clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

After five years away, Tamdan McCrory happy to let the cat back out of the barn


It’s not uncommon for fighters to suddenly slink from the cage and get on with their lives in less concussive ways. Luke Cummo, a fight game oddity who enjoyed a cup of his own urine from time to time, threw a smoke bomb at his feet and disappeared after a loss to Tamdan McCrory at UFC 87. (He later rematerialized in an even more mysterious manner). Mike Swick has been coming in and out of focus for years. Jason Thacker at this point is just a theory.

And McCrory himself up and disappeared after split decision loss to John Howard at UFC 101 in Philadelphia.

At the time, McCrory -- a bespectacled 6-foot-4 live wire with unrivaled gangliness for the welterweight division -- was just 22 years old. One day he just sort of wandered into the woods. Or in this case, receded into the city of Binghamton, New York, which just happens to be a sort of upstate Bermuda for people dropping from radar screens. The writer Jake Rossen, forever a white whale in the MMA world of journalism, is thought to be residing there as well, though no footage exists for verification.

In this case, McCrory resurfaced all of a sudden at Bellator 123 five years later. He showed up against Brennan Ward, who was coming off a title bid against Alexander Shlemenko. McCrory was being brought in as a sort of ring-a-bell residual name to stand-in against a Connecticut native at the Mohegan Sun. In other words, he was a one-man Washington Generals, a warm body to get Ward rolling again in front of his home fans.

Sad to say, though, that the fuller-bodied middleweight McCrory wasn’t signing up for an invitation to the gallows. He was drawn from his never-quite-retirement because after what he calls a "tumultuous set of circumstances" the opportunity he’d been waiting for finally presented itself.  

So, what did he do? He put the tamps on Ward, knocking him out spectacularly with a precision combo that connected at every stage of "The Irish Bad Boy’s" fall. For a guy that mysteriously fell off the earth after a decent UFC stint, it was one hell of a reintroduction. McCrory needed only 21 seconds to pave over a five-year pothole.

"I never really meant to take all that time off," he told MMA Fighting. "It’s just the way circumstances lead you in life. I got so far out of the mix. For a time, I didn’t want to fight. There were times I didn’t want to, then there were times I wasn’t able to, and there were other things…injuries, problems. I just could never get the momentum enough to get competitive, or I just couldn’t find the right fights, or I couldn’t find someone who’d fight me, or I couldn’t find somebody who’d want to pay me."

McCrory is cryptic when it comes to the details of the last five years, but he calls his walkoff KO of Ward his re-entry onto the warpath. It’s been a strange career for the "Barn Cat," who had carved out for himself a small cult following back in the day for being equally feral and nerdy. McCrory first stepped foot in the Octagon at just 20 years old for a fight against Pete Spratt in June 2007, after he stuffed eight victories into his resume on regional shows in the year leading up to it.

He ended up with a 3-3 record in the UFC, trading wins and losses the whole way. His last appearance, at UFC 101 -- the show that Johny Hendricks debuted with a knockout of Amir Sadollah -- wasn’t enough for the UFC to keep him around. He was let go by the promotion soon thereafter.

"When I left the sport, I had a lot of good-dollar money offers to fight and to continue fighting at 170 or catchweights," he says. "I just really wasn’t wanting to do that. I just didn’t want to put my body through that type of stress trying to make 170 again. I wasn’t really prepared to just jump in as a middleweight, because I would have been a small middleweight coming out of 170. So I spent a lot of time in the weight room. I said I’m going to get big, and I got big."

McCrory says he’s been training for much of the hiatus at his gym, Broome County Martial Arts. He alludes to some drama that played out in his area with people he was associated with in MMA, but he doesn’t feel like dredging the whole thing up.

"I got caught up and wrapped into it, and it made it difficult on me because I wasn’t fighting and I didn’t have an income from the school," he says. "Everything was a headache, everything was a step back. I just couldn’t find the positive momentum to A) be able to keep food on the table for me and my family, or B) be able to be physically healthy to train and be dedicated the way I wanted to be dedicated."

Then Bellator, right as the old Bjorn Rebney-regime was on the way out and the new Scott Coker-led regime was being ushered in, gave McCrory a call. The "Barn Cat" was given the fight with Ward. At first it was to be a prelim, but he was informed on the day of the weigh-ins that it would be live on Spike. Not only was he in a no-lose situation, but now it was a higher profile no-lose situation, one that he could make a statement with.

But in McCrory’s case, it’s not ring rust that comes to mind so much as outright corrosion. In most instances where a fighter comes back after a significant layoff, it becomes a sad sort of homecoming. Even McCrory says he felt tight and slow in the back warming up, like his movement was in sludgy slow motion, but he thinks that it was just that his brain was on hyperdrive.

"The whole day I was really amped up and have a lot of nerves," he says. "But I felt it was my time to shine, and the funny thing is that’s one of the mottos for the Mohegan Sun. You walk around there and it says, ‘It’s Time to Shine, Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino.’"

McCrory didn’t look slow when the bell rang. He looked poised, lurching and stalky -- like the old McCrory, but with veteran aplomb and far heavier hands.

"I hit him with a 1-2-3 and saw his legs wobble, and knew he had him," he says. "I stepped up on him, and hit him with another three-punch, and got him with the hook and saw his chin wiggle. I was like, he’s bobble-heading out, he’s out, and I was just throwing bombs after that. When I was doing it, time slowed. I was in my zone."

The right cross was the last to land, but it wasn’t the one that ruined Ward’s night. That was the left hook, which landed flush to Ward’s chin.

"He was already sitting down, it’s just that cross hit him before his ass hit the canvas," McCrory says. "I knew he wasn’t getting up. I’ve never hit somebody in the head repeatedly so solid in my life."

Ward didn’t get up. McCrory peeled away as cold and casual as they come, lifting his arm in victory after scoring his first knockout in seven years. He posed for the cageside camera, removed his mouthpiece and resting his arm on the fence, saying in his best lounge voice, "so, how you doin’?"

As far as comeback fights go, even if McCrory says he never truly went away, it couldn’t have gone any better.

"I knew I was probably being pulled in here to get beat, and I was cool with that," he says. "I could see all the angles for why [Bellator] picked me. But I was just thankful that they gave me a shot rather than being on the undercard on these little tiny shows. It was a blessing that they got me back, and every part of it was a Cinderella story. After five years he comes back, and I get to showcase my skills again."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting