By Nico Regoli
LOWER BURRELL, Pa. -Industrial employee from Ambridge and 27 year old mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, Chris Dempsey gets a second chance to become a star as he returns to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Octagon this April.
When a fighter pulls out of a UFC match there is always someone waiting by the phone, ready to step up, and take advantage of an opportunity to compete on the big stage.
Last year, Dempsey was lucky enough to get that call. Currently an employee at D&S Industrial Fasteners, Dempsey comes from a hardworking background. The son of a policeman, Dempsey made a name for himself at Ambridge High School. There, he was a 3-year starter and senior year captain of the football team, and a 4-year starter and captain of the wrestling team his junior and senior years.
His success continued into college, at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown. There, the list of accolades within his wrestling pedigree grew, as he became a 4-year starter, a 4-year National qualifier, and a 2-year All American. During his sophomore year, Dempsey was granted the unique opportunity of helping former NFL player and Pitt-Johnstown wrestling legend, Carlton Haselrig, prepare for an MMA fight.
Dempsey described Haselrig with admiration as, “probably the best college heavyweight of all time.” The two would become friends, and through that experience, Dempsey realized his own desire to be involved in MMA, which he would pursue post-graduation.
Dempsey was offered a chance to make his UFC debut on July 19, 2014 fighting against Swedish wrestler, Ilir Latifi, on July 19, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland after beginning his career in Heavyweight (265 pounds) and going professional at Light Heavyweight. He accepted the offer, and became the very first member of The Mat Factory Wrestling Club, stationed in Lower Burrell, to be hired by a major promotion.
“It was a crazy day,” Dempsey said. “I was at work that day, and I got a text message about an open spot for a fight in Dublin, Ireland. I didn’t really think I was going to get it, but I called Oren (Hodak), my manager in Dallas, and he was like, ‘Alright, we’ll try for it.’”
Once he was told the fight was official that day he left work, and headed to the gym three hours early, signed the paperwork, and later that night during jiu-jitsu class, told everyone on the mats the good news.
Unfortunately, the fight was over in two minutes and seven seconds, as Latifi kicked Dempsey’s leg, and then knocked him out with a nasty punch.
“Going in, I was like, ‘Man, I have a hard head. Nobody can knock me out,'” Dempsey explained, “Getting knocked out, I mean, anybody gets hit the right way, you can get knocked out, and that kind of proved it to myself. So, I think, if anything it will help me for the future, to be smarter and stay in better positions, and not think that I’m invincible.”
However, Dempsey is being given another chance to impress, and after months of working nine-to-five, waiting for another phone call, Dempsey is finally scheduled to return to the Octagon, back at his natural home of Middleweight (185 pounds), in Newark, New Jersey’s Prudential Center, on April 18.
Dempsey is happy to have the additional preparation time, mentioning, “I have more to, to think about the fight, to visualize the fight, and everything in my head. I feel like I’m going to be in better shape, because I have a full training camp, and I get to go back to my original weight class.”
Headlining this event will be Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Lyoto “THE DRAGON” Machida, in a Middleweight contest against Former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Luke Rockhold. The winner of this fight could be the next potential challenger for the UFC Middleweight Championship.
The event will be broadcasted on two platforms, starting with four preliminary fights streaming live from the subscription-based UFC Fight Pass online network (starting at 4:15 PM ET), and then the remaining eight fights will be showcased on Fox (starting at 6:00 PM ET). Dempsey will be featured in the opening fight on Fight Pass.
Standing across the cage from Dempsey will be Eddie “TRUCK” Gordon. Gordon is the Season 19 Middleweight Winner of the UFC’s longtime reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. In an interview conducted through email, MMA Fighter and Penn State New Kensington’s wrestling coach, Francis Healy feels that while Gordon is a big, talented prospect, he is also “tenacious, but sloppy in his technique.”
“Gordon is a great up-and-coming UFC talent, and a perfect test for Dempsey,” Greeley said, in an online interview. “He needs to weather the storm, but Chris will win the war if it comes down to who has the bigger heart, and that’s what we’re banking on. Chris will never lose a fight based on heart. We want a war!”
There’s only really two ways you can come back, and it’s worrying about you getting knocked out in the past, or learning from it and building from it,” said Dempsey.
Regardless of what Gordon does though, people will still know who he is after this fight, win or lose. His time on The Ultimate Fighter has made him someone MMA fans recognize. Dempsey on the other hand, has yet to establish himself as someone the UFC’s Middleweight Division should watch out for.
In this sport, one performance can change everything for anyone, and cards with multiple names attract multiple eyeballs. So, it makes sense for Dempsey to believe that a win over Gordon, on a card as stacked as this one on April 18 should surely help establish his presence within the UFC. No doubt, repeating this process one fight at a time, will eventually help the spotlight find him.
Having faith in your coaches and your team is certainly not a bad strategy either, especially when their teaching lead to success. Under the Team Mat Factory banner, Dempsey has won 10 of his 12 professional fights (according to Sherdog.com), and he attributes all of that success to the care his coaches have for the progression of their students.
Dempsey praises his coaches, stating, “Eddie and Issac are just here, and they want to see us succeed, and they’re good-hearted people. You can’t really ask for better people to be around.”
Ideally, Dempsey wants to push himself to the absolute limit, leave no stone unturned, and eliminate all room for excuses.
“I fight because I don’t want to be that guy, in the bar, at 45 saying, ‘Oh, this is what I could’ve done.”