At just 22 years old, former UFC bantamweight and one-time WEC combatant Nick Pace had achieved many fighters’ lifelong goal of competing in the upper-echelon of mixed martial arts promotions only to have it slip through his grasp.
Now, at 26, he’s ready to step into the kickboxing ring as the first step towards reclaiming his former glory in MMA.
Undefeated at 5-0 when he made his WEC debut, Pace met a then-unheralded fighter by the name of Demetrious Johnson at WEC 51 in September 2010. The New Yorker lost that fight to the future UFC flyweight champion in a bout he took as a late replacement.
“Going into that fight they called me with like five or six weeks and I took it,” Pace told MMAWeekly.com. “When they call you, you just have to take it. I was 5-0 as a pro (before that) and I really think I went in a little too early. But, I mean, what are you gonna do – not go in?”
Pace lost the bout with “Mighty Mouse,” and would make his UFC debut months later in a winning effort over Will Campuzano at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale.
Despite the win over Campuzano, the Brooklyn-born newcomer showed his first signs of immaturity as a professional fighter when he missed weight for the fight and was subsequently fined a percentage of his purse.
Pace went on to have two more fights in the world’s premier fighting organization; both unanimous decision defeats against MMA veterans Miguel Torres and Ivan Menjivar, respectively. The loss to Torres came on the heels of him once again failing to make weight, and it undoubtedly played a factor in the young scrapper being released from the company.
“So that fight happened in the WEC and it sucked, but I learned a lot from it. My next fight, Will Campuzano – won that fight,” recalled Pace. “And then the other fights to follow that, I really wish that – you’re always going to have certain events where you say, ‘I should have done that, I should have done this’ and it really is the worst feeling in the world that I have with those fights – I should have trained harder.
“I should have took it more serious. And I didn’t take it as serious as I should have. At the time I was 22 years old. At 22, you think you’re mature, but you’re not. At 26, I really am matured so much more and I really have put my life in perspective now.”
Pace says it wasn’t cockiness that led to his disciplinary failures, but more an issue of being a young man taking his place in life for granted – something that is not uncommon for people his age, let alone a gifted athlete such as Pace.
“I took it serious, but I took it for granted,” stated a slightly embarrassed Pace. “I always had people saying, ‘You’re so great, you’re unbelievable.’ It’s sad to say it even out loud, I’m embarrassed, but I was like, ‘I’ll be okay. I’ll make weight. I got another week, I’ll eat all right.’ After I lost, it sucked.
“I was really upset at every loss and I trained hard for every fight, but I could have trained harder. It wasn’t cockiness, because I don’t consider myself a cocky person by any means – just me losing those fights were terrible. I know that I if I fought Ivan Menjivar or Miguel Torres again that it would be a different outcome, I’m pretty sure.
“I didn’t go out there and perform. What did I do? I went out there and held on. I didn’t get beat up. I tried not to get beat up. I tried not to get hit. I stayed on the outside and I tried just to hang in there. And you’re not supposed to go in there just to hang around; you go in there to win. And if you don’t go in there to win, then that’s what is going to happen, you’re gonna lose to the scorecards.”
He goes on to replay what he could have done or not done in those losses with mirror-like recollection. The humbling defeats have unquestionably taken their toll on the young fighter, but it genuinely seems as if the now 26-year-old has taken life’s lessons to heart and has become a better fighter, and person because of it.
And with a little help from his closest confidants, Pace made his way out of the darkness and used his failures as motivation.
“After my last fight, I couldn’t even watch UFC. I couldn’t even watch MMA. I was so depressed,” stated Pace. “I was in a downward spiral. I wasn’t teaching, I wasn’t working, and I was collecting unemployment for I’d say about a year. I wasn’t happy.
“It was my coach who said, ‘you know what, you’re gonna look back when you’re 35 years old and you’re gonna kick yourself because you’re so talented. You’re gonna waste all your talent because you don’t want to fight.’ He goes, ‘It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to fight. I just want you to know that you’re a badass, and you’re so talented and you’re throwing it away.’
“And my mother told me that too. She said, ‘You’re so talented. That’s it? It’s over? You’re throwing it all away? You’re done? You’re not gonna do it anymore?’ So they spoke to me, knocked some sense into me – along with my father – and that really motivated me. It made me say to myself, ‘They’re right! What the hell am I doing?’”
As Pace readies himself to make his professional kickboxing debut at this Saturday’s GLORY 9 event in New York against Levan Makashvili in the main attraction on the night’s undercard, he is using this experience as a stepping stone to get back in the ring and work on areas of his game that need improving.
“So this is my comeback fight, and I’m feeling really great,” he said with a hint of excitement. “What I feel is a weak point in my game is my kickboxing – not that it’s weak, but it’s the weakest part of my game. I really need to step that up. I really need to confront my fears, here, with actually standing up and fighting, because my grappling is good.”
The fight for GLORY, and all future fights are now on a fight-by-fight basis for the Tiger Schulman product. Having sold some 200 tickets, the New Yorker is sure to fill the Hammerstein Ballroom with plenty of East Coast faithful, but after achieving the pinnacle of the sport at such a young age, Pace has gotten a taste of the ‘show’ and is eager to get back to the place he once called home.
When asked what the end game for his career is, Pace simply says, “To get back in the UFC.”
At 6-3 in his professional career, and with no set timetable for his MMA return, the cards are certainly stacked against Pace, but his journey is far from over.
Yes, Pace’s career has been short, chaotic and filled with blown opportunities, but this young man has already figured out one of life’s most important lessons: It’s not how you lose that matters. It’s what you learn from life’s defeats that make you a better human being.
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