Combat sports are not easy. Between the intense training, the dieting, the injuries, and the fact that the opponents are trying to physically assault each other, there are a lot easier sports an athlete could choose. Frankly, it’s not as glorious as it seems either. There are much higher-paying jobs, and the life cycle of a typical combat-sports career is relatively short. So, what keeps some fighters in the game?
“The love,” Drew Dober told Combat Press. “I tell others that happiness is how you define success. If you’re not living out your passions, and you’re not making a life out of what makes you laugh and smile, are you really successful?”
Dober makes a valid point. If someone is miserable behind a desk every day, even with a good paycheck, are they really successful in their career? It’s a subjective question, but it makes one think.
A native of Omaha, Neb., Dober started fighting as a teenager and has not looked back. He wrestled in high school, and he took his first pro MMA fight at only 20 years old. After just four years, he was already 14-4 in his career and had fought guys like Brandon Girtz, Tony Sims and Will Brooks. The victory over Sims came on the day before his 25th birthday. One month later, he made his UFC debut.
Dober is now 21-9-1 in his career. His most recent Octagon appearance was at UFC on ESPN 3 in June. After suffering a rare stoppage loss to Beneil Dariush only two months prior, he faced Marco Polo Reyes. In the first round, Dober showed some of his best striking yet and finished Reyes in a minute.
“The fight was short, but I learned a ton from that one,” Dober admitted. “In that training camp, I learned a lot about movement and how to hit with power. There were a lot of technical things that I learned in that camp.”
July, August and September all passed by, and Dober was sitting around waiting for another opponent. However, a call never came. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of MMA. Dober is now 7-5-1 in the Octagon. He has not cracked the top 15 in the lightweight division, but he’s finished four UFC opponents and 14 men overall.
“I’m a dangerous opponent without a number in front of my name,” Dober said. “Not a lot of fighters are eager to accept that fight. Plus, the UFC likes to use me to make cards fantastic or exciting. They like putting me against other strikers to pump up the card.”
Around late October, the UFC had finally found his next opponent. The fight wasn’t until January’s UFC 246, which takes place on Saturday night. Dober, who trains with the Elevation Fight Team in Denver, didn’t care who it was, he just accepted. It turned out that he agreed to meet Nasrat Haqparast, an Afghan-German striker with nine knockout victories in only 13 fights.
“He’s bringing in a solid fan base from Afghanistan, which is super cool,” said Dober. “He’s a tough striker — a southpaw. He’s really young, really tough, and he trains with the guys up at Tristar. It’s definitely going to be an exciting fight and a true test.
“I think the UFC knows what they’re doing [by] putting us together. He likes standing and trading. He’s got knockouts from standing and trading, and I’ve got knockouts. They’re really using our fight to get everyone warmed up for the main card.”
The main card kicks off the year with a bang. It features former champions Anthony Pettis, Claudia Gadelha and Holly Holm. The headliner is a welterweight showdown between former two-division champ Conor McGregor and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone with lightweight-title implications.
“It’s exciting,” Dober said. “Conor and Cowboy are going to bring so many eyes to this card. It just excites me to go in there and leave it all in the cage — blood, sweat, tears. I want to go for ‘Fight of the Night.’”
Dober loves what he does, and it shows. He may not be the highest-paid fighter in the game, but his stock goes up with every win. He knows exactly what he needs to do to crack into the rankings, too.
“I just need to keep winning,” said Dober. “I’m not much of a trash-talker, so I’m not doing the whole Colby Covington route. I’m going in there, and I’m letting my hands speak for me. I put on fantastic fights, and you cannot deny a person finishing fights.”
Dober will keep climbing until he gets to the top, and he has plenty of time to do just that. At only 31 years old, he’s still relatively young. He trains with one of the best fight teams in the world, and he is on the path that he was destined to be on for his whole life. On Saturday, he will let the shots fly when he faces Haqparast live on the UFC 246 prelims on ESPN.