Though it’s far from the first time he’s faced adversity, it’s been a tumultuous month for UFC flyweight Ian McCall. Just last week his longtime friend, roommate and training partner Shane del Rosario passed away, only 13 days after suffering sudden cardiac arrest at his home in Southern California.
In the interstices, there’s been plenty of heartbreak and reflection for the Orange County native.
The 30-year-old Del Rosario, a UFC heavyweight who was originally slated to fight at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, had seen McCall through thick and thin over the last decade, going back to their high school days. And a little over a year before he died, he’d seen McCall through mostly thin.
McCall appeared on Monday’s MMA Hour exactly a week after Del Rosario’s passing, and -- perhaps putting on a stronger face than he felt -- he described his friend/Team Oyama teammate as a "teddy bear" who was there for him through some of his darkest times.
"He was so family oriented and everything," McCall told Ariel Helwani. "Like even with me, I was going through a divorce or whatever and was in a really bad spot, well he just said hey, ‘we’re both not doing well career-wise, move in with me, I’ll help you raise [your daughter] London, we’ll get our stuff together and we’ll do everything we can.’ And that’s just how he was. He took care of all of us."
McCall, who has battled drug addiction -- relapses, police raids, the whole nine yards -- and seen people around him die, operates these days as a symbol of perseverance to his fellow fighters and teammates. McCall himself had nearly died after overdosing on a cocktail of GHB, Oxycodone and Xanax shortly after losing to Dominick Cruz in the WEC back in 2010. Knowing that there’s a possible trigger after a traumatic event, plenty of people were wondering how McCall was holding up after the untimely death of his friend.
Asked how he was handling himself, McCall -- who is in Reno for the holidays as part of his preparation for his March fight with Brad Pickett -- appeared collected, though he admitted he was still pretty numb by life’s latest curve ball.
"Shocked I guess," he said in describing his mental state. "I try to be the pillar for the team, for everyone to hang onto, just to be the guy who’s…I think everybody kind of expected me to go off the hinges and freak out and do something stupid. But, I’m just trying to be a good example and show everyone that I know how to cope with things and just keep training, and get my other teammates and fighters ready for fights. I think in that process I didn’t really let it sink in.
"I don’t know, I’m just kind of still in shock. It’s a guy I’ve spent 15 years of my life with, and lived with the last year. He took me out of probably the worst situation I’ve ever been in, and had me move in and helped me raise my daughter. It’s a lot to take in, but I just want to -- just like everyone else, instead of mourning so much, I just want to celebrate the person he was instead of just being so depressed about."
To a lot of people’s surprise, the UFC announced that McCall had agreed to fight Pickett just a day after his friend’s passing. Surprising not only because of McCall’s emotional state, but also because there was still some mystery surrounding his broken right hand, which he "crushed" in August in a fight with Iliarde Santos (his first UFC victory).
After having surgery on the hand, McCall was briefly slated to welcome Scott Jorgensen to the 125-pound division at UFC on FOX 9 that just took place this past weekend in Sacramento. However, when his "body overreacted" and built up an excess of scar tissue, he had to have a second surgical procedure done, thus further postponed his return.
"The first surgery just didn’t go well, and the second surgery just did a clean-up job," he said. "It’s okay, I can’t make a fist completely -- you can see my finger, it doesn’t go down all the way."
Here McCall held his hand, demonstrating how the forefinger juts out akimbo while making a fist. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to close his fist entirely until January, which would keep him on course for his March 8 fight with Pickett at UFC Fight Night 37 in London.
And "One Punch" Pickett, just like Jorgensen, is migrating from the bantamweight division down to 125 pounds. In his last fight at 135 pounds he was submitted by Michael McDonald, and he’s hoping the new weight class will give him a sense of reinvention. As for that, McCall says Pickett would be best to exercise caution.
"[Pickett] is coming down, and he’s not a small 135er," he said. "So if you think you’re going to come down to my weight class and you’re going to all of a sudden be fast because you weren’t fast at 135, well, that’s just not how it works. Look what happened to Scott Jorgensen. I guess I’ll just be welcoming him to the division."
Even as he’s still in the recovery process and unable to punch with abandon,, McCall said he wasn’t overly worried about his hand.
"I’ll be fine, I’ve told everybody -- I’d fight with a broken hand, I’ll break it again," he said. "I don’t have to pay for surgeries, the UFC can pay for it for me. Maybe this time they’ll fix it, you know?
"It’s just a hand, I’ve got seven other tools to hit him with."
As to why he agreed to the Pickett bout so quickly after Del Rosario’s death, McCall said he was merely acting in accordance with his late friend’s attitude.
"I just wanted to get back in there and resume my life because that’s what Shane would have wanted," he said. "Shane would have wanted me to go out there and fight, and perform and use it as a fuel to get back to where I should be, and that’s on top of [UFC flyweight champion] Demetrious Johnson and beating him senseless."