Through 2018, Pat Pytlik was cruising along, amassing a 7-0 record fighting primarily under the Unified MMA banner, establishing himself as one of the top emerging talents in Canada after closing out his year by claiming the promotion’s welterweight title.
And then everything went sideways.
“It was awful, to be honest,” Pytlik said of his three-plus-year stint on the sidelines, just a few days prior to making his long-awaited return to action opposite Michael Hill at Unified MMA 48 in Toronto. “All I’ve ever known is being an athlete. I was fighting as a Muay Thai kickboxer since I was 15. I turned pro and I was living in Southeast Asia, and then I switched to MMA, and all I ever knew was competition.
“Whenever I was having a bad time or I had to get over something, go through something, I always had me being an athlete to fall back on, so getting injured wasn’t part of the plan.”
Prior to his March 2019 fight with UFC vet Jake Lindsey, the Kitchener native suffered a back injury that should have prompted him to withdraw from the fight, but he opted to soldier on. A little over three minutes into the second round, Pytlik got caught in a guillotine choke, losing his title and his undefeated record at the same time.
“It was like everything bad happened at once,” said the 33-year-old fighter. “I got hurt, I lost a couple sponsors, and I couldn’t go to the gym, couldn’t work out. One of my family members died, and it was like, ‘What the f***?’ My girlfriend at the time broke up with me — it was like, ‘F***!’
“I could have accepted losing, bounce back, and then go from there, but what I couldn’t accept was losing and then not having a way to deal with it.”
He began to spiral, and signed on for a professional boxing match just in order to be able to compete at something, even though he’d never boxed before. While he managed to battle his way to a draw, Pytlik knew things weren’t headed in a positive direction, so he did the only thing he could do: he walked away.
“I had to focus on getting my body right,” said Pytlik, who worked with acclaimed back specialist Dr. Stuart McGill to repair the herniated discs that were causing him such problems.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions proved to be a godsend for the wayward fighter.
“Nobody likes to sit on the bench, right, but 100 percent this was very good for me,” he said of the time away. “COVID was a blessing for me. I know it was bad for everybody else, but I got my s*** together.
“While I was injured, I got a house, I have a great career — I got my s*** together — and I really can’t complain about going down the path of life. I even met a girl that is going to be my fiancée, so everything worked out very well for me.”
Hopefully, Pytlik has either already proposed, or she doesn’t read this, otherwise he may have just spoiled the surprise.
“Now my body is back, my mind is sharp, and everything is going great.”
Looking back on his bout with Lindsey, the former champion and emerging talent recognizes that he got a little ahead of himself, picturing what a victory over the former UFC competitor could mean for his career before actually going out and making sure he garnered that all important win.
Now, more than three-and-a-half years removed from his one and only setback, Pytlik isn’t letting anything break his focus.
“It’s challenging, right?” he said when asked about overlooking Lindsey and making sure it doesn’t happen again. “When you have an end goal, you can’t look at it. It’s like when you build a wall: you have to do it brick-by-brick, every day; you don’t just have a big wall. I’m not overlooking my opponent or anybody.
“Somebody tried to talk to me about my next fight and I was like, ‘Don’t talk to me about anything. I don’t want to hear about anything,’’ Pytlik added with a laugh. “The guy I’m fighting is very talented and I have to go through him before I can do anything. Before anything is on the table, all that matters to me is Michael Hill.”
Now 35, Hill first gained notoriety as a cast member on Season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he was the second pick of Roy Nelson and advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to fellow Canadian Mike Ricci. Since then, “The Mercenary” has touched down in a collection of promotions, building an 11-7-1 record that he carries into Friday night’s fight with Pytlik.
The Canadian veteran wasn’t the first or even second opponent offered to the returning former titleholder, but after such a long stay on the sidelines, Pytlik isn’t worried about who he’s not facing; he only cares about who ultimately signs the contract and will be standing on the other side of the cage.
“At this point, I'm not wasting any time, so I’m just going to take who I can get, and the guy that said ‘Yes’ was Michael Hill,” he said. “I’m not trying to take an easy fight back — which is probably what some people would advise me to do — but that’s not what I’m doing here.”
It is indeed a dangerous assignment for the returning competitor, who will fight less than 90 minutes from home on Friday night and will have his daughter in attendance for the first time in his career.
But after a lifetime competing and then feeling like he was teetering on the brink of having it all go away for good not that long ago, Pytlik heads into Friday’s event with an excellent perspective, and a whole lot of pent-up energy.
“(Winning) would be everything to me, but worst-case scenario, I’m already a winner because of where I came from,” he said. “I was in a very bad place, but I believe I’m going to win this fight and end this year on a good note.
“I’m ready for war! I’m very excited and I cannot wait to get back in there.”