Life is good when you grow up in a beach community. UFC on Fuel TV 1 fighter Sean Loeffler can tell you about growing up in such a place.
The son of a police officer and private school secretary, Loeffler was raised in Hermosa Beach, Calif., for his entire childhood. Can’t complain much in that aspect. “It was your typical American family,” he told MMAWeekly.com.
But once his parents got divorced, things changed.
The 17-year-old was told that he needed to start looking out for himself, as both his parents made arrangements to move away. It was tough as a young man, deciding on where to go and what to do.
One decision led to Loeffler fathering a child when he was still a teenager. Being a kid with a kid was tough. Making money became paramount for the young parent, according to the Southern California resident.
He’d hustle where he could and try to make ends meet, but the monthly bills weren’t always paid on time. Even at two years old, Loeffler’s daughter, Amber, took notice of such things, and had an incredibly mature attitude for being so young.
With the bills unpaid and candlelight providing illumination in a poverty-stricken San Pedro apartment, Loeffler said his daughter told him, “Dad, I like reading by candlelight because we get to read together.”
To this day, memories like that make the middleweight tear up.
It didn’t get any better for Loeffler from there. The emotional toll left by his daughter’s positive attitude made him find a way to make money as quick as possible. He started running around with the wrong people and selling “stuff” to make money and take care of her.
That stuff sold well, and money began to come in at a rate higher than he’d seen any time before. It was too much money for a guy his age. “I was driving a (expletive) Corvette at (the age of) 20,” he said.
While the money was nice, legal trouble began to find Loeffler. It all came to crashing halt the day he discovered his then-fiance with another man. A physical altercation with the man led to him doing a stint in jail. “They threw the book at me,” he said. He described it as a wake-up call.
After doing his time in the California penal system, financial trouble began to play a role again. His backlogged child support reached into the tens of thousands, and he hoped for a way to get back on top of things. A conversation with his baby’s mother’s attorney led him to believe there was a way for everything to be okay. But the cost of signing off on this meant giving up his legal rights as a father.
As a result, a judge told Loeffler he has as much right to see his daughter as any other guy off the street. How often he saw his daughter was completely up to his baby’s mother and how she saw fit.
“It’s the same thing (as) a babysitter,” he said. “I didn’t know that when I signed the paperwork like an idiot.”
The same judge told Loeffler she felt he was tricked into signing the paperwork. When he asked why, the judge responded by informing him the mother changed his daughter’s last name.
The name-change happened five years ago. He hasn’t seen his daughter since.
Through his turbulent adulthood, Loeffler’s been shot, stabbed, and imprisoned. But losing his child was what he described as rock bottom. Suicidal thoughts crossed the then-23-year-old’s mind. He tried to get his record clean and get a stable job, all to make a better life for his little girl, but not having her made it seem like he had no reason to live.
A drunken walk one night in a Target parking lot might have been his final moments. He made that walk with a fully loaded handgun in his possession. As strange as it may sound, being too drunk saved his life. Loeffler passed out in the parking lot.
After being taken to a friend’s home and getting over what was sure to be the only hangover he’s glad he had, Loeffler reexamined his situation… again. This time, instead of getting into trouble, he’d get into a cage.
Mixed martial arts became Loeffler’s new focus.
Like most fighters, he fought on smaller promotions and to this date has earned a 25-5 record. King of the Cage came calling and things started rolling in a positive direction, finally.
“I started becoming more of a professional athlete instead of a professional asshole,” Loeffler so eloquently stated.
It was motivating, he said. He started to respect himself for the first time in years. Getting time in the gym with guys like Vladimir Matyushenko, Antoni Hardonk, Travis Browne, and a list of others helped him turn his life around.
His career took him to The Compound in Oceanside, Calif. At this gym, he met Claudia Ortega, who, since his parents divorced, is the only woman he’s looked at as a mother figure.
“He’s like a son to my husband and myself,” Ortega told MMAWeekly.com. “Over the last five years since we’ve known him, he’s matured. When we met him, he was a super-fly-off-the-cuff kind of guy.
“We tried to encourage him to start thinking about a future instead of just living in the moment. You don’t have to be what people think you are. You can surprise them.”
He was bouncing around from apartment to apartment before Ortega and her husband invited him into their home. Loeffler’s relationship with the Ortega’s became the solid family that he hadn’t seen since he was 17 years old.
Things didn’t remain solid for long, however.
Loeffler’s boxing coach, Hector Gil, was helping the middleweight prepare for his debut in Bellator. At the time, this was the largest MMA promotion he had the opportunity to fight in. Training with Gil included perfecting an angle to land a right hand in his upcoming fight with Bryan Baker. Unfortunately, Gil never finished perfecting that angle for Loefller.
Loeffler got a call. He was told that on April 7, 2010, Gil was murdered along with two others. A man named Mark Diaz walked into the Pacific Coast Boxing gym and shot Loeffler’s coach. Gil was 52 years old.
“I was devastated,” he said. “I couldn’t concentrate on anything.”
Despite the tragedy, Loeffler followed through with the fight – a TKO loss. Looking back, he feels he probably should have pulled out of the fight, but it served as another wake-up call. He didn’t want the tragedies of his life to seep into the cage when he’s there to fight. He made a vow never to lose again.
Loeffler has since gone 6-0.
Now, after all the nonsense he’s dealt with, and all the decisions he’s made that have caused him and others intense pain, Loeffler is preparing for what seems like one of the easiest tests he’s seen since his parents divorced – his UFC debut at Wednesday night’s event on Fuel TV.
And you thought fighting was hard.
(Photo courtesy of Sean Loeffler’s facebook page.)