Despite three surgeries on his knee that were costing him nearly two years of his prime as a mixed martial artist, Ed Herman knew that he would eventually come back to the UFC and life as a full-time fighter. That doesn’t mean there weren’t questions, both internally and externally, and days when everything just seemed to go wrong.
“There are times when you have a bad day and you think, ‘is it over?’” Herman recalled of the time between his August 2009 fight with Aaron Simpson and his return to the Octagon in June of 2011. “And a lot of people are questioning if you’ll ever fight again.”
This was never more evident than in his time working as a bartender while he rehabbed his knee. People aren’t exactly known for their tact in the best of circumstances. Add in some alcohol and it gets worse, as Herman recalled.
“People are like ‘hey, you’re that guy who used to be in the UFC. Aww, here’s an extra buck. Sorry buddy.’”
It was a stark reminder for someone barely 30 years old of how fragile a career in professional sports can be. Herman didn’t take such jabs as an excuse to fade away though. It made him work even harder to get back what he lost.
“That kinda stuff motivated me, and it put in perspective how great of an opportunity it is to fight in the UFC, and how blessed I was still to do that. So to possibly have all that taken away was a lot to deal with.”
Herman would have his third knee surgery in March of 2010. Shortly afterward, his friend and longtime training partner Ryan Schultz talked to him about opening a gym in Fort Collins, Colorado, far from his home base in Portland. Herman didn’t need much convincing, and in August of 2010, he moved to the Rocky Mountain state and Trials Martial Arts and Fitness was born.
“I fell in love with it, packed my bags, rented my house out, and moved out there,” said Herman, who has adjusted well to the new surroundings. “I miss home, but I definitely needed a change with the weather. It’s sunny here like 300 plus days a year, which is awesome. I like the snow too, so you get the hot summers and the cold winters, but what’s cool about the winter is that it could be cold, but the sun comes out.”
More importantly, the sun was coming out on Herman’s career as well, as he got the green light to begin training and to resume his career.
“Sometimes having some time away from the sport you can reflect on what’s going on around you,” he said. “So I guess everything happens for a reason, and maybe it was good for me to have that time off to refocus mentally. I’m also working with some new coaches, and I had great people around me before, but sometimes change can help.”
The questions would only be answered in the Octagon though, and Herman was expected to be tested immediately by Louisiana jiu-jitsu black belt Tim Credeur in their June 2011 bout. 48 seconds later, Herman had a knockout win, his first victory in the UFC since he defeated David Loiseau in April of 2009, and a new start to a career that looked rocky even before the knee injury, as he had gone 1-3 in his previous four fights.
Of course, skeptics are rarely convinced with one comeback victory, so Herman had to show them one more time, and he did two months later as he latched on a heel hook against Kyle Noke and submitted him at 4:15 of the first round.
“Maybe I surprised people a little bit, but everybody knows I’m gonna bring it every time, no matter what,” said Herman, now 19-7. “A lot of people said ‘what have you been doing different, oh my gosh, you look so much better.’ But I’m the same guy; I just was able to put it together and everything kinda went my way. I always had those skills. Maybe I was just putting things together better. But things happen in your career, you make different choices, and that can reflect on your performance.”
And oddly enough, Herman’s resurgence comes with an added benefit – a clean slate, as there are some newer fans who may not even remember him as the finalist on season three of The Ultimate Fighter, but as a rookie fighter with a knack for fast finishes.
“I think with the new fanbase, I definitely got some new fans, which was great,” he said. “And some of the old fans came around too, maybe some people who didn’t like me before.”
Saturday night, the world will see Herman, as he’s on the UFC 143 main card in Las Vegas, taking on unbeaten, but relatively unknown Clifford Starks.
“There’s not that much tape on him, but looking him up, he’s 8-0, he’s newer to MMA and I would say he’s a young, up and coming, hungry guy, but he’s the same age as me, really,” said the 31-year old Herman of the 30-year old Starks, a former Arizona State University wrestler who made his Octagon debut with a win over Dustin Jacoby at UFC 137 last October. “He’s definitely an athletic dude and I’m sure he’s gonna come hungry and come for me, so it’s the same motivation, if not more. When you’re supposed to win, there’s a lot more pressure on your back – at least there is for me anyway. So I feel like I have to go out and perform. If I go out there and lose, or look bad winning, then that’s only going to be a negative thing for me. I have to go out there and put it on this guy and show him that he’s not at my level and make him understand why he shouldn’t be in there with me.”
Herman does understand what Starks is going through, having been there himself back in 2004, when he was the hot 8-0 prospect running through the local circuit before getting the call to travel to Japan to face Kazuo Misaki in his ninth pro fight.
Who? Only a guy whose record already included fights with Chris Lytle, Nate Marquardt, Ricardo Almeida, and Jake Shields.
“It was a big shock for me,” said Herman. “I went from fighting locally in the Northwest to boom, you’re in Japan. And then my manager, Matt Lindland, he didn’t even tell me who Misaki was. I get over there and I find out he’s one of the top ranked Japanese guys in the world and I’m like ‘dude, you didn’t tell me that.’ (Laughs). Matt goes ‘It doesn’t matter, you’ll kick his butt.’ All right Lindland. It was good in some ways, but in other ways it’s not the best way to bring up a young fighter.”
At 3:31 of the second round, Herman got put to sleep by an arm triangle choke. That was the bad news. On the bright side, he went on to win five of his next six bouts, earning the spot on TUF3 that launched his UFC career.
“I did pretty well,” said Herman of the Misaki bout. “I was kicking Misaki’s butt until I made a mistake and let him choke me out unconscious. I always wanted that one back.”
As for Starks, Herman says “It’s his second fight in the UFC, and it takes a while to get used to all that, but he competed a high level in college wrestling, so he’s used to competing, and that’s a big thing. So I think he’s gonna be comfortable competing, and he probably believes he can win until he gets in there with me and I start putting the pressure on him, and I feel like I can get in there and break his will.”
That doesn’t mean “Short Fuse” is underestimating his foe. It’s just the opposite, because he knows that one bad break or one bad loss can put a serious dent in this comeback and in a 2012 plan that he hopes will pave the way to a shot at a world title.
“I’ve got a tough fight coming with Starks and I do respect the guy,” said Herman. “But I’m looking to go in there and get three, four wins this year if I can, and make my way through the top ten and ultimately look for a title shot. I’ve got to take it one fight at a time of course, but I’d love to work my way to the top and get a shot at the title some day.”
Then there will definitely be no more bartending gigs.
“Maybe I’ll buy a bar someday and bartend there.”
The Comeback of Ed Herman Continues
"Maybe I surprised people a little bit, but everybody knows I’m gonna bring it every time, no matter what." - Ed Herman