"If you let things get to you in this sport, you won’t have any hair
left because you pulled it all out. You’ve got to roll with
the punches." - Pat Healy
If you look around the internet in the lead-up to Pat Healy’s UFC 159 bout against Jim Miller, you’ll find more than a couple erroneous references to this Saturday’s fight being Healy’s first in the UFC. He’s okay with that.
“I’ve seen a lot of that, and that’s kinda all right with me,” laughed Healy. “I’d really like to forget that last one, and if it could just go away and we just pretend this is my debut, I’m definitely cool with that.”
In the interest of accuracy, Healy did grace the Octagon one time previously, getting submitted at 2:37 of the first round by Anthony Torres on a UFC Fight Night show in Las Vegas on August 17, 2006. At the time, the Oregon native was simply a hard-nosed journeyman, taking on fights against whoever, whenever. He won more than he lost, but not by a lot. So when the man who already held wins over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Dan Hardy got the call to the UFC to face Torres, he looked at it as business as usual, with the only difference being the letters in the left hand corner of the check.
“The biggest thing I remember is thinking it would be just another fight,” Healy recalled. “And when I got there the day of the fight and stepped into that UFC Octagon when nobody’s in the arena, and was just warming up, that’s when the pressure hit me. Whoa, I’m in the UFC, this is the big show. And I really wasn’t prepared for that.”
It showed. Following his win over Healy, Torres would only fight twice more, losing both, with one coming in the UFC to Jess Liaudin. But Healy stuck around, winning 14 of 18 fights over the next six years, half of them coming in the Strikeforce organization. So when he got his second call from the UFC for the Miller fight, he wasn’t just someone fighting for the sake of the fight and the paycheck; he was a legitimate lightweight contender.
“That fight (with Torres) was a big turning point in my life where I was like ‘man, I really need to dedicate myself a lot more to fighting. At that time I thought I was all the way in, but I really wasn’t doing what I needed to do and living the lifestyle I needed to live. When you’re at this level, you need to live and breathe fighting, and everything else needs to come second. At that point in my life I wasn’t doing it, and now I certainly am, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’m working with all the right people and the people who saw that fight might not even be able to recognize me from it.”
That’s an accurate assessment. In moving from journeyman to contender status, Healy has earned the respect of fans and his peers for being one of the toughest outs in the business, a grinder who will make you fight him for all three rounds. That doesn’t mean it’s been all sunshine and roses for the 29-year-old. With 15 losses on his record, he doesn’t have the glossy slate of a young gun on the rise, which makes him have to work that much harder to get any sort of recognition. Then there’s the whole title shot thing…
After winning five straight in Strikeforce, turning back Lyle Beerbohm, Eric Wisely, Maximo Blanco, Caros Fodor, and Mizuto Hirota, Healy was finally going to get his shot at Gilbert Melendez’ lightweight crown in September of last year.
The fight and the entire card were canceled.
Then Melendez vs. Healy was rescheduled for the organization’s final event in January of this year. Again, it didn’t happen due to a Melendez injury. Those four months basically told the tale of Pat Healy’s career.
“Initially I was really bummed with the way it played out,” he said. “But now, I just kinda look back at it and laugh and say, how fitting for my career. (Laughs) That’s a great metaphor for my career. It’s kinda funny, and hopefully with this fresh start with the UFC, things like that won’t happen. But I certainly hope, knock on wood, that Jim Miller doesn’t get injured.”
With both men already in New Jersey for this week’s fight and raring to go, the odds of that happening are miniscule, and at this point, you hope that Healy’s return to the UFC goes off without a hitch simply because he’s earned his way back and deserves some good fortune. But after everything, he can at least look at things with a philosophical slant.
“If you let things get to you in this sport, you won’t have any hair left because you pulled it all out,” he said. “You’ve got to roll with the punches. It’s part of the game and things never seem to work out like they should, but they always work out in some sort of direction, so I just stay positive. I am doing what I love and I feel very blessed to be doing that, so it’s easy to keep a smile on your face when you keep that mindset.”
And when he heard that he would be sharing the Octagon with hard-charging Jersey boy Miller, that made him smile even wider.
“If you watched Jim’s last fight with Joe Lauzon, that was just an awesome, knock down, drag out, great MMA fight,” said Healy of Miller’s December win. “And he always brings it. That’s something I do too, and I think we’re gonna have a great style matchup that the fans are gonna love, and it’s gonna make for a really exciting fight.”
Comments like that show the difference between real fighters and the rest of us. If you’re excited to be locked in a cage for 15 minutes with Jim Miller after seeing his stellar last performance, you’re a real fighter. When you point this out to Healy, he explains why he feels that way.
“We work so hard in training and I put so much time into training that if you come out there and things don’t happen where you’re in an exciting fight, then you look back and analyze what you did wrong in training,” he said. “Everybody wants to see an exciting fight, so that’s what you want to put on. I want to fight guys who are gonna fight me, and not run away, and Jim Miller’s the perfect opponent for that.”
‘Perfect’ probably wouldn’t be the word to describe Pat Healy’s mixed martial arts career to this point, but who likes perfect anyway? Anything worth having encompasses struggle, heartbreak, and hard work, and Healy is intimate with all three. But on Saturday, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not an oncoming train.
“I feel like I’m coming in on a clean slate,” said Healy. “I definitely feel like I have momentum on my side and I’m gonna carry everything I did in Strikeforce in there with me to keep that momentum. It’s a fresh start with the best company in the world, so it’s really exciting.”