These days, life is seasonal for Josh Samman. Between managing his own fight promotion, contributing as a writer to MMA websites such as this one, climbing mountains, singing and actually fighting, the only constant in his life is progress.
Less than a week out from UFC Orlando on Saturday, Samman is in the middle of this year’s second fighting cycle, preparing to take the next step in his Octagon career in front of his home crowd before transitioning back to being a well-rounded Renaissance man.
In other words, life is good.
“Life goes up and down but yeah, I’d say it’s on an upswing now,” -- Josh Samman
About a year ago, Samman defeated Eddie Gordon in a Knockout of the Year candidate after the passing of his girlfriend and multiple family members, which coupled with a string of devastating injuries brought both his professional and personal life to a crashing halt.
“Life goes up and down but yeah, I’d say it’s on an upswing now,” he agrees. “Everyone has struggles, everyone has things that they deal with, but I think I’ve got a good handle now on what it is that I have to do while I’m here.”
“I’ve really just learned the power of believing in yourself and having positive expectancy,” he says. “I have a good grasp on how fragile life is and how easily all of this stuff can be taken away from us at any moment. When I think about it like that, it’s easy to be ambitious. It’s so easy.”
Switching in cycles of managing and fighting while training and writing in between – and covering songs with his guitar on YouTube – the 27-year-old is constantly taking forward steps in different directions, trying to chase after dreams in every single one of them. Just a few months ago, Samman and his business partner celebrated a successful 50th edition of Combat Night, an MMA league that the two pro fighters have taken all over Florida. And even though drawing 4,000 fans to an amateur MMA show is an accomplishment in its own right, Samman will let Combat Night rest for the remainder of the year. He will shift his focus from fulfilling Josh the promoter’s dreams to chasing Josh the fighter’s dreams.
If everything goes well, he’s about to realize one of those on December 19 in Orlando by competing in the state where he has “probably met almost every MMA fan around.”
So far, everything has gone well. So well, in fact, that Samman is starting to become suspicious about the lack of injuries and other struggles that he’s become accustomed to as we’re approaching the UFC on FOX event. While a slight nervousness about the sky falling down at the last minute remains, another emotion has started to take over: “I have to contain my excitement,” he says, a huge grin spreading across his face.
“Until the moment you get in there, nothing is guaranteed, so I’m just training as hard as I can, trying to train smart as well as hard”, Samman, who is now able to grapple at full speed for the first time since 2013 after a string of serious leg injuries, says. “After we weighed in and I get to eat and focus on the fight itself, then that’s when I’ll really be happy. But as of right now, I’m just focused on training and putting myself in the best situation for when the opportunity comes.
“I think success is when opportunity meets preparation. My opportunity is there, I just have to prepare myself for it and I’ve been doing a pretty good job with that. I’ve got that down to a science.”
This time, opportunity comes in the form of Tamdan McCrory.
Like many others, Samman remembers “The Barn Cat” from when he first saw him fight in the Octagon but lost sight of him after McCrory vanished into free agency. Leaving the UFC in 2009, the once highly-touted welterweight prospect has since taken an extended break from competition before reinventing himself as a middleweight in 2014. Two first-round finishes later, he’s back in the organization and – somewhat unexpectedly – he will get a stern test right off the bat in the surging Samman.
“In this particular matchup, it really is a case of high risk, low reward (for me),” Samman agrees, knowing that he wouldn’t get much praise for beating a guy that most fans have never heard of, even if he has proven to be at least as dangerous as he was when he was expected to make his mark in one of the UFC’s most brutal divisions.
“He’s very dangerous. I think he’s more dangerous than Caio (Magalhaes), I think he’s more dangerous than Eddie Gordon, I think he’s more dangerous than Kevin Casey. So I expect him to be my most difficult fight in the UFC, but there’s not a lot of folks, besides the hardcore fans, who really know who Tamdan is.”
A nerd, spectators might think at first sight. The mix of glasses, thin hair and heavy metal entrance tunes can certainly give you that impression. That hasn’t gone unnoticed by Samman, who has a rather surprising take on this perceived battle of nerd vs. Floridian beach boy: “He has that demeanor, for sure, but the thing to remember is that I’m a nerd, too.
“I’m as nerdy as they come and just because I may not look the part, doesn’t mean that I’m not,” he insists with a laugh. “I always have my nose in a book or reading something and trying to learn. He may be a nerd, but I’m a nerd with muscles.”
"if I want to do something that gets people out of their seats and gets the fans excited, then I know I have to make a statement and that’s what I plan on doing.” -- Josh Samman
And while that unique mix has led Samman – who has been drug tested by USADA twice within two weeks during this camp – to a position where other fighters now have something to gain from fighting him, he’s not about to let them have it.
“The way I combat that is by finishing my opponent emphatically. He has no choice but to be the victim of the things that I want to do. So if I want to do something that gets people out of their seats and gets the fans excited, then I know I have to make a statement and that’s what I plan on doing.”
Knocking “The Barn Cat” out that is – at least in his mind – for those who were wondering.
“The referee will stop the fight. Whether he’s unconscious or conscious I’m not sure yet, but it’ll be a Knockout or TKO.”
And beyond that? Samman does try to take it one step at a time, whether it’s fighting, promoting or anything else, really. Since he’s doing it all at the same time, though, he just can’t quite contain himself to only one goal at once: “I always think about things that I want to do in the future, but I have to remind myself that I can’t do those if I don’t take it one step at a time. A lot of guys try to say ‘I just focus on what is in front of me’ and, to an extent, I am. That’s my primary focus but I think it’s also important to look down the road as well and always have a career path and a trajectory that you’re shooting yourself towards, at least.”
Between getting his first win in the UFC and competing for the middleweight title, Samman has a bunch of bucket list goals lined up that he’s busy crossing off: “Fighting in Florida was always a big goal of mine. I’d say another big goal of mine that I’d like to accomplish in my career is to headline a UFC card, whether it’s on FOX Sports or (UFC) FIGHT PASS. I want Samman vs. Insert name here to be at the top of a card in the UFC. That’s something that I’ll be working towards until it happens.”
With a mix of confidence and consciousness, athleticism and discipline, goals of that caliber might very well be something that he can achieve before age and aches start catching up to him some day.
“I try to keep a mindset of proud but never satisfied,” Samman explains when asked what keeps him on the path towards success. “So while I know that I have accomplished things that people are proud of me for and things that I’m proud of, it’s very important to remember that there’s always more to do. I’ve not always accomplished all of my goals but I’ll always set lofty goals and pursuits for which to aim.”
Beating up a nerd might not seem particularly lofty to the untrained eye, but as someone who’s a fan as much as a fighter, Samman knows better than to let his first impression fool him in this sport. Plus, he’s the one with muscles here.