One of the beautiful things about the fight game is that there’s really no barrier for entry. Sure, you won’t go anywhere if you can’t fight, but it’s likely that you can at least get a shot to compete. It’s not like a pickup game of basketball can lead to a call from the Lakers or a sandlot baseball game prompting a request to play centerfield for the Yankees. But in fighting, it’s different.
Just ask Cody East.
“I was at a wrestling tournament, and I had seen MMA on TV before,” East recalled. “I was 18 years old and they were having an amateur fight that weekend. I guess someone got hurt and they said, ‘Hey, you’re the same weight as the guy fighting. Wanna fight?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fight.’”
East fought, he won, and he decided that he was going to stick around. Nine years later, he’s in the UFC, making his Octagon debut this Saturday in the UFC FIGHT PASS featured bout against Walt Harris.
That’s the Reader’s Digest version. The longer story goes something like this …
A talented two-time New Mexico State high school wrestling champion, East seemed destined for the next level as a wrestler, but legal issues left him with an uncertain future. At least until MMA came around and gave him the discipline he needed.
“MMA helped give me an outlet to get rid of this energy and these emotions and gave me something to focus on,” he said. “After high school sports and stuff like that, as an athlete a lot of people lose themselves because that’s all they focus on. Finding MMA really helped me be myself and be the person I’m meant to be. I’m just thankful that I went to that wrestling tournament that day.”
Turning pro in 2008, East made a name for himself on the local scene as a prospect to watch, and as the wins piled up, so did the interest in seeing if he could hack it in the UFC. The most curious of all was the Albuquerque native, who finally got to the top of the stairs when his February bout with Kevin Asplund was going to be featured on the “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight” show. He wins, he’s likely going to be in. So, in short, this was going to be the biggest fight of East’s life.
“I knew Dana would be there and the show was going on,” East said. “Not that it changed my performance, because I was going in there to win, regardless of who was there. But I definitely felt a little bit more motivated to show something impressive.”
Most would say they felt pressured. East chose motivated instead to describe his pre-fight mindset.
“I put pressure on myself every fight,” he said. “In my mind, I’ve got to win every fight, so I just wanted to perform at my best, and I feel like I did that pretty well, enough to impress him and get a contract.”
East only needed 40 seconds to dispatch Asplund. Mission accomplished. He was a UFC fighter.
“I’ve been waiting on this call for a long time,” he said. “I knew it was just a matter of time. I just had to keep working and keep winning, and I knew I’d get there. I’m finally here and it feels good. I’ve achieved this goal.”
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Now it’s time for some new goals, and in a division where the Top 10 is exclusively populated by those 30 and over, the 27-year-old East can make some noise for the next generation.
“I see a lot of tough guys, but I see a lot of old dudes,” he said. “It’s time for a refresher and for the next generation of heavyweights to take over and I think I’m gonna be the one to be leading that next generation. It’s just gonna take me a couple fights to work my way up.”
And it all starts this Saturday against Harris.
“You can expect a lot of heavy leather to be thrown,” East said. “He (Harris) is a stand-up guy and I’m gonna meet him right in the middle of the Octagon and we’re gonna throw hands. I’m gonna test him out at what he’s best at. The fans like to see knockouts, especially with the heavyweights. It’s expected for us to perform and really get the crowd going, and that’s what I plan on doing – getting the crowd pumped up.”