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The Patrick Cummins Coda: 'I'm still the same guy I was before'

Esther Lin

LAKE FOREST, Calif. -- First things first: Patrick Cummins has not returned to the coffee shop.

"I'm training full-time now," Cummins said last week, flashing the missing-front-tooth smile that mixed martial arts fans fast got to know in February.

No, MMA's most celebrated barista-turned-pay-per-view-co-headliner didn't earn instant riches after his short-notice UFC 170 fight with Daniel Cormier. But nor did his life return to rags.

With the dust settled on a more whirlwind period than most people will ever experience, there were two tangible results:

One, of course, is that he lost to Cormier via first-round TKO.

The other is that he's now in position to train like a real pro. No more morning shifts baking croissants just to keep a roof over his head.

Cummins demurred when asked if he got one of the UFC's infamous locker-room bonuses as a reward for delivering a week and a half of intense hype leading up to the fight. But he made it clear that he won't brew double espressos again any time soon.

"I'll say this, I had some really good sponsors come through at the 11th hour," said Cummins, who had just finished his first day back sparring at Reign MMA, five weeks removed from the fight. "Considering we had nine days to pull everything together, everything came out alright. I can eat like I should be eating and have proper nutrition and proper training and take care of the guys who have been training me such a long time, and have some money set aside for the next training camp."

The receipt for the knockout loss is that Cummins can train finally like an ordinary fighter. But now that some time has passed, he's been able to reflect on what an extraordinary path he took to get there.

"One minute I was the guy who was trying to get in," he said. "And then it was like ‘Whoa, I'm on the roller coaster and I better not let go.'"

"You're going to have to sell the s--- out of it"

Cummins had an inkling what he was getting into on that fateful February morning when UFC president Dana White called him while he was on the job at a mom-and-pop Dana Point, Calif. coffee shop. White was offering Cummins, with no major-promotion experience, an opportunity to meet Cormier, the undefeated former Strikeforce heavyweight tournament champion, as a replacement for Rashad Evans, who pulled out of the fight with a knee injury.

But it came with a stipulation.

"Dana said to me,‘Listen man, if I give you this fight, you're going to have to sell the s--- out of it,'" Cummins recalled. "‘There's no way around it, you're going to have to say what you need to say, you can't go out there and be shy on me, that's not going to work.' It was almost like, being that bad guy, that's not my personality or persona at all, but it was like, hey, this is my chance to shine, I have to do what I have to do."

So the happy-go-lucky guy who uses his middle name, Durkin, as a nickname, took the ball and ran with it. All of a sudden, a fighter with four pro fights under his belt was mouthing off on national television, breaking wrestling cultural taboos and talking about how he made Cormier cry in the wrestling room.

Cummins knows some people think this was all a hype job, while others took his words to heart. He shrugs off both those who thought it was phony and those who thought it was too real.

"There are people that don't understand the business and were genuinely upset," Cummins said. "But I mean, it's a business and you gotta sell the fight. I still have haters dropping me a line on Twitter. Just the other day someone said ‘You should try out for Invicta.' I'm like 'this guy is funny.' I just favorited the tweet. All you can do with people like that is laugh."

By the time fight week rolled around and he arrived in Las Vegas, Cummins noticed a side effect of getting thrown into the relentless media maw: He was losing weight without even trying.

"Fight week was pretty crazy," he said. "I was on such a high like, ‘This is exactly what I want, my life is going in a perfect direction right now.' But I think it was like, looking back on it, that really drained me. My weight dropped really, really fast.

"The hidden stress of fight week, we're busy like crazy," Cummins said. "My weight just came down so quickly and toward the end I was struggling like I don't want to be this light. It was a weird experience."

"Look at you, you're doing great"

After handling the fight-week buildup like a seasoned pro, Cummins projected confidence as he entered the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

"I remember this clearly," Cummins said. "I came into the fight super pumped. The crowd didn't affect me, I felt great. I felt like, ‘I'm going to go in there and I'm going to win this fight.' That was my mantra the whole way through. Whether people thought I believed that or not, that was 100 percent the case."

Cummins wasn't slain by the infamous "UFC jitters." Instead, he made a mistake often cited by fighters who who make a huge jump up to a major stage: After the fight started, he got caught up in the surreality of the moment and lost his focus.

"Thirty seconds into it, I think I just landed a leg kick and I thought, ‘My God, my strategy is working, this was the plan, this is working.' Then all of a sudden I realized, ‘Oh s---, I'm not in the moment, I've lost my focus.'"

