Most would assume that the first dream for any professional fighter isn’t to win a world title, but to first succeed at fighting as a full-time gig. That dream is usually fulfilled in the transition from the regional circuit to the UFC.
But what of Joe Proctor, a veteran of more than three years in the Octagon who also holds a day job as a corrections officer in his native Massachusetts? As he puts it, even if he put a UFC championship belt around his waist, he would always keep another job.
“A hundred percent,” the former Ultimate Fighter 15 competitor said. “Even through all my other fights, I was doing construction and I always had a full-time job. I hate concentrating on fighting all the time, because it ends up becoming a job and it's not fun anymore. So I like getting my mind off of things and it's another outlet.”
It makes sense, and he’s not the first UFC fighter to find fulfillment in a profession in addition to fighting. Stipe Miocic is a firefighter and paramedic, Chris Lytle was a fireman as well, and former interim heavyweight champion Shane Carwin was a full-time engineer. Those are just three examples, and for Proctor, there are no regrets regarding his choice.
“When I was doing construction when I first got into the UFC, it made me appreciate things,” he said. “Everyone's complaining 'I'm not getting paid enough.' And I'm like 'Dude, I was banging nails in 10 degree-below weather on the water.'
“This is nothing, this is great. I'm collecting a paycheck to do something I love. It makes you appreciate everything a little bit more and it actually gives you a little bit more work ethic. Everyone's grinding, especially in the UFC, but sometimes you'll get the guys that have a sore back or sore hand and they'll just take the day off. But with laying bricks or doing construction, if you don't work, you don't get paid. So that's the mentality you have - you gotta work and work and push through and keep grinding.”
It also leaves the 30-year-old Proctor with precious little time to waste once he does get to the gym. With only a finite number of hours to get his fight prep in, he’s got to make each hour count.
“When I go to the gym, I’m not trying to bulls**t a workout and be like ‘I can come back later,’” he said. “When I come in there, I’ve got a set amount of hours to work out, and I’m going to get the most I can out of that workout. When you’re in the gym, you’re putting the work in and you’re going to get the most out of it.”
On Saturday, Proctor steps into the Octagon on the biggest card of the year when he faces Magomed Mustafaev in an important lightweight bout. Dagestan’s Mustafaev has won 11 in a row, and each of his 12 overall victories has come before the final bell sounded. He’s a top prospect for sure, but Proctor hasn’t looked too shabby himself in winning three of his last four, including a career-best submission of Justin Edwards in June.
“That fight I felt a little bit more relaxed going in there,” he said. “I just showed a lot more of what I had been working on, instead of knowing that I’m well-rounded but only showing one attribute that I have. I went out there and tried to put it all together. I didn’t really let a lot of the stress about losing or a lot of the things everyone thinks about before they fight bother me. I just went out there, had fun with it, and whatever happened happened.”
What happened was an impressive victory that puts him in a good position heading into the weekend. With a victory, that’s four wins in his last five in a tough division, and it sets him up for a run at the top 10 or top 15 in 2016. And according to Proctor, that’s the plan.
“As soon as I beat this guy, I would love to make a run for it,” he said. “I’m always looking to just keep putting the wins together and seeing what happens and seeing where the UFC wants to put me next.”
But whatever happens, expect to see Proctor punching the clock when he’s not punching opponents.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever put work aside,” he said. “I like working, I like the job, I like being active. Training full-time and making it a job doesn’t seem likely for me. I would rather train and have fun and like going into the gym.
"I just feel like that when you have to train, when someone’s telling you that you have to be at the gym, it just seems like a grind, and it’s not having fun anymore. I like having fun and I love going to the gym, so when it’s my gym time, it’s my time to go out, have fun and perform.”