Rare is the natural phenomenon who makes everything look easy, not just surpassing his opponents but steamrolling through them. For the rest, the path to success is beset with setbacks, with frustration and failings, disappointments and defeats.
Seth Baczynski’s mixed martial arts career has sometimes resembled the movements within a childhood board game — a couple steps forward followed by a few steps back.
He’d signed with the International Fight League in 2007, but was cut after two losses. He had a shot at fighting his way onto The Ultimate Fighter in 2010, but lost in a close battle to the season’s eventual winner, Court McGee. He was brought back to the show to replace an injured fighter and won his first bout, but then he got disqualified and eliminated in the next. And he had a fight on the show’s live finale, but he came up short on the scorecards. The UFC then released him.
“It was looking grim, to say the least,” Baczynski says now with a laugh.
He’s able to laugh because fortune fell his way again, because he didn’t give up after all of these setbacks but rather, well, fought through them. It is the whims of fortune that gave him yet another chance, but it is Baczynski himself who controls his fate.
When DaMarques Johnson suffered an injury, Baczynski stepped in, defeating Clay Harvison by submission in September on a UFC Fight Night card in New Orleans. And with John Hathaway hurt, Baczynski has been called upon once again to face Matt Brown at UFC 139.
“Every fight is just as important as the next,” says Baczynski, a 30-year-old welterweight with 14 wins and 6 losses and a mission of changing only one of those two numbers. “My last fight was the most important fight of my career. Right now this fight is the most important of my career. I don’t want any losses. The ones I have, I didn’t want. And I don’t want any going forward.
“He’s in my way of fulfilling my dream, just like every other guy I’ve fought. I’m fortunate to be in the UFC. I don’t ever want to go back to fighting on a lower circuit again. The only way to guarantee that is not to lose.”
Born in Hawaii, Baczynski now lives outside of Phoenix, Ariz., training at Power MMA and Fitness when he’s not working at a water company or spending time with his three young children. He took up mixed martial arts after seeing it on television, a crazy enough reason that sounds even crazier when you learn that Baczynski had no wrestling background.
But he learned by training and by doing. After about four years of fighting, he was 11-5 and competing in front of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Dana White for a spot on the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter. His effort against McGee in defeat left an impression on Ortiz, who brought Baczynski back in place of the injured Chris Camozzi. Several episodes later, Baczynski defeated Joseph Henle by decision, earning a spot in the show’s quarterfinal round.
Two steps forward, then a few steps back — brought about, fittingly, by Baczynski’s feet.
Brad Tavares had Baczynski on the mat in the final seconds of the first round of their quarterfinal fight. Baczynski rose, and Tavares threw a left high kick, losing his balance in the process and crashing to the canvas. With Tavares on one knee and his head down, Baczynski sent out a soccer kick, his right shin catching Tavares’ chin. Tavares collapsed back down before stumbling back to his corner. Baczynski apologized, but it didn’t matter; he’d be disqualified for the illegal shot.
Baczynski and Tavares met again on the show’s finale. Tavares won the decision and got to remain in the UFC. Baczynski did not.
“It was tough,” Baczynski said. “It wasn’t like I felt they robbed me of a victory. I felt like Tavares beat me. It was a close fight. But I was devastated. I was just crushed. I was so bummed out. I knew that they were going to cut me.”
After being released, Baczynski questioned himself, questioned whether he wanted to keep fighting, whether it was worth it to keep trying.
“I felt like I’d put so much into this that it’d be foolish to stop now,” he said. “That loss just made me open my eyes.”
Baczynski says he has rededicated himself to his training, putting in extra time at the gym, improving with the help of his coaches and training partners.
“No sacrifice, no paradise,” he said. “I’m finally starting to get some of the fruits of my labor, and I’ve been working at it for so long. I feel like I’m in a place mentally and physically in my career where I’ve never been before, like I understand fighting more than I’ve ever understood it. I haven’t hit my wall, and I’m still learning and growing every day.”
Though he considered himself competitive with the middleweights on The Ultimate Fighter, he’s dropped down to welterweight, where he says he belongs despite his 6-foot-3 frame. He walks around at 195 pounds; the middleweights, meanwhile, are “huge” and were better able to take him down and hold him down, he said.
Controversy hasn’t eluded Baczynski since the decision loss to Tavares. His first fight back, last December against Tim McKenzie, ended on a stoppage, Baczynski pummeling McKenzie with right elbows. Baczynski’s left arm had just been injured in an arm bar. McKenzie’s camp argued that Baczynski had tapped out, that McKenzie had let go, and then the elbows came. Baczynski contends that wasn’t the case.
“I’m not a scumbag,” he says. “If I’d have tapped, I would have quit fighting.”
Nevertheless, it was a win for Baczynski, the first of three in a row. He’s back to fighting in the UFC again and plans on making it four and impressing against Brown.
“I got 14 wins and 14 finishes. I don’t plan on winning any other way but finishing somebody,” he said. “I just gotta find a way to make him give me what I want. I got 15 minutes to do so. I’ve got a great idea what I want to do. I just gotta go out there and execute.”
Back in the Octagon, Baczynski Plans to Stay Awhile
“My last fight was the most important fight of my career. Right now this fight is the most important of my career." - Seth Baczynski