It may sound a bit crazy, but Joe Proctor can’t wait to get inside the Octagon to trade leather with another human being. While punching and getting punched in the face are typically actions most avoid at all costs, once the Massachusetts native is back under the bright lights of the UFC, he’ll know the long road back to where he wants to be has finally come to an end.
That will be a success in one manner of speaking, but he’ll still be a long ways from the place he’s been aiming to reach.
The Team Aggression fighter became familiar to the UFC fan base during The Ultimate Fighter Live, which was the reality program’s 15th installment, and produced a memorable cast of characters - many of which are still competing under the UFC banner. Proctor was the rangy lightweight with a thick Boston accent and plenty of scrap, a formula that brought back memories of another TUF alum in friend and training partner Joe Lauzon.
While Proctor didn’t win the six-figure contract, he made the most of his official UFC debut when he knocked out Jeremy Larsen on the season finale show in June of 2012. The first-round drubbing put a spark of momentum under Proctor’s profile, and he was hoping to build off his initial performance when he faced Ramsey Nijem at UFC on FOX: Henderson vs. Diaz six months later.
Unfortunately for Proctor, the Pit Elevated fighter was able to stay one step ahead throughout the entire 15 minute affair, and the 28-year-old was forced to deal with his first UFC loss in only his second showing.
“There were plenty of positives I was able to take away from that fight,” Proctor said. “I feel like every fight you learn something, but I feel like you learn more from a loss than you do a win. We expected the fight to be a little bit easier, but Ramsey is tough, man. He’s a good opponent. I have all the respect in the world for him and he gave me a fight. I thought I would be able to go in there, stand with him, and keep it on the feet like I wanted, but he used his wrestling and squeaked out a decision.”
Where losses provide a bittersweet education, they typically propel a fighter’s hunger and desire to get back into the fray as quickly as possible in an attempt to get the proverbial taste out of their mouth. But that next opportunity wouldn’t come easily as the New Englander was forced out of a scheduled tilt against Al Iaquinta at UFC 159 due to an injury suffered during his training camp.
While setbacks of the physical variety are commonplace in a rigorous sport like mixed martial arts, the lengthy layoff forced him to the sidelines for the rest of 2013.
“To be honest, the entire time I was out I was just determined to get back,” Proctor explained. “Leaving the UFC for a little while with a loss put a lot of motivation in me. I was just focused on getting back and I’m happy to have the opportunity to fight again.
“My body bounced back faster than I thought. I did a lot of research before I went into the surgery and a lot of things I read said it was going to be a year layoff. I was pretty bummed out about that because I love to fight. This is my passion and it bummed me out I was going to be away so long. But three or four months into recovery, the doctor gave me the okay to get back into camp and I was pumped. I healed a lot faster than any of us thought and that includes the doctors.”
Where time off is difficult for fighters at every stage of the game to deal with, Proctor’s position was undoubtedly difficult. His sights were set on establishing himself amongst his peers on the UFC roster, and an injury - and a previous loss - kept him feeling out of sorts.
Fortunately for the scrappy lightweight, his body is back to fighting shape and he’ll have the chance to resume his career when he faces Cristiano Marcello at Fight Night: Machida vs. Mousasi on February 15. Proctor wants nothing more than to get back to plying his trade and he’s willing to go down into hostile territory to do so.
American fighters facing Brazilians on their home turf has not been a pleasant experience for the visiting opposition and the numbers are staggering. Nevertheless, Proctor sees fighting Marcello in Brazil as the opportunity he’s been seeking - plain and simple - and everything else is everything else where circumstances are concerned.
“Cristiano is a tough fighter,” Proctor said. “He has that Brazilian mindset where it doesn’t matter what situation he’s in or how much trouble he’s in; he is going to keep fighting until the end. Those are the fights I like. I like to go into a fight where someone is going to come in and push me and really test me and make sure I belong in the UFC. I go in there to finish my fights. Going onto someone else’s home turf and trying to squeak out a decision would not be a smart thing to do. I’m going in there to finish Cristiano, and I don’t care where the fight goes; he’s definitely getting finished.
“I haven’t really thought too much into that,” he added about the stigma of fighting in Brazil. “I just consider it going into another fight where it is the same cage, just a different country. I know he’s going to have a big crowd and I won’t be the favorite in this fight. But I’m in his country and I understand that. I’m there to do my job, get that win, get my hand raised and get on to the next one.”
With the importance every fight on the sport’s biggest stage carries, there isn’t much room in a fighter’s mind to look too far down the road. That said, with everything Proctor has endured just to get back to a place where he can compete, he’s made a commitment with himself to guarantee he makes the most of out of his campaign in 2014.
Proctor sees the coming year as one full of opportunity, and he’s bound and determined to make the most of it. Where his realism has kept him from setting unattainable goals for the next 11 months, he can take a big step in the right direction by getting his hand raised on February 15.
“Once I got the okay to start training again, I made that mental decision that 2014 was going to be my year,” Proctor said enthusiastically. “I’m not saying I’m going to be the top person in 2014, but I’m not losing. Coming off a loss, I don’t want to feel that way again. I’ve never been so motivated in a fight camp since I first started fighting. I’m super-motivated in my training and I’ve had a great camp. I’m doing everything right now and I know 2014 is going to start off just how I want it to…with me coming out with a win.”
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Joe Proctor: A Man on a Mission
"I go in there to finish my fights. Going onto someone else’s home turf and trying to squeak out a decision would not be a smart thing to do." - Joe Proctor