On a lazy afternoon in May 2013, three masked men parked a black Audi outside of a Bottega Veneta in Stockholm, Sweden, smashed the front door with a sledgehammer, then looted the luxury handbag store before peeling off to a garage in nearby Akersberga. Three months later, then-UFC lightweight Reza Madadi received an 18-month prison sentence for his alleged role in the aggravated burglary, losing his freedom, his career, and his status as a beloved national figure overnight.
Madadi was the only person imprisoned for the crime.
Now, after enduring what he described as "two years of hell," Madadi is once again a free man, having been released from prison this past week. The 36-year-old still maintains his innocence, and he appeared on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour to tell his side of the story.
"We were in some other city outside of Stockholm," Madadi recounted.
"I had my car outside of that garage and I wanted to pick up my car, because we wanted to go to Russia, me and some guys from my club, Allstars gym. They arrested me outside of that garage because the garage was involved in that smash and grab. And I never thought I was going to go to jail... but now I'm here and that is my past."
Obviously there's never a good time to go to prison, but in this case the timing couldn't have been worse. Madadi was fresh off the biggest win of his career, a stunning third-round submission over Michael Johnson in his adopted hometown of Stockholm, and his wife was pregnant with the couple's first child.
Rather than enjoying the culmination of years of hard work, Madadi rotted inside the four walls of his jail cell, missing the birth of his firstborn and watching helplessly as the UFC cut all ties with the fighter who was once as promising and popular as any European prospect on the roster.
"I didn't want to watch the UFC because it made me feel very bad, especially when I saw Michael Johnson's fights," Madadi admitted. "It was a very, very hard time. It was like a really bad punishment for me to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm so happy for him. He's a great fighter and I hope he can get the belt. But you know, it's so hard to see the guys, not even just Mr. Michael Johnson, all other fighters, to see them competing, fighting, and I was behind the bars. It was hard times."
Madadi ended up incarcerated for 14 months, during which Johnson's career soared as the former TUF winner won four straight fights and crept his name towards title contention.
Having just been released, Madadi elected not to describe his experiences in great length, saying only, "Prison is prison, it doesn't matter which part of the world you are." However the Iranian-Swedish fighter admitted he carries no regrets about how things played out, placing blame solely on himself for being in the wrong place at the wrong time around the wrong people.
"I don't regret anything in my life because everything I've done has made me this person I am today," Madadi said. "It doesn't make me wrong, but I'm a totally different person now that I am today because I had two years of, really, hell. Up and down, up and down, up and down. I appreciate my life another way. I appreciate my friends, my family, my job, my career and my club. So no, I don't regret anything. But everyday, every second, every minute of every hour, I try to be a better person, to be a better guy. I mean, a guy in my position shouldn't be in that position to get caught, convicted, and to get jailed. I shouldn't be in the wrong place."
Madadi's goal now is to reclaim the career he lost on that spring afternoon in 2013. He's returned to Allstars Training Center -- home gym of UFC light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson -- and he hopes to be in fighting shape by the beginning of the summer -- though he'd accept a fight in 10 days if that's what it took to step foot once more inside the UFC Octagon.
It may be far cry from where he was two years ago, but it's a life of freedom nonetheless, and it's been a long time since Madadi could claim that.
"Brother, I'm telling you that life is very funny," Madadi said. "It can change in one second, in one minute. I mean, we drove in a limousine one day, me and Alexander Gustafsson, went to some club to hit a little bit of pads, get paid for that. All of the sponsors -- I was a famous guy here in Sweden. And the day after, I was in some jail. They drove me in a police car and my life changed. They cut my UFC contract. I lost my job, I couldn't see my wife when she was pregnant. I lost money. Everything. I lost everything over one night. Everything I've been working for 34, 35 years.
"What made me to get stronger? You know how strong you are when the only choice you have is to be strong. And I didn't have any other choice. I don't want to give up. I don't want to just give up like this. I worked hard, I worked so hard for 34, 35 years to be a UFC fighter, and I lost everything over one night. Actually it was a lot of the keyboard warriors, haters who made me sad. Okay guys, you don't believe me. Nobody believes me. I'm going to believe myself, and I want to get back, I want to show everybody: nothing's over.
"The only purpose I have in my life is to get back to the UFC and show the fans, show the UFC, show the world that I'm a different person. I want to start my life new."