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Defined by the grind: Chris Dempsey tests physical limits ahead of UFC Fight Night 84

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Esther Lin/MMA Fighting

Chris Dempsey might want to get some sleep ahead of his UFC Fight Night 84 bout Saturday against Scott Askham.

There hasn't been much time for that sweet slumber lately, not when the 11-3 fighter is hell bent on making a run in the UFC's middleweight division.

"I bought my truck in 2012 with 17,000 miles on it, and I have 140,000 miles on it now," Dempsey told MMA Fighting from inside Conn-Greb Boxing Club in downtown Pittsburgh. "I don’t sleep too often. Sleep is the thing I get most deprived on."

The mileage is a result of Dempsey's near-impossible schedule. He trains three days per week at the Mat Factory in Lower Burrell, Pa., two days per week at Philip Ameris Martial Arts in New Kensington, Pa., two days a week at Conn-Greb, and three days a week in Ohio to train alongside former The Ultimate Fighter competitor and regional MMA standout Josh Stansbury. He also sprinkles in some time in Boca Raton, Fla., to train with the lauded Blackzilians.

As a final dash of Sandman-repellent, Dempsey adds three work days per week at D&S Fasteners in Coraopolis, Pa., to generate a little extra income. For a three-fight UFC veteran, this second job might seem a little unnecessary, but Dempsey recognizes it as a product of his own doing.

"It’s [the pay in the UFC is] not terrible," Dempsey said. "I still work three days a week. Part of it’s my fault. One, I only fought twice last year. If I had fought three times, that’d be a whole different story. Two, I have student loans. I bought a house.

"The UFC didn’t tell me to buy a house or go to school. So I have bills to pay, and those are choices I made. I don’t put that on them. If I didn’t have a house and student loans and a car payment, I could be able to not have to work for sure."

For Dempsey – a two-time Division II All-American wrestler out of University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) – the two-a-days and the intense physical commitment is nothing new. As a professional mixed martial artist competing at the sport's highest level, his schedule was born out of necessity.

His stand-up lagged behind his grappling badly as he transitioned to MMA, and he suffered two knockout defeats in three Octagon appearances because of it.

"Going into the [Ilir] Latifi fight [Dempsey's UFC debut], I didn’t know any standup," Dempsey said. "I was like, ‘Well, I’m going to try to use this jab and get a hold of him.’ And he was a wrestler, so I figured he’d be OK with that, and he wasn’t, so it didn’t work out well for me.

"I went in, and apparently I didn’t know how to handle leg kicks. I was going down to [Tom] Yankello’s [World Class Boxing] a little bit, just working on boxing. I wasn’t working on kicks. But that’s when I realized I needed to work a little bit of everything."

Most recently, Dempsey fell to Jonathan Wilson in 50 seconds at UFC Fight Night 73 in Nashville. While he fought up a weight class – at light heavyweight – on short notice, Dempsey knows the loss comes down to one major point: his inactivity.

"I was thinking about the fight in Nashville a couple weeks ago," Dempsey said. "I just thought, ‘I didn’t even throw a punch.’ And, you can’t win a fight if you don’t throw a punch. I’m just taking it and trying to learn from it. I’m not going to go out there and not throw a punch again. It’s a pretty simple concept."

Ahead of his matchup Saturday in London against Askham, Dempsey enlisted the help of some of the greater Pittsburgh's area's most lauded trainers, heading to Conn-Greb Boxing Club to work alongside Matt Leyshock.

Leyshock, himself a former boxer, wrestler and mixed martial artist, currently presides over the regional combat sports promotion Pinnacle Fighting Championships. He's worked closely as either promoter or trainer with the likes of Cody Garbrandt, Paul Felder and recently signed UFC heavyweight Adam Milstead in the past, and now he's bringing his experience and expertise to Dempsey's game.

The results thus far, he says, are impressive.

"I’ve worked with a lot of people in my life, and the thing he does real well is he listens," Leyshock said. "It’s unbelievable how many times you have to tell somebody, they might choose getting punched in the face repeatedly over trying something different.

"I’ll tell ya what, man, out of everybody I’ve worked with, I’ve never had anybody pick it up that fast. On day two, I was like, ‘You might not even need me anymore.’ *laughs* He’s an athlete, man. Some guys just have it."

Dempsey's wrestling background will never go away, but if the fight plays out as Leyshock envisions it, Askham will be waking up with a flashlight in his face, wondering exactly what happened after stepping into the Octagon to face the wrestler from across the pond.

"He’s giving everybody issues, man," Leyshock said. "That’s when I knew we were on to something. It’s a bad matchup for the kid [Askham] because he’s a southpaw, but he’s not real busy, one shot at a time, super predictable, doesn’t move very well, doesn’t defend the outside.

"I think he stops him. If they stay standing, I think he stops him."