When the call went out to fighters with offers for spots on the Legacy Fighting Alliance 52 card in Belton, Texas, there most likely came sighs of relief and bouts of excitement. All of these mixed ranges of good emotions are realized by fighters as they prepare to get back in their natural stomping grounds in the cage. This is the place where all the hard work pays off. This is where fighters reap the rewards of those three-day training camps, the hard rounds of sparring, and the mornings where the mind is willing but the body is not. The time for training is over. Now, it’s time to shine.
The call from the LFA matchmakers brought jubilation for Jhonoven Pati. The LFA is not his final destination as a fighter, but it is another stop on his way to the top.
“When I got the call, I was actually pretty happy, but at the same time I was like, this isn’t it — be happy with it, accept it, and use it as a stepping stool and look towards the future,” Pati told Combat Press. “Even down to the [Dana White’s Tuesday Night] Contender Series, I believe that I have the skill sets that can show I’m ready to go now on the biggest stage. If you were to call me and say, ‘Hey, I need to put you on a free Fight Pass card,’ or something like this, I’ll do it, and I’ll show up and I’ll show out.
“It has nothing to do with cockiness or anything like that. I’m confident in [my] preparation, because of the hard work that I put in, the hard work that my team puts in, and the fighters I’m surrounded with. I’d be a fool not to say I’m ready for the UFC. I’d be wasting my time if I didn’t believe in that. I believe at any point, even after this point, if [UFC President] Dana White were to call me and give me that contract, I’m ready to perform. I’m ready to let him know that I belong there in the UFC, because I see it. I see it already, and I don’t plan on stopping that vision anytime soon.”
Pati just watched a good friend of his rise to the top. Geoff Neal, a middleweight in the UFC, put on a fantastic performance in which he knocked out Frank Camacho with a walk-off head kick. Neal is responsible for introducing Pati to the combat-sports world.
“Geoff is my homeboy,” said Pati, a former football player. “We grew up together, both from Copperas Cove, Texas. When I got out of college, I didn’t play ball anymore. There was no NFL for me. We used to box in the locker room all the time in Cove, and Geoff remembered that, and he invited me to the gym where he was at because he had already been fighting, and that’s how I got into the sport.
“I was excited about it, because I need something active in my life. Fighting is something that’s always been around in my life. I was following Geoff while I was in college, and it seemed pretty interesting. So, I was intrigued to get back on a fitness journey. I didn’t think I’d get this far. I wanted to get back in that competitive atmosphere. Being an athlete all your life and then when it stops, it’s like, what do I do now?”
Pati’s amateur career was a success, but, truth be told, nobody remembers a fighter’s ammy run. It’s what the fighter does as a pro that matters. In late 2013, the “Samoan Savage” truly tested himself when he made his pro debut in Beaumont, Texas, against future UFC fighter Ryan Spann.
Spann had three wins under his belt. He was a favorite in Texas, whereas Pati was the new guy on the block trying to prove himself. The fight didn’t go Pati’s way.
“The psychological part of the whole thing was the hardest part for me,” admitted Pati. “People don’t understand how much of a fight that is within itself. Of course, I had the jitters before and throughout my whole amateur career. I had never been touched, out of seven fights. Nobody ever touched me solid. Ryan had actually caught me with only one solid strike in the first round, and it ended in the first round. He kinda just shook me, because I didn’t know how to react.
“Psychologically, it messed me up a little, it being my pro debut and I was the co-main event going against a huge name — nobody wanted to fight Ryan Spann. I had been touched in the gym, but not with four ounces [gloves]. And it wasn’t a hard shot; it was just the feeling of finally getting caught that messed me up.”
Things got worse before they got better. There was no quick turnaround for Pati. No immediate chance to put the loss behind him. Gyms fell through. Teammates scattered across the state. Then, there was the debilitating injury that would test Pati’s determination and grit as a fighter.
“I had blown my knee out,” Pati said. “Tore my ACL, MCL and LCL. Completely tore it out getting ready for a fight.”
Pati was 0-1 as a pro fighter. Now, he also had to contend with an injury that puts a fighter on the shelf for a while. This is when thoughts can creep in as to whether the fight life is meant to be — whether it’s worth it. That’s not who Pati is. He has dealt with adversity and the setbacks. He has handled the first loss, the surgery and the time away. When he says he is dedicated and the UFC is his goal, he damn sure isn’t going to let anything stop him.
Pati returned to the cage in 2017 with his revenge tour on tap. His first fight back resulted in a TKO finish in the first round. The next three fights? All finishes. A savage was let loose after nearly three years of waiting around to fight again.
“When you sit back and look at it, it’s a blessing, man,” Pati said. “I believe in what we put in is what we get out. Kru Kasib [Taylor, StrKings coach] pushes the hell out of us. People only see the fight — that’s the end result — [but] they never see the work put in. That’s why you appreciate your team.”
Pati gives shoutouts to everyone around him. He’s a young man who’s very aware that he couldn’t have done this on his own. Who is most crucial to his success? Like they say, behind every strong man is a strong woman.
“I’m actually a high school referee,” explained Pati. “That’s really the heavy load of what I do that helps me pay for myself and things, but to be honest, to pay for everything else, it’s my wife. I literally have a wife that takes care of everything. There are times where I have to choose between work and going to training, and my wife will tell me, ‘I’ll pick that up and you go to training.’ My wife picks up a lot of slack in my life, and it just happened at the right time in my life where I met this young lady.
“She just turned everything around for me in my fighting career, because fighters know the balance, especially coming up, of balancing work, training [and] family. She holds everything together for me. There are days I get three training sessions in a day, and that wouldn’t be possible without my wife. To be honest, my wife is my breadwinner. She pushes me to this, because she sees the vision. She sees the end road being the UFC, and that’s all.”
The vision continues on Friday, Oct. 19, in Belton at the Bell County Expo Center. Slotted for the main card of LFA 52, in front of what is expected to be a sellout crowd, Pati will get to prove to himself and those watching that he truly does belong in the UFC.