Everything changed quickly for Dave Herman.
Fresh off a ‘Fight of the Night' victory over highly decorated grappler John-Olav Einemo in his UFC debut, Herman was quickly rebooked to face fast-rising Mike Russow at UFC 136. But disaster loomed at the doorstep, and the contest was abruptly cancelled after he tested positive for marijuana during a preliminary drug screening.
It'd taken over half-a-decade for Herman to finally reach the UFC, and in one fell swoop his dream seemingly died before it could reach its second act, despite his protests of innocence.
"I don't (smoke)," Herman explained to Ariel Helwani on Monday's episode of The MMA Hour. "I mean, I have before, but not any time recently. Just, in general, smoking is bad for you. You're breathing toxins into your lungs. That's not something I want to do for anything, really."
Unlike most fighters that feel they have been wronged, Herman never fought the failed test, instead choosing to pass a follow-up and resolve the situation quickly, without a pink slip. But even now, the 27-year-old has no real grasp of what went wrong.
"I'm not sure what exactly went down," he mulled. "I went and took another test. Passed fine, but it was too late obviously.
"Fighting it wouldn't really have accomplished anything. I couldn't fight (at UFC 136). All I could do is get something rescheduled, at best, and that's pretty much what I did."
After the snake-bitten ordeal, few would have blamed Herman for craving a lifestyle change. But none could have predicted how far-reaching the change would spread.
Now, gone is the clean shaven appearance and self-effacing "Pee-Wee" moniker he sported for most of his career, instead replaced by a three-month old beard that has him contemplating a new nickname.
"I don't really have one yet, but I'm testing out ‘Sasquatch,'" he mused. "It doesn't have a good ring at all, but when you see me, you'll know... I'm going to look a lot more like a sasquatch than a pee-wee."
More important than cosmetics, however, is the much-needed change in scenery that has seen Herman relocate to Temecula, California, to train alongside Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen at Team Quest. Though the journey from Nashville to the west coast was not a smooth as he'd have hoped.
Living out of his longbed Ford Ranger, Herman travelled the country for two months in search of a new locale to relaunch his career. But, as it usually does, misfortune struck at the most inopportune time, and the fighter's brakes blew out somewhere in the dusty dunes of Arizona.
"I had to get to a garage to get my brakes fixed, and the next closest one was twenty miles down the highway. I didn't want to backtrack so I just kept going," he explained without a hint of trepidation. "100 to 150 (miles). It was a stick, so I could downshift to slow down, and I was on the interstate so I didn't really have to stop unless there was an accident. But then, as soon as I got off the interstate, it was bad. I didn't even have an emergency break. Nothing. So I like ran two red lights and got right into a garage."
Weeks later, with a new truck in tow, the wandering fighter arrived in California and hasn't looked back since. His UFC on Fuel TV opponent, Stefan Struve, stands an NBA-esque 6'11" and will by far be the largest man Herman has faced, but at this point, staring down the unknown has become as routine as Wednesday's jiu-jitsu practice.
Besides, Herman has a new identity now, and the way he sees it, "Sasquatch" isn't going to befall the same fate as "Pee-Wee," even if the price is anonymity.
"When I showed up (to Nebraska), even the people that worked for the UFC, no one recognized me," Herman finished with a chuckle. "I think it was the beard."