As soon as Mike Breeden heard those words, he knew he was going to remember this day for even more than it being his son Armani’s tenth birthday dinner. He was going to the UFC.
“I boxed up my meal and didn't even eat it,” laughed Breeden, who makes his short-notice Octagon debut on Saturday against Alexander Hernandez, replacing the injured Leonardo Santos.
Not even a bite of cake?
“No cake, none of that,” said Breeden. “But it was well worth it. My son was ecstatic. He started crying and said it was the best birthday gift he could ever ask for.”
Armani has been there for his dad’s entire mixed martial arts journey, one that began simply because Breeden wanted to shed some pounds. It’s led to so much more for the 32-year-old from Missouri, but that doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing. Yet as Breeden navigated those often rough waters, he did it with a pair of eyes on him that took everything in, learning lessons that have more to do with life than just with prizefighting.
“He's seen it all,” said Breeden. “He just knows that no matter what comes my way, good or bad, you just gotta keep chipping away at your dream. The most important thing that separates people in this game is consistency. If you don't go away, you'll get to where you need to be at. And he understands that people are gonna get knocked down sometimes, and you gotta get back up and keep pushing for your dreams. And he definitely got to see that because I got the shot on the Contender Series and it didn't go my way and I got right back to work and here we are.”
Last August, Breeden showed up to Las Vegas with an 8-2 record and three consecutive knockout wins. He already had a reputation as a fighter to watch and as one of the many killers coming out of James Krause’s Glory MMA gym in Lee’s Summit.
Unfortunately, it was Romero leaving the UFC APEX with the win, while Breeden limped back home after taking a brutal array of leg kicks. It was the kind of night that could make him want to go back to his gig as a union electrical apprentice, but he’s not built that way.
“There were times,” he said. “And this fight game is a tough world, but I definitely wasn't gonna throw in the towel, because what's that gonna teach him? He knows how important this is for me - my overall dream was to make it to the UFC, and I wasn't gonna quit on my dreams and show that to my son.”
Less than four months later, Breeden closed out 2020 with a second-round knockout of Ken Beverly, and in May, he won a three-round decision over Nick Compton. As the fall began, he was a UFC fighter.
“It means everything,” Breeden said. “It just proves to me that you can accomplish anything with a little hard work and dedication. Even though I didn't have the credentials growing up, like wrestling and all that stuff, if you're determined, you can be anywhere you want to be in life. It's hard to put into words, but this is one of my biggest achievements ever.”
Now he’s chasing more achievements, starting with his bout against Hernandez. It wasn’t that long ago that Hernandez was an unheralded newcomer who turned a short-notice fight against Beneil Dariush into a 42-second knockout and soon after, a Top 15 ranking in the lightweight division. The similarities between Hernandez’ debut and Breeden’s aren’t lost on “Money Mike.”
“He was just in the Top 15 not too long ago,” said Breeden of his opponent. “I put this kid on his butt and take his thunder, I could get a Top 15 fight in my next fight. I know what I'm in for, I know what he brings to the table, so it's gonna be a good scrap.”
One that he may have known about for a week, but that he’s been preparing for since he walked into Krause’s gym seven years ago.
“I owe a lot to James and that gym,” said Breeden. “There's nothing but killers in there and we constantly push each other. And that culture has got me here and it's got me ready for this moment.”
It’s a moment he won’t forget. And if he’s being honest, it’s one he owes to Armani.
“I don't think I would be here,” Breeden said. “When I had him, he turned my life around. I didn't have a very good work ethic back then, and when I had my son, a lot of things came into perspective that I had to change. So I think he definitely changed a lot of things and he's definitely a big motivator for me.”
All that’s left is a fight.
“I've been waiting so long for this and I'm just ready to capitalize on this to catapult me to where I need to be,” he said. “I'm not scared of this opportunity. I am excited for this. I'm gonna get up in this kid's face and let him know I'm here.”