You’ve probably heard the stories about Patrick Cummins’ chat with UFC president Dana White while the light heavyweight prospect worked his day job at a California coffee shop, or the Pennsylvania native’s claims that he made his UFC 170 opponent, Daniel Cormier, cry in the wrestling room when the two worked out years ago.
This isn’t about all that. This is about a young man who had almost reached the end of the line in mixed martial arts before he even really got started; a talented 33-year-old who was almost too good for his own good, and whose last resort was taking to social media to ask for a fight.
But even that wasn’t looking like the best course of action, especially when it didn’t work after Thiago Silva was pulled from his UFC 171 bout with Ovince Saint Preux.
“As soon as we heard the news (about Silva), I got on Twitter and tried to make something happen,” said Cummins. “But for a guy like me, at the time I had like 400 Twitter followers and no following at all. (Laughs) But those are fights that I want. I couldn’t find a fight to save my life, so I just figured this is the way I had to go. I’ve gotta go chase the best.”
So when Rashad Evans injured his knee and pulled out of this weekend’s UFC 170 co-main event against Cormier, Cummins took to social media again. This time it worked, and after his chat with White, the unbeaten 205-pounder had himself a fight and a UFC contract. And while he’s the underdog, and rightfully so, that doesn’t matter at all to Cummins.
“I believe that I can beat anybody and there’s a chance for anything to happen, especially in this sport,” he said. “This is proof of it right now. And this is the way things happen for a lot of guys. Of course if I didn’t think I could win the fight, I wouldn’t be doing it, but there’s always a chance. For me to find a fight, it’s almost like I’m just hanging on hope, trying to do anything I can possibly do to get that fight, and the right one came along and I’m so excited for it.”
A lot has happened in Pat Cummins’ life since last Thursday morning, and the whirlwind of media attention can do wonders in making him forget where he was a little over a week ago. Then, he was working a 3:30am to 9am shift as a baker in the coffee shop, running to the gym to train, and hoping that his phone would ring with a fight.
Just 4-0 as a pro, Cummins’ last fight was in May of 2013, a first round submission win over Willie Smalls. He’s won each of his bouts by KO or submission in a single round, and that run of success built him a cult following, but also a reputation as the type of guy you don’t want to put your hot prospect in with. That’s flattering until the rent is due, and after three years of scraping by with no light at the end of the tunnel, Cummins grew tired.
“I second guessed what I’ve been doing with my life for the past three years a bunch of times,” he said. “I dumped my savings into my training and I’ve just been investing in myself. And recently, in the last couple months, I really came to the end of my rope and wondered how much longer I can do this. I have a college degree, I can get a job and not have to struggle like this. But at the end of the day, I have a goal in my head and I want to achieve it. I want to be the best fighter at 205.”
So he worked the brutal early morning shifts, put in his hours in the gym, fit in naps when he could, and he kept grinding. Why? Because he’s done it before, walking on as a wrestler Penn State and not just getting a spot on the team, but going on to win All-American honors twice. If you get the impression that Cummins sees no mountain as too high, that would be accurate.
“At that time, I had no business being a Division I college wrestler, and I just said ‘I’m gonna walk on this team and I believe I can make something happen,’” he said. “It took a little time, but it happened. This is the same thing. As long as there’s hope for me, I think I can get something done. A lot of it comes from keeping my head down, grinding it out day in and day out. It’s hard to train when you don’t have an opponent, but I always kept in the back of my mind that ‘hey, you never know when that opportunity’s going to come up.’ And here it is.”
It certainly is, and while the oddsmakers don’t give Cummins much of a chance on Saturday night, they probably would have made him an even bigger underdog to do what he ended up doing at Penn State. And though Cormier holds a wrestling victory over Cummins in the 2007 Dave Schultz International Open, in the wrestling room the Pennsylvanian did enough on the positive end of things to give him the confidence that in the Octagon, he’s got as good a chance as anyone to pin a loss on Cormier’s perfect pro record.
“I feel confident,” he said. “Training with these guys, that’s been something that’s kept me going. It gives me a way to measure how I’m doing, how I’m progressing. If I didn’t have anything to compare it to, anybody could say ‘oh yeah, I think I’m the best guy out there.’ But I trained with all these guys and I know I’m right there, so it’s not a stretch for me to say ‘yeah, I can step up and go win this fight.’”
Patrick Cummins has made a lot of headlines in a short amount of time without even stepping into the Octagon. And his followers count on Twitter has gone from 400 to 4,997 at last count. But if he wins on Saturday, nothing will prepare the MMA world for that, and it will be clear that he won't be serving coffee and bagels anytime soon.
“My plan is to have relentless pressure the whole way through and just push him until he can’t go any further,” he said. “And I think people are going to be surprised with what I can do.”
Cummins' Shock The World Tour Begins
"I believe that I can beat anybody and there’s a chance for anything to happen, especially in this sport. This is proof of it right now." - Patrick Cummins