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Months after being homeless, UFC’s Geane Herrera fighting for future in Melbourne

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Geane Herrera's MMA career has taken him to different countries, put him on national television and given him opportunities to fight some of the best flyweights in the world.

Yet, financially - especially this year - things have been a struggle.

The UFC prospect was mired in a custody battle for his son over the summer and poured all of his funds into lawyer fees. Herrera had nothing left and ended up unable to pay rent. For a few days in August, the Tampa native was actually living in a car.

"I didn't even have a car," Herrera told MMA Fighting. "I had a motorcycle. But when my dad saw the situation I was in, he bought me a little Toyota. I had to sleep in it for about a week.

"It was very humbling — going from feeling like I'm finally doing things right to all of a sudden being at rock bottom."

Herrera, 26, is not quite back on his feet. But he does have a roof over his head now, at least. He moved in with a friend and also has his son back living with him now. "La Pulga" will go into his fight with Ben Nguyen at UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs. Brunson on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia on the final bout of his contract.

He knows it's the biggest fight of his career thus far. Not just to get back in the win column, but for his immediate financial future.

"I don't do it for the money, but I have to get paid and I have to provide for my son," Herrera said. "It's already hard enough as it is. Money is also an objective in this. But the passion for the sport and the love for the sport is still in me. I'm happy every day I get to wake up and go to the gym and grow as a fighter."

Herrera (9-2) came into the UFC last year as an undefeated prospect. He has lost two of his three fights in the promotion, but those defeats came against former top flyweight contender Ali Bagautinov and fellow up-and-comer Ray Borg. In between, Herrera finished Joby Sanchez by second-round TKO last December.

The loss to Bagautinov came in June and after that Herrera took a break from MMA to focus on his son and trying to make money. He got a job at a grocery store in order to make some semblance of a salary.

This isn't even the first time he was homeless. Herrera said he lived in a gym for six months at the very beginning of his MMA career.

"Clearly, it paid off," Herrera said. "I made it to the UFC. But to see myself back at square one, it was just a blow to me ego, a blow to my spirit. But you know what? I rolled with the punches. I looked at every day as a blessing. I went out and got me a job at a grocery store, I got back up on my feet and just continued to move forward. It made me more hungry, if you ask me."

The odd thing about it, Herrera said, is that lapsed friends and family have been reaching out to him for money. They think because they can watch him on TV that he's rich and has disposable income. Just the opposite, he said.

"I'm like, ‘Dude, I should be asking you for money. Let me borrow something,'" Herrera said. "It's a misconception. Maybe as people get to know me a little better, that'll shine some light on it. I feel like this is the beginning for me."

It is. Herrera is still in his mid-20s. His athletic prime is still in front of him. Herrera doesn't hold any ill will toward the UFC. He said when he told executives that he needed to fight and wanted a full training camp, it came together in only about a week.

Not once has Herrera felt sorry for himself throughout all this. He's still fighting, in the gym and outside it.

"It's been tough," Herrera said. "Very humbling. As a man, you don't want to walk around anywhere without a penny in your pocket. That's kind of the situation I'm going through. I'm swallowing my pride, I'm swallowing all this pain and at the end of the day I'm healthy, my son is healthy. That's all that matters to me.

"I always told myself, ‘This is just temporary.' This will either make a good movie one day or a good book."