Esther Lin, Strikeforce
Second chances aren't exactly a rare commodity in the athletic world, but some cases are certainly met with a slight eyebrow tilt from the public. For Brett Rogers, the former heavyweight contender who was exiled from Strikeforce following domestic abuse charges, the opportunity to reshape the misconceptions surrounding him was a prospect even he wasn't sure would ever come around.
Of course, that was before Rogers became the latest high-profile signing of Bellator's busy summer. Now "Da Grim" is ready to breathe new life into a fighting career that not long ago appeared to be over.
"Man, it feels great," Rogers beamed on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I feel blessed. Bjorn (Rebney), he didn't have to sign me to Bellator Fighting Championships. He could have been like everybody else, and like, ‘screw you, Brett. It's just a little too much going on in your life.'"
Before Rebney came along, it didn't help that "a little too much" really meant the 60-day stint in jail that splashed Rogers' mugshot across the internet, led to his Zuffa release, tarnished his name for a majority of fight fans, and unloaded a whole new level of stress to the fighter's life.
At 6-foot-4 and nearly 265 pounds, Rogers is far from a small man, so he understands the public outcry following the fateful late-June 2011 altercation that left his wife with injuries to her ear, jaw, neck, back and a missing tooth. Nonetheless the 31-year-old believes he is now a changed man, and while he refuses to make excuses, Rogers expresses nothing but regret for his past actions.
"There was definitely a lot of things going on in life, that just kind of built up to a whole lot of stress and frustration ... that led to a bad day, or a bad evening," Rogers explained. "When push comes to shove, I feel bad I put my hands on my wife. It's something I've never, ever done before.
"That's my wife, the love of my life. I feel really bad that the situation happened, and I know for a fact I'm never, ever going to say sorry enough, but as long as I keep trying, things should be better. Things are better. We're working it out as far as counseling goes, (as far as) church goes, and we're just kind of living it day-by-day, step-by-step."
Unfortunately, as these situations often go, while Rogers' battled the demons of his private life, his public life was suffering.
A former title contender who once fought Fedor Emelianenko on national television, Rogers abruptly found himself toeing a line to irrelevance. With no promotion to have his back, and the first losing stretch of his career plastered all over fight databases, the fighter had little choice but to embark on a remarkable fall from grace.
"It was definitely difficult," he said. "It was a fall off, and I mean a fall off. I was off into the water, not on the edge of the plank. It was difficult. I can swim, but for how long?
"I did 60 days (in jail). I lost a contract. Just that right there, alone, was enough for me," Rogers sighed, before acknowledging the hard truth. "It could have been worse. Thank God I had a lawyer that was by my side and helped me through thick and thin. Otherwise, who knows, I could still be sitting in that box."
That box, of course, was Minnesota's Dakota County Jail. For Rogers, the time away brought some much-needed perspective to his life. However, it's often a tall task to ask professional fighters to deal with the infamy of their profession inside such a volatile environment.
"It was definitely something I had to be patient with," Rogers confessed. "I had to take responsibility for my actions, because I don't want to be walking around there just all in denial.
"I just kept my cool. I'm from Minnesota, so you know I knew of people in (jail), so I just kind of picked and chose who I wanted to hang out with and chill with, and just kept my mind right and talked to the right people that would preach the right. I wouldn't say people tried to pick (fights), but they was definitely trying to start stuff. They was definitely trying to chirp things in my ear to get me going."
Ultimately, that period of Rogers' life is over. He represents Bellator now, and he hopes to reward his new boss' confidence with a run to the next heavyweight tournament final, and ideally, a victory over reigning Bellator champion Cole Konrad.
That journey begins this Friday, when Rogers takes on Kevin Asplund on the Bellator 71 preliminary card. It goes without saying, but after everything he's been through in the past year, Rogers is confident his second chance will end in a very different manner as the first.
"I kept on pushing at it and pushing forward with the right people on my side, and look at me today," he concluded. "I'm part of a top organization, and I want to showcase my stuff again as a heavyweight."
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