Sometimes fighting is just in your blood. Sometimes it’s a product of your upbringing and social landscape, and sometimes it’s a matter of sheer survival. For UFC featherweight Darren Elkins, it’s a little bit of each of those.
Hailing from Portage, Ind., this hometown Hoosier learned at an early age just how cruel kids can be.
“I got bullied a lot, man,” Elkins told MMAweekly.com. “I did a lot of speech classes and I got made fun of a lot because of it – called a lot of names.”
In those formative years, Elkins was faced with a common choice that many bullied children are forced to make at far too young an age — fight or flight.
“When it happened, there was only one way to shut them up, and that was with my fists a lot of the time. If you beat up enough guys, they don’t talk (expletive) to you anymore.”
For many fighters, it’s their history that fuels their path to combat sports. Take a young “Iron” Mike Tyson for instance.
As the story goes, an adolescent pigeon-loving Tyson used to have a collection of his favorite winged companions on top of a Brooklyn apartment that he would frequent after school on occasion. One day, a neighborhood bully came by and ripped the head off of one of Mike’s beloved pigeons. The young teen, then so enraged with head-numbing pain at seeing his beloved pet mangled in an act of selfish violence, proceeded to have his very first fight and beat that pigeon-murdering bully into a bloody pulp.
Point being, bullies do suck.
But sometimes, just sometimes, they create paths to greatness.
Similar to Tyson, Elkins is aware that every now and again a little bit of pain is necessary to drive you as a competitor.
“You need something that’s deep inside you – something you don’t even think about,” said the 28-year-old. “It turns into a little killer instinct ball. Wrestling kind of always gave me that escape, but I always kept feeling I was fighting a little extra.”
In fact, it’s the classic American tradition (or at least most of us think so; yes, I’m talking to you International Olympic Committee) of amateur wrestling that Elkins credits for turning him on to a more productive and fulfilling path.
“There was a lot of fighting. There are a lot of tough kids – or at least we all around here think we’re tough kids. I had a huge problem,” he proclaimed. “I got kicked out (of school) a lot. I just had to fight. Then that lead me to getting into wrestling and that kind of took over my life. I started wrestling and I just became obsessed. Competition is what I thrived on.”
Once Elkins realized his love for the mats, his life started to take a turn for the better.
“(The fighting) stopped right around middle school. My speech got better, I was really picking it up at wrestling and my brother was just about to go into high school. It was around that time that things really changed for me and I learned a lot from it. It really helped me and that’s when my focused shifted for basically the rest of my life.”
Elkins would go on to become the Indiana High School State Champion at 140 pounds his senior year of high school and would make his pro MMA debut just three short years later in 2007.
Elkins (15-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) now finds himself in the world famous Octagon and is currently riding a four-fight win streak and undefeated in the UFC featherweight division. This Saturday, Elkins finds himself staring at a match-up with Tri-Star Gym product Antonio Carvalho (15-5 MMA, 2-1 UFC) at UFC 158 from the Bell Centre in Montreal.
And much like Elkins, Carvalho isn’t one for the pre-fight hype.
“If you watch him, he’s a low-key fighter himself. He’s probably lower-key than me,” he stated. “He doesn’t get on Twitter. He doesn’t do a lot of trash talking. He goes out there and he hugs his opponents! He’s just that type of guy. He’s a friendly guy.”
When questioned if he would hug Carvalho, given the opportunity?
“I mean, I guess. I couldn’t deny the guy, right?”
Joking aside, this Duneland Vale Tudo product is well aware of what Carvalho brings to the cage on Saturday night.
“He’s a solid opponent. He’s a gamer,” he said. “He’s beaten guys like Hioki; he’s been around a long time. He was in Shooto and was one of the bigger names. One thing I’ve been saying about this is I can’t look past him.
“He comes to bring it and I’m going to be ready for him and I’ll try to pick up my fifth win in a row. Here’s how I’m looking at it; if I win this one, give me a top guy after. If I beat him, then how can you deny me?”
For being one of the UFC’s most accomplished fighters – holding wins over TUF 14 winner Diego Brandao and current Bellator featherweight champion Pat Curran – Elkins is well aware that his lack of excitement, both in and out of the cage, is a detriment, and quite possibly the reason you’ve not heard from this surging scrapper up until now.
“I’m definitely willing to fight anybody,” said Elkins. “I take a little bit more of a low-key approach, but that’s something I’ve been working on and taking more serious: doing media, Twitter and other stuff. But fight-wise, I’ve fought some tough guys and I’ve beaten some tough guys. I’m definitely a guy who should be watched out for.
“The one thing I’ve been telling people, and this hurts me a little bit, but I need a finish. If I got a finish I could talk a bit more, but it’s the one thing I’m missing. If I get that, then you can’t deny me.”
Since dropping down to featherweight, “The Damage” is undefeated with a glowing list of opponents in his wake. If denial is what he is worried about, a win over Carvalho almost assures him a Top 10 ranking in most pundits’ polls.
However, Elkins doesn’t strike you as a person who is concerned with other people’s thoughts or opinions. After all, this is a man who, despite the recent success and attention, isn’t concerned with all-star camps or big name trainers like other fighters from “the region.”
“I like being grounded in my roots. I want to be around,” stated Elkins. “If I’m not around my family – my wife works here, my daughter goes to school here – I’m not going to want to get up and do anything. If my family isn’t happy, then I’m not happy, and it’s going to take a toll on me.
“I like who I train with. I’m happy with my gym. My family’s happy and that makes me happy. And that’s all that pretty much matters. If you look at all my fights, I continue to get better, so why would I change training camps?”
On Saturday at UFC 158, with Elkins having the possibility of being 5-0 in the UFC featherweight division and a potential big money fight with Jose Aldo waiting in the wings, the soft spoken grinder will finally have his chance to call out a man he’s presumably been yearning to fight his entire life.
Only Elkins knows if he’s ready to come out of his shell and put the MMA world on blast with Sonnen-esque promos, but one thing is known without a shadow of a doubt, Darren Elkins is perfectly fine being the low-key guy who keeps on winning.