August 2015 seemed like a great month for Frankie Perez. When the UFC lightweight squared off against Sam Stout at UFC Fight Night 74, he stopped the Canadian MMA veteran in less than a minute. It was arguably the best win of his career and a proper rebound from a disappointing performance against Johnny Case from January of that year.
And then, immediately after the fight, Perez retired. A 26-year-old winner in the Octagon, with his entire future ahead of him, simply walked away from the sport. "I have the utmost confidence to beat anybody in this division," Perez said at the time. "But, with me being 26, this was my first win in the UFC and my last. I'm done after this. I've brought my dreams to come true and I'm ready for the next chapter of my life. I'm done putting my family and my body through all of this."
Perez would later say he had side businesses he could rely on to make an income and believed walking away from the Octagon was the appropriate life choice. On Monday, however, Perez joined Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour to say he'd had a change of heart.
The fact is, Perez isn't done with MMA or the UFC, but he did acknowledge the circumstances that forced him to walk away from the sport at the height of his burgeoning career.
"Last year was a tremendous year, up and down for me," he confessed. "Starting the year off was rough for me with the whole Johnny Case fight, but leading up to that, a lot of people didn't know. I never made any excuses or told anybody what was going on, but leading up to that fight I lost my grandfather, who was very, very close to me. He was my best friend. He passed away on a Wednesday, I got the call on a Saturday to go fight Johnny Case on four weeks.
"Two weeks into camp I popped my MCL, he continued. "Right after that, before I left to Boston, my grandmother gets rushed to the hospital and dealing with all that. It was a lot on somebody's head. I've been dying to get that off my chest because a lot of people always ask me what happened there.
"To be honest and frank, I was lying to myself that whole week, that I was ready, that I should've just manned up and fought. I was just in a different mindset that I couldn't get my grandparents out of my head. Warming up in the back, it was right then and there I knew I was just brought in as an opponent. I was going to lose. I've never had that feeling in my life ever."
Perez claimed he ultimately ended up as a heavy bag for Case. To make matters worse, his grandmother passed away a week after the loss. "It was a lot," he noted. "I didn't even want to think about MMA, let alone go train or anything like that."
He said he waited before trying to get back in the gym. Pain takes time to heal and he thought he gave himself the space necessary to do that, but when he tried to get things going again in the gym, something didn't feel right.
"I want to say maybe four months later I finally regrouped, got my feet back under me and started training again, but it definitely wasn't the same. I really was doing it to do it, not because I loved it. I was just kinda rolling with the punches and doing what I'm used to doing," Perez said.
UFC matchmakers eventually offered Perez a place on the UFC Fight Night 74 card with two names in mind. For Perez, however, he didn't need to hear anything more than the first name. He knew that was the right call and more than that, that he wanted to get this over with.
"Once I heard Sam Stout, I knew what they were trying to do, but I didn't even hesitate, I just said, 'let's do it'. I didn't want to hear the second guy's name. I just it was my time."
Perez describes the camp for the Stout fight as 'flawless', but that he ultimately miserable.
"I didn't want to train. I was really coming home pissed off," he acknowledged. "I couldn't stand my family, I couldn't stand my coaches, I was just not me. I hated the sport and I had the best fight of my life. I went in there with probably the second-biggest name to ever come out of Canada and I stopped him in less than a minute. Maybe it was a little dramatic on the retirement because at the time, my mindset was 'I'm done. I don't ever want to lace up another pair of gloves. I don't want to train anymore. I just want to enjoy my life and just enjoy the life that was given to me.'
"It wasn't fair to my family, it wasn't fair to all my friends around me, it wasn't fair to myself to be living a life that I'm forced to live just because I'm good at it. So, that's when I called it quits and said I'm done."
Some people don't change through adulthood. Others deal with setback more quickly than others. What Perez discovered, however, was his feelings and frustration about MMA were genuine. He was bothered by the loss of loved ones. Those emotions were real. What wasn't genuine was the antipathy he thought he had for MMA.
He still loved the sport, he'd realize, he just needed a different process to find himself again.
"Honestly, man, up until about two months ago, three months ago, I was really done with this sport. I've been catching myself around it even though I've been gone. I've been to three or four fights since then. I've seen you at the fights.
"I realized that this is really what I'm about," he explained. "This is me. I was getting ready for a charity fight and I really had a lot of fun. I found my passion for the sport again. I found my love. I really enjoyed waking up early and going for a run and training with coach Mark [Henry], being around the boys and Frankie [Edgar], Eddie [Alvarez] and Edson [Barboza] and Marlon [Moraes] and everyone getting ready for their fights, training with Corey Anderson every Tuesday. I was having fun again. I wasn't forced to go in there.
"I really found my passion and drive and realized why I'm here, why I was meant to be in Canada against Sam Stout, why I was meant to be in the UFC. Everybody has their calling. LeBron plays basketball, Tiger Woods plays golf. I really believe that I am meant to be here. I'm meant to be one of the best. Today is the first day of the rest of my life here. I don't know how it's going to go. I could go back and be three fights in and be three fights out."
That turn of events and self realization brought Perez to today: hungry, ready and without distraction. There aren't any lingering issues, he claimed. He's not putting pressure on himself this time around. He just wants to enjoy what he thought was gone, no more and no less.
Franke Perez is ready to return to the UFC.
"But I am definitely ready to make that next move and coming out of retirement, getting ready to be active again. The call is being made to the UFC today and we'll see how everything goes, how Joe [Silva] and Dana [White] and Lorenzo [Fertitta] feel."