Things went downhill fast from there. Cormier swarmed Cummins and referee Mario Yamasaki waved off the bout at the 79-second mark.

"I was thinking, ‘Look at you, you're doing great,'" Cummins said. "The probably for the next 30 seconds I lost that focus, then the next thing I knew it was all over."

Immediately, the online snark fest erupted, as wise guys stated that this is what happens when you match up an undefeated title contender with a barista.

But those who have actually competed in the Octagon have looked at the bout with a different eye. One fighter who has been in plenty of big moments is Cummins' Reign training partner, Chael Sonnen. The way Sonnen vews it, given Cormier's place in the standings, Cummins' performance may look better in hindsight.

"I think that fight is going to be a little bit like a fine wine," Sonnen said. "It's going to look better over time. Daniel Cormier may be the best fighter in the world, at that weight class, he might be at heavyweight, he's right there ... point being, in many ways that was a world title fight. Perhaps if Daniel Cormier wins the belt, we're going to go, wow, perhaps he went into a world title fight on five days' notice."

"I don't want this negative energy"

When Cummins awoke in his Mandalay Bay hotel room at the next morning, all he wanted to do was run. Quite literally.

"The day after the fight, that morning I woke up super early," he said. "I was just kind of down, and I went for like a long run, just pushed myself hard and I got finished and I felt good and I was like, I don't want this negative energy, you know what I'm saying?"

With his head clear, Cummins realized it was time to take a break. Simply getting into position to accept the Cormier fight was the end result of a long-term strategy on the part of Cummins' team, one in which he turned down offers from other organizations, believing if he stayed ready all the time, eventually the UFC's call would come.

After that opportunity came and went fast enough to make anyone's head spin, Cummins understood he needed to decompress from not just the two-week meat grinder he had just experienced, but also to put a coda on the hand-to-mouth existence he had been leading.

"It's been such a grind over the past 3-4 years," Cummins said. "I don't know when someone's going to step up to fight, so my thought was, stay here and if we get a call for a fight and whatever happens, we'll be ready to go. So its just, you know, maintaining that for so long just drains you."

So Cummins got away from it all. He went for long bike rides. He went on a backpacking trip with a friend to Big Sur, only to get stuck in California's worst winter storm of the season. Finally, the former Penn State wrestling standout went home to Pennsylvania to see his family.

"My parents came out to the fight, but I only got to see them for like two hours," he said. "I finally decided I'm going to go home, there's no better place to be than around your family and just chill. My trip was like two weeks long and it wasn't until like day 10 did I start feeling like I need to get back in the gym. But it was perfect, because I held myself back just long enough and then got the hunger back again."

When the hunger returned, there was also the realization that now he can be just another guy on the UFC roster.

"Things came back down," he said. "I don't mind it. Some guys really want that media attention and the fame of it. I was kind of wanting to get back to being myself."

"I'm still Durkin"

Cummins was also armed with the knowledge that White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva were happy with the effort he put into building the fight, and they're giving him a second opportunity more befitting a fighter at his stage of his career.

"They were pleased with how I stepped in and how we hyped it up and all that," Cummins said. "That's the good thing. It just sucks that it wasn't a better fight and it couldn't have played better. I think for the most part they were like, ‘OK, this guy just needs a breather and he needs a couple fights to build up.' I think they see potential."

Having moved past his flirtation with living in the limelight, Cummins is back where he belongs with his brothers in the gym, working alongside the likes of Sonnen and Mark Munoz.

A few days after we hung out with Cummins and the Reign crew, he got the call from Silva for his next fight. He'll meet Brazilian Francimar Barroso at the UFC Fight Night card in Albuquerque on June 7. Barroso is 16-5, 1-1 in the UFC. Based on his thought process before the fight was announced, it sounds like Cummins is getting the type of fight he sought.

"I want to be tested by a good guy," Cummins said. "But at the same time I want to make sure I go in there and I don't have the same stresses as the last fight, so I can go in there and get that good experience."

Cummins didn't score the star-turning upset he had envisioned. But when he returns to the Ocatgon in two months, he's neither going to be the guy who bikes from his day job to the gym because he can't afford a car, nor is he going to be the newbie thrust into a spotlight usually reserved for the stars.

And that's just fine with him.

"I'm the same guy I was before," Cummins said. "It's not like I go around wearing my UFC T-shirt and fight shorts everywhere. I'm still Durkin."

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