Let it be known that Rich Patishnock is, above all else, a realist.
It's an easy cliché, the fighter who holds no delusions of grandeur but instead kneels before the gods of hard work. Yet Patishnock, the underdog of all underdogs, the unfamiliar man who headlines this Saturday's WSOF 8 show opposite the promotion's premier lightweight killer Justin Gaethje, minces no words when it comes to his current predicament.
"A lot of people really don't know much about me," he acknowledges.
"But you know what? I'm not really trying to prove people wrong about anything. I just want people to understand... to know, I do deserve to be here."
For Patishnock, the road to the doorstep of WSOF gold has been one epitomized by surprise opportunities and, in turn, surpassed expectations.
A latecomer to high school wrestling who simply needed another outlet for that edge once the glee of graduation faded, Patishnock received his career-changing phone call not on the heels of a magnificent string of wins, but while he was still mired in the stink of his first professional loss.
It was early-2013, and just a handful of months before, Patishnock saw his undefeated record ground into dust by Tenyeh Dixon at a small show in Philadelphia. In total, the fight lasted only 72 seconds. And it was as one-sided as they come -- Dixon took Patishnock down and kept him there. It certainly didn't give the then-25-year-old any hope that one of the big boys would come calling.
Sometimes, though, these type of things just don't make sense.
"WSOF called me," Patishnock remembers. "I'm assuming they called me to be the sacrificial lamb, so to speak. But, you know, I took the opportunity ... and I loved every second of it."
WSOF had signed to its roster several members of the hallowed Gracie clan -- a name that, although much of luster had long faded, still granted its arms an assumed level of mat wizardry. Patishnock, the hand-picked "sacrificial lamb," was immediately thrust into a clash against Igor Gracie, pegged to be a sizeable underdog, and promptly won when he repeatedly slammed Gracie's collarbone against the canvas, rendering the Brazilian unable to answer the bell between rounds.
Six months later, Patishnock repeated the favor, dispatching Gracie's brother, Gregor -- again as a sizeable underdog. Suddenly 2-0 within one of the most recognized MMA promotions in the country, Patishnock looked back to realize that his setback against Dixon didn't appear as universe-ending as it once seemed.
"Honestly, it was probably the greatest thing that's ever happened to me," he says. "Because it really made me sit back and reevaluate a lot of things. Going into that fight I was 4-0. My opponent got switched a week before. I didn't take it seriously. And then I lost. Damn, that was a wake-up call. It reminded me that if you're good to the sport, it'll be good to you."
Even still, Patishnock could never have guessed what was to come next.
Although Gaethje had already destroyed Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante once, WSOF officials set up a rematch, this time with the inaugural lightweight belt on the line. Gaethje was the assumed winner -- after all, if he'd done it once, he most certainly could do it again -- so even when Cavalcante dropped out with an injury, it wasn't the world's worst tragedy.
Secretly Patishnock clung to the hope that he'd get that call. But it never came, and Lewis Gonzalez was the next man up in line.
One month later, though, was a different story. Gonzalez suffered a knee injury and suddenly Patishnock had a reason to take a leave of absence from his job as a casino security guard.
"Right now I'm just anxious," Patishnock admits on the eve of his trip to Florida, where Gaethje and, potentially, the belt now await. "I trained for a long time for this. This is the biggest fight of my life, possibly even ever. This is obviously a pivotal point in my career.
"People are obviously happy for me and getting amped up, and that's great. But I'm not the champ yet. And I'm not going to stop and live in that fairy tale world with them until I go in there and face another hungry opponent across the cage from me (who's) trying to take my head off."
There's that realist again. Never too high, never too low.
"I always had, not something to prove to everybody, but something to prove to myself," Patishnock continues. "There's been family members and people who say, why are you doing this? You're not going to make it anywhere. You can't do it. It's ridiculous to think of. So deep down inside, I always knew that, just because of that negativity, I'd be where I'm at today. I'm not trying to prove anybody wrong, but I know what I want in life and I stuck with it. For several years, I stuck with something, and I knew it would pay off sooner or later."
Just a few weeks ago, Patishnock bought his first car. It's an old Chevrolet Cobalt, and much of the money he spent on it came from his Gracie winnings. Right now though, it's just a stopgap. The real endgame for Patishnock is a 2014 Dodge Charger, all-wheel drive and glittering gun metal silver.
First there's the matter of the murderer waiting for him in south Florida. Patishnock can't say what distinguishes him from the 10 men that already line Gaethje's hitlist. He'll offer no bluster about an underdog's day or his chance to shock the world. Ask, and Patishnock will simply say that he's stubborn. Really stubborn.
So far that stubbornness has seemingly worked out for the best. So wouldn't it be something if the modest long shot from rural Pennsylvania made it three out of three?
Patishnock smiles at the thought, "Hopefully then I can get my Charger."