Boston Salmon (Phil Lambert/Combat Press)

UFC 236’s Boston Salmon: A Long Time Coming

On the brink of greatness, and then… Benched.

The injury bug always rears its ugly head at the worst possible time. Injuries are prevalent in professional sports, because athletes put a lot of stress on their bodies. However, in individual sports, it’s a lot more detrimental than in team sports, because there are no substitutes.

Boston Salmon made a quick rise in combat sports. He was an Olympic boxing hopeful who made the move to pro MMA in 2014 when he was only 23 years old. The Hawaiian-born bantamweight even garnered a cult following in the Colorado MMA community, where his only tie was the fact that the Resurrection Fighting Alliance kept bringing him back after he put on exciting fights. His quick rise landed him in Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series by July 2017. After a win over Ricky Turcios in front of the UFC boss, he got a contract. However, things went sideways quickly.


“After I got offered a contract on the Contender Series, I had a fight lined up with Augusto Mendes, but two weeks before that fight, he ended up pulling out due to injury,” Salmon told Combat Press. “They offered me Raoni Barcelos, and we were getting ready for that fight, but prior to that fight, I already had a torn knee. It was a grade two tear in my knee, and we’d kind of been tapping that for a long time, hoping I didn’t need to get surgery.

“We got the contract for that fight, and I was training with Bryan Caraway, and I totally popped my whole knee, and I could not walk. I went to get an MRI, and the doctor said I needed surgery. I got surgery in November [2017], and I’d been out for over a year. I was scheduled to fight Khalid Taha in The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale, and same thing, man. It was two or three weeks before the fight that he pulled out. So, here I am, on the bench, waiting to make my debut.”

The injury bug bit Salmon, as well as two opponents, so this rising star got put on hold. It’s now April 2019, and he has yet to make his first true Octagon appearance. Time on the bench is not always a bad thing, though — especially for someone on a quick rise.

“I haven’t fought in over a year, so part of me thinks, with the surgery and being off that whole time, it gave me the chance to rest and recover all of my other injuries,” Salmon said. “At any time, our bodies are never 100 percent, but I’m close, man. My mind’s straight, and I’m at a good place right now. I’m super confident, and I’m super happy.

“I’ve been training like a madman three times a day. If I’m not at the UFC [Performance Institute], I’m at Xtreme Couture. I come home, recover, I eat and hang out with my girl. I play video games, and that’s it.”

Before the Contender Series, Salmon was working two jobs in Las Vegas, so training that often was not an option. During his time out of the cage, he was able to save some money, which in turn allowed him to take time off to train more. It also helped that the UFC took care of the costs associated with his injury.

“They took care of my surgery, and I was doing PT at the UFC Performance Institute and was fortunate enough to get therapy done by the trainers there,” Salmon explained. “I got the injury, and I was in there working out every day, getting my PT done. On top of that, I was training with the strength-and-conditioning program that they have there.”

Everyone coming out of the Contender Series is chomping at the bit to make a name for themselves. The show is more of a stepping stone than a proving ground, and while Salmon knows he belongs in the big show, he also realizes he has yet to showcase his best qualities.

“To be realistic, I haven’t proven it yet, but I think I’m a marketable fighter,” Salmon said. “I have the skills. I have the talent. I can talk. I have a decent following. I haven’t made my UFC debut yet, but once I do, the shit’s going to hit the fan. They’re going to be like, ‘Damn, this kid’s legit, man.’ In order for that to happen, I need to go out there, fight, and make a statement.”

Salmon will finally get a chance to show the promotion what he is all about on Saturday night at UFC 236 in Atlanta. Once again, he’s set to face the aforementioned Taha, who is 12-2 as a pro and fights out of Germany. Taha’s UFC debut came in July 2018, when he lost a decision to Nad Narimani.

“He’s a tough fight,” said the 6-1 Salmon. “He’s fought for Rizin [and] Brave FC, and those are two good organizations. He’s had two losses — one in the UFC and one in Rizin — and he’s a tough opponent. His first fight was at 145 pounds. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s a young buck. I feel like my performance on the Contender Series was mediocre. I don’t feel like I got to show the UFC what I’m all about. I fought that fight with a torn knee. Now, I’m all healed up, I’m a marketable fighter, and I’m good looking, you know? I’m quick, I’m flashy, and I’m in there to finish fights.”

On paper, Taha is a big step up in competition from Salmon’s original scheduled debut against Mendes, who was 6-2 with two losses in the UFC already. However, Salmon is not in this to take easy fights. After sitting for a year and a half, he’s ready to turn some heads.

“At first, I thought, after coming off surgery, I would get something a lot easier,” Salmon admitted, “but you have to have the mindset that you can beat anybody. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be in the UFC. I have the mindset of beating everyone. It doesn’t matter who they put in front of me; I should be able to beat all of them.

“The 135-pound division is stacked. Two years ago, that division was not as stacked. Back then, I thought I was easily top five. I still feel that way. I feel like I’ll be top five or top 10 within three or four fights. I know I can hang with these guys, and I know I can beat these guys. I want to be the champion, man.”

After he first got injured, Salmon was depressed for a few months. He was sitting there, watching teammates get better while he was simply trying to heal. It was not great on his mental state. However, he worked his ass off to get better. With the help of his team and the UFC Performance Institute, he now feels better than ever.

“I just need to stay healthy,” Salmon said. “That’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. I need to stay healthy and stay active. You look at a lot of fighters that take a lot of fights, and I was unfortunate to not take a lot of fights, because I was rehabbing a lot of injuries. My family was never known for having good knees. My sister had surgery. I didn’t think the curse was going to happen to me, but it did and I had surgery. I just need to stay healthy and active in the gym, so I can adapt and get better.

“Everyone around me is positive. We are all on the same path, and we all have the same goals. Loyalty is a big part of it, and we trust each other a lot. I feel like I have a solid circle. Vegas is amazing. Hawaii will always be home, but Vegas keeps me focused.”

A lot of time has passed since Salmon’s initially scheduled UFC debut. However, with injuries in check, Olympic-level striking, a lot of pent-up aggression and a bright future ahead, he will finally show fans why he gained a cult following in Colorado. The next evolution of his career will certainly be better than the last.

“The RFA days are over,” said Salmon. “This is Boston 2.0 right here. You’re going to see some high-level striking. I can promise you that.”