Lyle Beerbohm: From Prison Inmate to Undefeated MMA Fighter

Lyle Beerbohm will attempt to run his professional mixed martial arts record to 10-0 on Friday night when he steps into the cage against Duane Ludwig at the Strikeforce Challenger Series event in Kent, Wash. But whether Beerbohm wins or loses, he's come a long way from where he was three years ago, in a very different kind of cage.

Beerbohm spent a year and a half at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Wash., as a result of multiple felony convictions, all related to his crystal meth addiction. But Beerbohm discovered MMA while locked up, and he knew he had found his new calling.

In an interview with FanHouse, the 30-year-old Beerbohm opened up about his life before, during and after his stint in prison.

Michael David Smith: You've had quite a journey from prison to professional fighting. How did you get from growing up in a seemingly ordinary home, to prison, to professional sports?
Lyle Beerbohm: Well, up through high school everything was going well, I was a student and I wrestled, and then after high school I just started running with a bad crowd, and pretty soon I was selling drugs. I tried meth for the first time when I was 20 years old, snorted it and smoked it for a few years, and then I started shooting it and I was doing that for about six years. Over that time, I racked up eight felony charges, and that's how I ended up at Walla Walla State Penitentiary. I was raised by really good parents. I have two brothers and two sisters, and it's a great family. But meth made me do some bad things. Fortunately, it sent me to prison and saved my life. That got me clean and got me to stop doing drugs.

And then one day I was sitting in prison watching The Ultimate Fighter reality show on TV. And I was like, "Are you kidding me? These guys are on TV making money for fighting? That's what I want to do when I get out."

So I wrote my dad a letter and told him, "I want to be a cage fighter when I get out," and he was like, "Oh, no. Lyle must have gotten meth in prison." He thought that was such a crazy idea. But when I got out, he picked me up from prison and he thought I looked pretty good, and I told him we had to stop at an MMA gym -- right there on that drive home from prison. So we stopped at a gym, I told the trainer I wanted to be a cage fighter, and he gave me a chance with it and I did really well.

Eight days later I had my first amateur MMA fight and I won, and then in the next nine months I did 12 amateur fights and went 12-0. At that time I turned pro, and now I'm 9-0 as a pro, 12-0 as an amateur and I finished 20 of my 21 fights. And now I'm fighting Duane Ludwig on Friday.

What year was it that you saw The Ultimate Fighter on TV in prison?
That must have been 2006.

And at that time had you ever even watched MMA?
Well, I saw the first few UFCs when I was in high school, in 1993 and 1994, but I never paid much attention to it until I was sitting in prison watching it on TV.

Was The Ultimate Fighter a popular show among the guys in prison?
Oh, yeah. And every guy talked like he was tough, but I was kind of the quiet guy just sitting back there thinking, "You guys aren't that tough."

Were there a lot of fights in prison?
Yeah. Of course, it's a lot different -- when you fight in prison, you're fighting pretty much to live. It's life or death. When you get in a fight in prison, it's an experience that I wouldn't want to put anybody through. A fight in prison is a very, very scary thing. You never know what's going to happen, if the guy's going to come back and shank you, if you're going to get jumped. I got in a few fights in prison, and I won all my fights, and then everybody knew not to mess with me, and I just hung by myself.

A prison fight is a lot different from MMA, right? We call an MMA match a fight, but it's really an athletic competition with rules and a referee. That's not really anything like a prison fight, is it?
MMA is a sport, but once you get into that cage, you go in there not trying to do anything but win the fight. I never think about losing, no matter what position I'm in. The thought of losing, or tapping out, that just never even comes into my mind. But it is definitely a sport, and it's not like a prison fight.

Your nickname, "Fancy Pants," is not exactly the nickname I'd expect from a guy who discovered MMA in prison. How did that nickname come about?
My mom loves to sew, and one day I was helping her move some material into her sewing room, and I came across this pink, yellow and green spandex material. And I was like, "Mom, you've got to make me a pair of fight shorts out of this." At first she didn't think I was serious, but I was like, "Mom, I really want you to make me a pair of shorts." So she made them, and then when I had my next fight, I went into the ring wearing a pair of sweat pants, and when I pulled off the sweat pants and was there in my mom's shorts, the crowd went crazy. Girls were whistling, guys were laughing, everybody was hooting and hollering, and my dad was like, "You have something there." And that's why I'm known as Fancy Pants.

When you talk about your parents, I hear the affection in your voice. A lot of guys who end up in prison talk about having painful childhoods, but I don't sense that from you at all.
My family has supported me from Day 1. I have a really great family, a loving, religious family. My parents have been married for over 50 years, and the only time I've ever seen them fight, in my 30 years of life, was when my mom made Hamburger Helper three days in a row and my dad wanted something else, and that was a little, little fight. I come from a great, great family. My parents have taken me back after everything I've done, and they're coming to my fight on Friday, and they've been extremely supportive.

I'm actually in the process of writing a book with my dad. My dad is ghost writing for me, and it's the story of my trials and tribulations in life, and it's going to be a great book. I'm looking for a publisher, so I hope someone who reads this might be interested in publishing it, because pretty soon I'm going to be the Strikeforce lightweight champion of the world, and this book will be a hit.

What are your long-term goals in MMA?
I'm not close to where I want to be. I've only been doing this for a couple years. I have a lot to learn. But my only goal is to be the Strikeforce lightweight champ. I train twice a day, six days a week, and all I do is train.

Are you one of those guys who has to force yourself to take a day off from training because you love it so much that you have to give your body some time to recuperate?

Yes. I enjoy it. I traded one addiction for another. I traded a life where I was putting all my effort into getting high for a life where I'm putting all my effort into training, and being the best MMA fighter I can be.

And is Friday night's fight the biggest of your career?
Absolutely, 100 percent. This is the biggest fight of my life, for sure.

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