Travel creates new life experiences. However, after many planes, trains, cars, subways and even bikes, sometimes it just feels good to be home.
With the global expansion of MMA, many athletes have the opportunity to travel all over the world. Some have even moved far away from home, sometimes permanently, just for the purpose of training. While their focus is obviously on the craft, these athletes also get the added benefit of exposure to different cultures.
Professional MMA fighter Drew Dober was born and raised in Omaha, Neb., where he began studying martial arts as a child. His first 18 professional fights took place within a couple hours of home, outside of a short stint on the 15th season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, where he missed a bid to make it into the house. In November 2013, he got a short-notice call to replace an injured fighter and was able to make his UFC debut at the TUF 18 Finale. This fight marked his first official contest outside of the Midwest. He hasn’t fought anywhere near home since.
Over the last five years, Dober has competed in Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and various spots in the United States, far from Nebraska. However, a couple months ago, the promotion announced that it would make a stop in Nebraska’s capital city of Lincoln on Aug. 25 for UFC Fight Night 135. Obviously, the Cornhusker State native was all over it.
“As soon as I saw they announced the card in Lincoln, I messaged the matchmaker immediately,” Dober told Combat Press. “I was like, ‘I better be on this card!’ As soon as that card was announced, I figured that was the date I was competing at. Before I even had an opponent or a confirmation, I was training for this date.”
It was an easy choice for the UFC. Dober hadn’t fought since he beat Frank Camacho in January. Dober, who is riding a two-fight winning streak, needed to get back in the saddle. On Saturday, in a fight that airs live on UFC Fight Pass, he’s set to meet Jon Tuck in a lightweight showdown.
“It was extremely exciting,” Dober said. “I had a pretty good chance of fighting on this card, and I had a good feeling about it. It’s just super exciting to be able to compete in Nebraska again, but on the largest stage in the world.”
This will not be the first time Dober has been to a UFC event in Nebraska, but it will be his first time actually inside the cage. The UFC has been to Omaha twice, and the last time was six and a half years ago for UFC on Fuel TV. Remember that event series? Dober does quite well.
“The last event was Jake Ellenberger against Diego Sanchez,” Dober reminisced. “I remember I had the nosebleed tickets for that event in the civic center in Omaha.”
Well, this time around, Dober is hoping to create some nosebleeds of his own against Tuck. Tuck, like Dober, tried out for TUF 15, but he also had a failed bid to get into the house. Tuck ended up on the UFC roster the same year.
“Tuck’s a great guy,” Dober said. “Him and I run into each other once in a while at venues, and we were on, like, the show together. We would shoot the shit. I think he’s a great martial artist, a great guy, and I’m extremely excited to perform with him.”
The crowd in Lincoln will certainly not be rooting for Tuck when Dober, one of the state’s top fighters, finally makes his return home. Dober has been all over the world, but to fight in Nebraska again is a dream come true.
“I feel a tremendous amount of motivation and energy,” Dober admitted. “I’m extremely excited to make that walk into the cage and just hear the crowd. I’m also excited to hear the crowd as I’m fighting, and being able to celebrate with all of my family and friends who have supported me since I was a teenager.”
After the card in Lincoln, Dober will return to his current home in Denver, where he is a member of the Elevation Fight Team. Denver is where the UFC got its start, and the promotion is returning to the Mile High City in November. If all goes well, the timing is perfect for Dober to land a spot on the 25th Anniversary card.
“I would love to fight [again] by the end of the year,” Dober said. “My goal is to get three fights per year, and I will have two this year. I would love to get another one in.”
While the Denver card would be great, Dober has bigger fish to fry after this fight. The itch to travel also needs to be scratched.
“After this fight, I’m heading out to Europe to do some [rest and relaxation],” Dober said. “I plan on going to Paris and Barcelona. I want to experience a different culture. I think it’s mandatory for every fighter to take a week off to get your body and mind healed. In this week off, I would love to experience new food, new wine, new architecture, new everything.”
On Saturday night, Dober and Tuck serve as the second fight of the evening. The crowd will surely make it sound like the main event, though. It’s been a long journey in the UFC for the Nebraska native, but this weekend, his career will finally come full circle. Then, it’s time to travel once more.