meniscus just two fights into my professional career. That wasn’t exactly the curve ball. The curve ball was the fluid-filled cyst behind my knee that I asked the doctor to drain when I was in getting my meniscus taken care of.
Only the fluid-filled cyst wasn’t that at all; it was a cancerous tumor.
It was a scary situation – I could have lost my leg – but we did everything we had to do. We did the chemo, the radiation, all the follow-up treatments, the regular check-ups, and now it’s in full remission.
I was lucky enough and blessed enough to not only make it out, but to continue doing what I love… and that’s to fight. In a way, it’s been a good thing. Now I appreciate everything that much more.
So it was pretty cool when I finally made it onto The Ultimate Fighter. I mean, it wasn’t like I won the lottery or anything. I’ve known for a while that I have what it takes to fight at this level; I just needed the opportunity to show it. I think I did just that in the elimination fight to get into the house.
Sirwan Kakai is a really good fighter, but I knew he wasn’t going to take my dream away from me.
There’s always room for improvement though. I mean, I knocked him down, but I really should have knocked him out. I got a little sloppy, but other than that, I think I had a pretty good performance.
I felt like I beat him up for three rounds and made a good first impression, and I must have, because Ronda Rousey made me her first pick. I wanted to be picked first and I wanted to be picked on Ronda’s team. When it actually happened, I was a little blown away. It was kind of surreal. It was also kind of like, okay, now the pressure is on. Now there are expectations to do well. But that doesn’t really matter, that pressure to perform is no greater than the pressure I put on myself.
I want to eventually become a world champion, so I want that target on the front of my chest. I don’t want that bull’s eye behind me; I want it in front. So to be picked first, I know people are supposed to want to fight me. I know people are expecting me to do great things, and I’m expecting myself to do great things.
I really would have liked it if Ronda would have also picked me for the first fight, but that didn’t happen. I do think she made a good choice putting Shayna Baszler in against Juliana Pena, though.
Miesha Tate made Julian her first pick, but now she has to fight Shayna.
I mean, I know who Shayna Baszler is, but who is Juliana? Juliana who?