"I’ve been a professional athlete for the last few years and I’ve never actually been one. So I could easily get used to this." - Vik Grujic
Life isn’t too bad for Vik Grujic these days. He won the most important fight of his life against thyroid cancer, he’s got a loving wife and three daughters, a spot in the UFC for a Wednesday fight against his The Ultimate Fighter Nations castmate Nordine Taleb, and at 37, he’s living out a scenario few his age could imagine.
But don’t expect him to be letting up on the intensity anytime soon.
“I’ve never really been in a situation where I can train with a gym like Team Alliance and train twice a day,” said Australia’s Grujic, who has prepared for the Taleb fight in San Diego. “And on top of that, I have the luxury of training in a gym where I don’t have to worry about finding striking partners and striking and wrestling coaches, and then have to hop around six or seven gyms, which I normally do back in Melbourne preparing for a fight. So yeah, there’s a peace of mind with some aspects of this fight camp, but at the same time there’s always that thing in the back of your mind, that pressure where you have to perform, and for me, every fight is always make or break, and I just want to perform at my best.”
That ‘all or nothing’ intensity endeared Grujic to viewers of TUF Nations and to his fellow competitors as well, taking a fairly unknown fighter from Melbourne and making him an inspiring fan favorite in the process. It’s a development that came as a surprise to the middleweight mixed martial artist.
“When I was on the show, I said no matter what happens, I’m just gonna be me,” he said. “And I stayed true to myself, and tried to support whoever I could and whoever needed it if they wanted it. With the things that I said on the show, people got a bit of a look into my life and through my eyes. I’ve had a lot of people say how much I’ve inspired them, and while my life has been a hard one, if people take something from the way I’ve lived and something that I’ve been able to do and get inspired by that, that’s more of a compliment than anything you could receive from anyone.”
There have been no easy roads for Grujic, who fought through some rough early years, beat back cancer, and even had to struggle to keep a roof over his family’s head at times.
“That’s just my life, and it’s the only way I’ve known how to live,” said Grujic of a fighting heart that beats in and out of competition. “Growing up as a kid, I caught beatings and got my ass whipped all the time at home and out in the street, and no matter where I went, I learned from an early point in my life that only the strong survive. If you get beaten down, you gotta get back up and keep fighting. And that’s been my philosophy of life. No matter what the situation, I always know there’s a way to improve it, and it’s been my outlook on life – never take a backward step, always just keep pushing forward.”
And when you survive all that, it may be odd to say that training for a prizefight will give you peace of mind, but if that’s the only obstacle in your way, and it’s something you’ve wanted to deal with your entire athletic career, there’s nothing better.
“There’s always been a lot of pressure in my life, especially in the last few years with just trying to get to the point where I am now,” he said. “So there is a load off my shoulders in that regard. It’s a major step up.”
Is it safe to say that being able to train and fight full-time is a good problem to have?
“I’ve been a professional athlete for the last few years and I’ve never actually been one,” laughed Grujic. “So I could easily get used to this.”
With a 6-3 pro record that he hopes to improve to 7-3 this Wednesday, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt that has helped the TUF Nations semifinalist finish three of those wins, and the realization that each victory solidifies the future of his family even more, expect Grujic to be a tough man to beat, this week and beyond, with the only issue being his ability to keep his emotions in check before the biggest fight of his career. No problem, says “The Spartan.”
“I’m extremely emotional about a lot of things, but come fight time, even though I get nervous and I get my thoughts racing, once I get my hands wrapped up, I go into a zone and become a different person,” he said. “It’s just a matter of containing those emotions leading up to the fight because when you’re in there it will handle itself.”