by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
If you’re a spokesmodel, having a dentist for a dad can come in handy. If you’re a professional fighter, double points.
Evan Dunham, a 27-year-old competitor in the lightweight division of the UFC, has veneers on all his front teeth, courtesy of his dad, Bob. A punch here, a kick there, a slam to the mat – their professions have dovetailed quite nicely through the years.
It would be a stretch, though, to say Bob expected his son to fight in a cage one day. He approached it like any parent supportive of (or is it a captive?) their kid’s dreams – with a lot of help and a lot more worry.
“There’s no waiting for an appointment, let’s put it that way,” said Bob.
At Kidsports soccer, it was hard for Bob to miss his son’s taste for contact when jostling kids for the ball. In sixth grade, Evan asked for hockey lessons, wanting to emulate “The Mighty Ducks.” At $1,000 a season, it was too rich. They made a compromise: wrestling. You only needed shoes.
Bob drove to countless wrestling practices and acted as chief cheerleader during meets. There were veneers to come: during Evan’s first tournament at high school, he bit through his molar when an opponent dumped him on his head, leaving his mouth a bloody mess. It hardly slowed him down.
“Most of his matches were like fights,” said Randy Robinson, his wrestling coach at Churchill High School in Eugene, Ore. “He had a little spunk in him. The kids on the team liked him because he was always smiling and having a good time.”
Meanwhile, Evan coveted UFC tapes and told friends if he ever got a chance, he would get in the cage. Sports without contact didn’t interest him.
“I couldn’t make a jumpshot if my life depended on it,” he laughed.
At home, Bob noticed his older son’s bullying stopped when Evan started giving more noogies than he got.
In 2000, Evan took up jiu-jitsu while majoring in sociology at the University of Oregon and began entering competitions. After years practicing in the gym, he volunteered to fight on an amateur MMA card in town at a local roller rink, Skate World. Bob was unsurprised.
“I kind of had a feeling it was coming, and I knew all along Evan was going to make up his own mind on things,” he said. “Once he makes up his mind, you have to encourage him to do things right.”
Several times, Evan showed up at dad’s office asking to have his swollen, fluid-filled ears drained. The syringe came out and dad went to work.
Harold Utterback, Evan’s coach at Northwest Martial Arts, questioned whether he fit the profile of a typical fighter.
“He’s a really smart kid,” said Utterback. “I definitely didn’t think he was the typical rock ‘em, sock ‘em guy.”
He was, however, a natural inside the ring. Inside a minute, he made his Skate World opponent tap out in a minute. At school, he kept a 3.3 grade average and graduated in 2004, taking jobs as a cable guy, construction assistant, and computer installer to feed his dream.
Dad swallowed his worry and went to Evan’s fights, pacing the stands and calling wife Delyn to report the results. Delyn couldn’t watch.
After fighting the circuit of small west coast shows, Evan got his big break in February when a Frenchman David Baron bowed out of a UFC 95. On two weeks notice, Evan, Bob, and a training partner flew across the pond for the undercard bout. Out a second cornerman, Evan had Bob take the job, holding equipment outside the cage. As he paced, Evan knocked out Swede Per Eklund in the first round.
Evan is now in the final stages of preparation for his second UFC fight at UFC 102 in Portland, Ore. on Aug. 29. His original opponent, Matt Veach, got injured in training camp and was replaced by Marcus Aurelio, a jiu-jitsu specialist. He is among three fighters on the card with Oregon roots, including headliner Randy Couture.
“Evan’s a very tough kid,” said Couture. “He’s a hard-headed kid and has a good work ethic to go far.”
The event sold out the day it went on sale, and friends and family are clamoring for tickets. Bob will be there, trying to hold himself together. Evan’s fighter friends now come to him to get their teeth fixed. Where there’s demand, a market opens.
“I’m still nervous, but I’m happy that he’s doing what he wants to do,” he said.
For Evan, it’s just the start of a long road in a tough business. But it gives him what he needs: contact.
“It’s reinforced my whole belief that if you put your mind to something, you can do it,” said Evan. “It brings a whole new set of goals. I’m not going to stop here and take my one fight and be done. The next goal is to win my next fight.”