Hall Of Fame
Khama Worthy knows what it’s like to be the underdog. He’s fought that battle several times over the course of a 22-fight career that continues on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
He’s even been on the wrong end of the oddsmakers prediction list in his first two UFC bouts against Devonte Smith and Luis Pena. It didn’t matter, as he knocked Smith out and submitted Pena. Maybe that’s why as he competes in his first co-main event this weekend against unbeaten Ottman Azaitar, he’s the betting favorite. Not that it matters much to the Pittsburgh native.
“I know fighters don't underestimate fighters,” he said, giving his take on the whole favorite / underdog scenario. “Fighting is about fighting, so there's no such thing as an algorithm you can write to figure out fighting. It's not like baseball or anything like that. It's different. The sport is too intricate. So I don't really get into that. I don't care what the betting odds are for this one; I don't care if I'm the favorite or the underdog. As a fighter, I always consider my opponent to be the most dangerous guy ever.”
At 12-0 with nine knockouts, Morocco’s Azaitar definitely fits the mold of “dangerous guy,” but danger has never caused “The Death Star” any sleepless nights. How does he manage to stay calm in the head of battle with someone firing punches at you? It’s hard to explain.
“You can only explain it by experiencing it,” said Worthy. “It's like going to the Grand Canyon or something. I can't explain it. I ran with the bulls three years ago and I can't explain that. You want to feel it, you gotta go do it. There is no explanation for how it is or how it works. And fighting, even more.”
Wait. Running with the bulls? Like Pamplona, Spain running with the bulls?
“It's insane,” Worthy laughs. “Scariest moment of my life.”
That didn’t stop him, though.
“I turned 30, it was time to get this bucket list stuff together.”
He couldn’t even use the recklessness of youth as an excuse, yet despite knowing better, he still traveled to Europe for the traditional event that sees an estimated 50 to 100 people injured each year. Shockingly, only 15 runners have been killed during the run since 1910. Worthy wasn’t planning on being part of either group.
“It seemed really fun,” he said. “And it was fun until you start running with them. Then it's horrifying. I'm running with things that can kill me and I'm doing this for fun. It's not like fighting. I know I can get hurt, but I'm probably not gonna die. But with the bulls, you can get gored, and all that starts to come into play as you're running.”
Luckily, he got a little advice before the run began. Not that it was going to help him if he was slow enough to get caught by a bull, but it was something.
“I talked to this Spanish guy beforehand and he said, 'No matter what happens, don't stop running.' Because if you stop, that bull can close the range in the blink of an eye.”
Worthy estimates that the closest a bull got to him was approximately four feet away, and as he describes it, “It was horrifying. The Earth was shaking. You're really close to death. You're rubbing death on the back right there. You're right next to it. It's kinda cool but it's also scary at the same time.”
As for his fellow runners, he wasn’t sticking around to discover how they were making out.
“When I was there, I'm running and there's this old couple in the center of the street, and I'm thinking as I'm running past them, 'What the f**k are y'all doing?' (Laughs) I just kept on running.”
And he obviously made it unscathed. As for a post-running of the bulls meal, no, steak was not on the menu.
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“I'm actually a vegetarian, so I had some french fries,” he laughs. “I was just happy to be alive. It's the weirdest feeling that you're just happy to be alive.”
Needless to say, facing a man with two arms and two legs and the nickname “Bulldozer” will pale in comparison to squaring off with a small army of bulls.
“It’s a different approach, it's a different setup,” he said. “The bulls won't necessarily get to me; when you're in a fight, that fighter's gonna get to you and he's gonna touch you. It's a different adrenaline rush.”
And one he hopes everyone can experience. Not necessarily in a prizefight or a run with bulls, but just by exploring things in a world increasingly dominated by people taking pictures of life events and not living them. The 33-year-old Worthy has no time for that.
“So many people get caught up in what the status quo is, what the path of life is,” he said. “It's not realistic. I tell my kids when you graduate, if you want, you can travel. I encourage people to do that instead. Don't go to school. You're 18, you don't know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Go experience life. Go fail, go accomplish things, go meet different people, go put yourself in s**tty situations and have to use your problem-solving skills to get out of it. Go live for a little bit, then come back and go to school. Go to school once you've experienced life, not when you're 18 and not even allowed to smoke a cigarette. (Laughs) I'm really big on finding out what you really want to do. There's so much more outside of your bubble and what you've come to understand or feel comfortable in. I like to feel uncomfortable. That's why I fight.”
Worthy thought he was going to be a model before he found out that fighting was what he wanted to do, and it’s been a part of his life professionally for the last eight-plus years. And while he’s all-in now, there will be a time when the fighting life ends. He’s okay with that.
“I don't think life really kicks in until you're 40,” he said. “That's when it starts getting interesting because you should have things kind of figured out. This is what I'm doing now, but there's going to be so much more after this. I'm putting everything I can into this, but I know there's so much more that I can do.”
I’m almost afraid to ask what else is on that bucket list of his. But I do.
“I gotta go to Egypt to see the great pyramids, I want to go to Easter Island,” Worthy said. “They also have those tours where you can get next to the whales and I want to swim with the sharks. I do want to wrestle an alligator. My one buddy has done that before. I want to go to a safari in Africa. There's a whole bunch of stuff on there but there's not really a lot of dangerous stuff.”
Yeah, that alligator wrestling thing isn’t dangerous at all.
“They'll teach you how to do it so it's not quite as dangerous,” he laughs, but as he points out, that’s for another day, not while he’s fighting his way up the lightweight ladder.
“My job now requires me to be healthy, so I don't want to risk getting trampled by some bull.”