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After a four-year detour, Benji Radach returns to an entirely different landscape

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Benji Radach has been booked into fights that never materialized over the last four-and-a-half years. He’d do his training camps, get in shape, then get a call that the fight was scrapped for one reason or another. So he went to work. He went to Alaska in the winter months and worked as a pile buck, with a fight the furthest thing from his mind.

Of course, that’s when he got a call from Bellator to compete against Ben Reiter on two week’s notice. When he was looking for a fight, he couldn’t find one. When he stopped, a fight found him.

"Yeah, I was up working in Alaska, being a pile buck, just gnarly conditions with a foot of snow on the ground," Radach says. "It was cold as hell, but it was $60 an hour, so, hey. I started getting in the gym a little bit. I was training one week, but it was really light. I didn’t know I was going to fight. And then Dennis [Hallman] calls me and he says, you want to take a fight? I was like, sure. He told me the guy, and sure enough, I just said what the hell man. I’m not in the worst shape but, I like this match-up with this guy. So I figured I could do pretty well, even if I am tired."

Radach will make his return to the cage on Friday after long, long time away. The landscape has changed considerably since fought Ovince St. Preux in Strikeforce back in 2010. For instance, there is no Strikeforce anymore. The barnburner he had with Scott Smith, one of the better haphazard fights of the time, was over six years ago. The last time he won was at EliteXC against Murilo Rua, back when Kimbo Slice’s mystique crashed down with a short right jab from Seth Petruzelli.

Before that he was in the IFL, also defunct.

"I always had it in the back of my mind that I’d come back, but there were a few times where I was just like, man, am I done?" he says. "I had to ask myself that, because nothing was lining up. I didn’t know if I was kind of getting forced out or what, but nothing was lining up. Training wasn’t going good, and everything was just starting to pile up on me.

"But I just kept going to the gym here and there and coming back to it, and then this just kind of land on my doorstep. I couldn’t turn this down. Plus, this guy is undefeated, so I love the challenge of beating this guy on one week rather than several months of training."

Reiter is a former collegiate wrestler from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a daunting task to return from building docks in wild Alaska to thwarting takedown attempts in two weeks time. Even Radach describes his decision to step in on short notice as "not the smartest thing," but he would love to finally get rid of the bad taste left in his mouth from the OSP fight in December 2010.

"I’ll do way better than my last fight, let’s put it that way," he says. "That fight was the worst, I was just totally out of it. I wasn’t there mentally or physically and I pretty much took an ass kicking for some Christmas money. It wasn’t a good one. But the whole time I knew I could have done better. I thought I could beat the guy. It’s one of those things. When you’re in a bad jam and you need to make some money you kind of got to do what you’ve got to do and I just had to do that at the time. It was a big learning lesson."

Radach has certainly battled to get back to the cage, and he’s had plenty of setbacks. He says he left his gig as the corporate director of instructor’s training LA Boxing when his grandfather got sick. With nobody else to look after him as he lay on his deathbed, Radach was set with the grim task.

"I saw him take his last breath," he says.

He trains in Washington with Hallman. At 36 years old, he keeps in fight shape. But it’s been a long time without an opponent. The potboiler with St. Preux feels like eons ago. And all these years later, he’s still dealing with lingering injuries that never got sorted out.

You might remember Radach’s long list of maladies from back in the day. He was bitten by a brown recluse spider in 2004, which got infected and left a divot in his leg. He got his jaw broken by Chris Leben. He had surgery for a herniated disc. He faced the prospect of amputation when he got MRSA. And he had a bum knee.

That last one stays with him.

"My body feels good, strong, faster than it’s been and my strength’s through the roof," he says. "But some of these injuries. I don’t have an ACL in my right leg, it’s loose, and eventually I’ll have to get a knee replacement. I’m just fighting without an ACL. I’ve done it before, but, what do you do when you’re not making tons of money fighting like you should? You just got to go with what you got."

And that’s the Radach who returns four-and-a-half years later. The pile buck who worked on the docks in Alaska just a month ago, who has been waiting all this time to take off his shoes and fight again, who doesn’t have an ACL and just wants to stand and trade with a willing participant.

Will Reiter be that guy? It’s taken Radach over a thousand days to arrive at the Pechanga Resort and Casino to find out.

"I think he’s got some wrestling, but he’s got a ways to go still," Radach says. "His hands aren’t the best, but I expect him to be better. I think he’s probably going to be better than his last fight [against Shamir Garcia], so I just got to keep touching him. Just keeping putting my hands on him and make him frustrated and take advantage."