Former WEC bantamweight fighter Chad George used to be one of the “graf artists” making an art studio out of the urban scene.
From his days doodling on any piece of paper he could get his hands on, George found a passion for drawing and creating caricatures. Like a lot of artists similar to him, it all started out with drawing on books and grew from there. Eventually, entire walls became the place for George to “piece,” or in other words, paint.
“Oh, that’s a big canvas,” he told MMAWeekly.com when reminiscing on the first wall he ever painted on.
Growing up in Sacramento, Calif., George skateboarded around town, carrying a backpack full of spray cans, looking out for structures to transform into canvases. He enjoyed being the urban guerilla artist with his crew of friends back then. Admittedly, he wasn’t as good he wanted to be because he didn’t have the speed required to get pieces done before authorities discovered him in the act of making art.
“I just wasn’t fast,” he said. “To hit that kind of stuff, you gotta be quick with it.”
As much as he liked running around with his graf artist friends and “hitting up walls,” it wasn’t necessarily the best crowd. The guys he knew were getting into a lot of trouble and George, realizing he didn’t want to get into trouble also, decided he needed to move on.
George wanted out of Sacramento. Luckily, being a graf artist provided him an out.
An opportunity to get away from trouble came in the form of an application to The Art Institute of Los Angeles. George had a portfolio full of his work he could send to the highly regarded Southern California school. He shipped off what he felt were his best pieces and the school’s admissions office accepted him as part of their student body. Liberation!
“That was my pass to get the hell out of Dodge,” he said.
But once one gets out of “the hood,” certain characters try to pull one back in. Every so often, George still gets calls and messages from the guys he used to skate about town with. The guilt trips and you’re-too-good-for-us sob stories still find space on his voicemail. “But that’s expected,” he said. He’s happy with the decision he made, regardless of what his old chums say.
Settled down in L.A., George began work in an art studio, but the 18-hour work days began to take their toll. Junk food became his go-to meal, and smoking became more something to do more than a thing he enjoyed. “And I don’t even smoke cigarettes!” he said, remembering the numerous smoking breaks he took just to get away from the studio.
What was once his liberation became a drag.
Having been a wrestler in his more formidable days, and in need of rediscovering his athleticism as a way to get away from the stress of the studio, George scoured the Los Angeles basin in search of a decent wrestling school. In his endless search he found nothing. A friend, however, advised him of Brazilian jiujitsu classes conducted in a tae kwon do school, and lobbied for him to participate.
George wasn’t convinced.
At first glance, the wrestler-turned-artist-turned-new-guy-at-jiujitsu was reluctant to give it a try, calling it a “bow-to-your-sensei” environment. But he gave it a shot, and realization of what Brazilian jiujitsu can allow one to do started his love affair with it. His first submission was what convinced him.
“Wait a minute!” he said. “So I get to wrestle AND choke people? This is awesome!”
The same school had an MMA program at night, and George’s experience in jiujitsu led him to start that program. Eight years later, George is a professional mixed martial artist who’s endured a career fighting in several promotions, and become the subject of a documentary entitled “Occupation: Fighter.”
After eating and smoking himself into unhappiness, George found an artistic outlet and it didn’t require skateboarding with a backpack full of spray cans.
And with that, MMA became his new canvas.