It's a funny thing, second chances. Some of us get them, some of us don't. Ian McCall got do-overs in both his personal and professional lives. The second one wouldn't have been possible without the first. For a while, all of his talent was in danger of going wasted, another kid who couldn't resist the temptations of drugs.
For a time, even a burgeoning career did nothing to slow down his descent. If anything, it sped it up. McCall told MMA Fighting that he was deep into drugs even as he progressed into the WEC, and would stop using for one week prior to an event to make sure he could pass a drug test. Aside from that, life was a constant party.
"Honestly, that’s when it got worse, was when I was in WEC," he said. "I thought I was a rock star. I was just completely abusing myself. I would clean up for the fight and then go right back to it."
So how did he get from WEC bantamweight flameout to UFC flyweight contender? Do second chances have any rhyme or reason? One day McCall simply woke up more mature, more focused. Part of it had to do with the threat of losing not his life, but his freedom. After an arrest, he faced 3-5 years in jail, but was fortunate enough to receive a deal that allowed him to go to drug rehabilitation instead.
Part of it had to do with his family. When he found out his then-girlfriend, now-wife Shay was pregnant, everything seemed to change.
"I've got so many reasons not to screw up now," he said. "My family, my wife, my daughter, my career. They're things I'm not going to squander again."
And make no mistake about it, he came dangerously close to squandering everything.
One time, McCall ended a period of sobriety with a binge of oxycontin and xanax and GHB and pot, overdosed and woke up two days later in a hospital. At the time, he was already a professional fighter, and not a smalltime one, either. By then, he'd already fought three times in the WEC, once losing a decision to future bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
His descent started with his own steps towards some dark sides of life. He says that he didn't come from a bad home, that it was nothing more complicated than a misjudgment of the situation before him.
"I just walked my way up to them," he said of how he got caught up in the drug lifestyle. "It looked like fun. It seemed like something I would be into. I guess I was hanging out with the wrong people. It's no one else’s fault but my own. I just tried it and liked it, and it went from there."
The dark days were standard for the story: jail, rehab and hospitals, as his life spun away from him and his potential faded away. Nothing could stop him, not even a promising career. If MMA is indeed a lifestyle as many claim, at least for a while, it couldn't compare to the drug lifestyle.
Yet part of him wanted out, and in quitting to avoid a possible prison term, he effectively traded one addiction for another, channeling his energy into his fight career.
His first big step back came in February 2011 when he faced Jussier da Silva, who was then considered by many to be the world's top flyweight. The fight marked McCall's debut in the weight class, and many who had heard about his recent troubles expected it would not go well.
Even now, the 27-year-old McCall believes that the fight organization that promoted the event -- Tachi Palace Fights (TPF) -- brought him in to lose.
"I was a guy who fought in WEC, and they thought he could walk all over me," he said. "But in the gym, I was a different person, so I knew I had a chance to beat him, a fighter with a lot of recognition. I wasn't going to pass that up. That was the most important fight of my career so far, as far my comeback."
The victory put McCall on the UFC's radar as a flyweight to watch as they prepared to launch their division. Following two more wins in TPF, McCall got a tweet from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby asking for a phone number, the start of a dialogue that led to McCall signing with the promotion.
In his UFC on FX 2 bout on Friday, McCall will face Demetrious Johnson, a former top contender at 135 who decided to move down a weight class. That will be one semifinal as part of a four-man tournament field to crown a 125-pound champ (the other pits Joseph Benavidez against Yasuhiro Urushitani). That essentially means that the former WEC washout can become a UFC champion within two fights, a shocking turn of events that somehow perfectly coincides with the rest of his life.
McCall voiced respect for Johnson's talents, noting in particular his great stamina and effective wrestling and striking games. But in the end, he says, he's going to prove that he's better at everything, and that if worse comes to worse, he'll outmuscle him. He'll outwork him. Just like he did in life, he'll find some way to overcome.
"I always wanted a way out," he said of his old life. "A piece of me was always trying, trying, trying, and finally I was able to do it. If you have the right motivation and mind set, you can do anything. Everything's fallen into place. My wife and my daughter are motivation. I'm not going to fall back into a hole. I can't let them down. They're my world."