Sometimes life feels like a roller coaster. Ups and downs. Turns and twists. Sometimes you’re even upside-down. One minute, you’re flying high, about to touch the stars. The next, you’re plummeting toward the earth.
Tim “Dirty Bird” Means has ridden this roller coaster. He is known as a fighter’s fighter. His style is fun to watch. He moves forward, puts pressure on his opponent and always looks for a finish. A fighter like that — a guy who puts his neck out to earn the win — can get caught, but he is always willing to do what it takes to break the guy across from him.
His record shows it, too. Means has 25 wins. Only four of these fights have gone the distance. He has seven losses as well, but only three were decisions. Means has been knocked out only once, but he has 17 (T)KOs of his own. Not many professional fighters can boast such a high finishing percentage, and Means is a very, very hard fighter to put away.
Means started his professional career in 2004 with back-to-back wins, followed by back-to-back losses. He added another win, but addictions caught up to him. He’d been shot in the leg and nearly bled out. During the recovery, pain pill addiction got him. From there, it was a short fall to methamphetamine and the debilitating addiction that comes from the drug. It replaced everything important in his life for a time and took him to jail.
After spending time behind bars, Means knew he had to straighten up. And he did. He got his life back, regained his health and restarted his MMA career. What a restart it was, too. He fought five times in 2009 and never made it out of the first round — all wins. He lost once, getting caught in a guillotine, and fought to a draw the same year, but didn’t lose again until his third fight in the UFC in 2013 when he dropped a decision to Jorge Masvidal.
His next fight was also a loss, also by decision, and the UFC decided to cut Means. The move to cut Means wasn’t just because of a loss, but also due to his issues making weight at lightweight. Means was even forced to withdraw from a bout because of a slip and fall in the sauna a day before weigh-ins.
After being cut from the UFC, Means moved up to welterweight and fought twice for Legacy Fighting Championship. He won both fights, again in the first round. The UFC came calling and offered him a short-notice fight against Neil Magny. The fight didn’t go his way, but Means was back to stay in the Octagon.
Means fought four guys in the UFC and beat them all. Then he faced Matt Brown. Brown and Means put on a very entertaining bout, but Brown proved the better fighter that day with a very strong guillotine with less than 20 seconds to go in the first round.
Means is no stranger to ups and downs, and those previous highs and lows prepared Means for one of his biggest disappointments. Means was slated to face Donald Cerrone in the main event at UFC Fight Night 83 after a decisive win over John Howard. The match-up was a highly anticipated bout between two crowd favorites. It was to be the first big-time show for Means and a fight with “Cowboy” Cerrone was an opportunity for Means to become a top contender.
All the trials and tribulations of the past were behind him. All the sacrifices and training were paying off. Then Means tested positive for a banned substance. All his hopes and dreams came crashing down around him. He was pulled from the card and faced a possible two-year suspension.
Means maintained his innocence and luckily was able to prove that his violation was not intentional. Jeff Novitsky, the UFC’s VP of Athlete Health and Performance, worked with Means. Together, they were able to solve the mystery: a tainted supplement was to blame. Even though Means never meant to cheat, he still had to serve a six-month suspension.
It’s clear that the UFC brass is willing to give Means another chance. They scheduled him for UFC 202, a highly anticipated card full of exciting match-ups and fighters. Means was initially set to face Sean Strickland, but Strickland was forced to withdraw due to a knee injury.
“I feel good getting on this card,” Means told Combat Press. “The bosses have high hopes for me, and I like opening the events. I kind of have a reputation as a firestarter and being able to get the main event going. So, coming back from a suspension and having this opportunity… The ups and downs of my life have really taught me about patience and controlling my emotions, but I am thrilled to be here right now, for sure.
“I’ve been back and forth, up and down, and I have learned to fight through the struggles. And I am very lucky to have the support I do. My team tries to break me every day in practice. And I have a job I love to do. I’ve got my kids in my house, and these are my incentives to do what I can and to enjoy what I have and what I do.
“Through all of this stress with the USADA, I had other personal stuff going on. I was fighting for custody of my girls, and I knew what I wanted and I knew what I had to do. I fight for my loves, and that is what has kept me going with the mentality I need to be able to go for it.
“Through all of it, Jeff Novitsky was fantastic. He listened to me, he believed me, and he helped me figure it out. He did an outstanding job. Just outstanding. And my family and teammates and coaches were incredible.
“Now, I take aminos and electrolytes — that is it. I get my fuel from natural foods now, proteins and carbs, the old-fashioned way. Oatmeal. Chicken. That is all I trust now. Not to say that all products are bad, but I am not willing to take that chance. No supplements for me. And through this whole thing, not one supplement company has reached out to me. They didn’t step up.
“My attorney is handling the business side of it. I won’t rule out a class-action suit if there were other athletes who had the same issues, but that isn’t my job or my focus. My job is to get back into the cage and compete. This fight almost didn’t happen, so I am taking it all in and enjoying this experience.
“I know this can’t last forever. I come from a small town and the odds of me making it this far were already small, so I want to work hard but enjoy where I am, too. I want to surround myself with good people and to be a good dad. I am learning how to braid hair and now [my girls] want to do my hair and my face [laughs]. When I take naps, I have to find the nail-polish remover.”
Means has two daughters, ages 9 and 7, and has a wonderful wife who has been by his side to offer love and support. Even though he has been through the fire, he hasn’t let it harden him. In fact, you could say it’s made him stronger and more resilient, and perhaps even better able to deal with the last-minute opponent change.
“I am ready for anyone the UFC wants me to face,” Means stated matter-of-factly.
Sabah Homasi, who holds an 11-5 mark, is who the UFC picked. Homasi is an alum of The Ultimate Fighter reality series and enters UFC 202 fresh off a knockout at Titan FC 40 at the beginning of August.
“Sure, he has a pretty good record, but he’s got wins over two out-of-shape guys,” said Means. “He is a 155-[pound]er, but his last fight was at 180, at a catchweight. I am younger and stronger, and the last guy he fought just stood in front of him. He was out of shape and stood right there asking to get knocked out. It’s easy to catch a guy like that.
“But I don’t think he is ready for me. I am a lefty, I’m tall, and I never stay in one place. I’m improving my wrestling, and my grappling is good. I like the match-up and how we stack up. He has power [and] he’s muscular, but that body style fades quickly. I like to get going and keep the pace, keep the pressure, and push my opponents. He is just not on my level.”
One guy has to lose. One guy gets to win. They have to get in the cage and earn every second. Means has the mental power to overcome the obstacles in his way. He’s been down the biggest drops on the roller coaster of life, and he’s emerged to climb the next hill. He’s ready to do it again.