Adam Milstead picked up the guitar in ninth grade because he needed to take a class in the arts, and half a lifetime later, he hasn’t put it down. The reason for that is simple. In 2017, just as in 2003, guitar holds a certain kind of allure.
“I always wanted to play guitar, because it was a good way to pick up chicks,” he says.
Milstead, who goes by the nickname “The Prototype” in the world of fighting, is a blue-collar, down-to-earth, corn-fed American everyman from Pittsburgh, Pa. Yet he’s an ambitious fellow, too, given than his current Road to Greater Things involves trying to make a name for himself in the cage. So far he is 1-0 in the UFC’s Octagon, and 8-1 overall. He debuted at UFC Fight Night 88 against Chris De La Rocha, a fight he won via a second-round TKO using his hands.
The same hands that play gently thrummed chords on his acoustic, while he croons original country numbers straight from the heart. Heading into his second UFC fight, people know him as the only singing cowboy who occasionally puts on the gloves to try and take a man’s consciousness. His life seems to be one of juxtapositions.
“I grew up listening to Metallica, Pantera, stuff like that,” he says. “I grew up in that kind of grunge/metal era. I really like that, but unfortunately nowadays, a lot of people don’t listen to that. Besides, I can’t sing that way.
“Whenever I started singing it had a good melody, it was real soft and probably not something most people think I would have. I was like, well, country music fits into that. Country music tends to be a little bit more poppy, so I started playing some country songs, and my voice seemed to fit pretty well with it.”
Milstead will fight at UFC Fight Night 104 in Houston this weekend, against Curtis Blaydes, a former NJCAA heavyweight wrestling champion. He is still in the dipping-his-toe phase in professional fighting, seeing how far it will take him with a clear understanding that he can’t yet make a living at it. That’s why he holds down a full-time job as a gas pipeline technician in Pennsylvania, working to mitigate erosion in the pipeline.
He works all day, comes home, eats, then heads to the gym to train at Mark Cherico’s Martial Arts and Fitness in Robinson Township. He talks like a working class man, completely unaware of the vanity surrounding him in the fight game. In fact, he was at work when he took the call for this piece.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m screwing myself pretty bad here because maybe there will be a point in my career when I won’t have the ability to go full-time, but it kind of works in my benefit,” he says. “I think a lot of people tend to like that about me, that I’m just an average guy who’s been put in these opportunities. Unfortunately, the UFC [gig] just doesn’t have the ability to take care of me full time.
“It always makes me feel better, though, when I’m training. Knowing that if this was to end tomorrow, I’d still be fine. Before I tried that, man. I tried not working, and just kind of working dead-end jobs part-time and then trying to do this. I’d have bills on my mind, and I didn’t know if I was coming home to an eviction notice. I think it took a lot out of my mentality going into training sessions, and into fights as well.”
As a heavyweight, it’s commonly a feast-or-famine proposition in the UFC. One punch can end a night. Several of that same kind of punch over several different nights can ruin or make a career. Milstead is very much in the process of discovery when it comes to mining the power in his hands. He’s also trying to put together the right mindset, and the discipline to keep it through expectations and jitters. He was down on himself for having his last fight against De La Rocha side towards a brawl, rather than following his strategy.
It worked out for him that time, but Milstead says he understands that playing that particular kind of game as a heavyweight is really just roulette. Just as he understands that he took a fight against wrestler who was engineered to take his power away.
“Record wise [Blaydes and I] match up well,” he says. “Stylistically, I’m at a disadvantage. Only because this guy’s a collegiate wrestler who tends to try to nullify strikers by taking them down. Of course, we worked our game plan around that and I’m not going to let that bother me too much. But when it comes down to it, we’re two younger heavyweights that tend to be pretty athletic, for that division at least. It’s going to be a good fight. When I first researched this guy, I told myself that he had the ability to be a top 10 fighter soon, and that still hasn’t changed. I love a challenge. If the UFC wants me to fight him, I’ll fight him.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing to do, though. We’re both up-and-comers and to pin us up against one another, losing a prospect. But regardless, I’m all for it. Let’s put on a show. That’s the point of the UFC, to put on a show.”
Milstead is a tumbleweed in the world of fighting. He was originally trying to make a name playing football, both as a defensive end (given his size), and later as a punter (which is comical). (“That is what I really wanted to go into, was punting,” he says. “That’d be great, to make the NFL as a punter? Like what’s your practices like, 30 minutes long”). He had to drop out of college because he was broke, which effectively ended his football dream.
Then one day, while down on his luck and looking at his mail, he saw an ad on the back of a Penny Saver magazine for a martial arts school. He’d wrestled throughout his childhood, and thought, why not give them a call?
He did, and he made a quick realization.
“That it was right my alley, and that I love that one-on-one competition,” he says. “I never had been in a fight my entire life. I had always been the bigger guy, nobody messed with me.”
A big guy who, it turns out, can blur the lines between “intimidate” and “intimate.” In his spare time (of which there’s little) he writes lyrics for songs. He played his first gig at a pub in Ohiopyle, at a little pub on the Youghiogheny — which he says has some of the best white water rapids in the East — and for the first time had to work his way through stage fright.
“I can get in front of thousands of people, fight in the cage, punch people in the face, get punched in the face, whatever, I have no problem doing that,” he says. “But getting in front of a small group of people by yourself with a guitar and a microphone? It’s one of those things that kind of leaves you vulnerable, and it’s not what I’m used to. It’s real intimate.”
It’s something he wants to try more of, when he’s not fighting, working or serenading women.
“After this fight, I might try and line up a few gigs, we’ll see how it goes,” he says. “Of course, country’s all the ladies listen to, and it’s one of the few things too that I can kind of contribute and like in common with the opposite sex. It’s hard to find a girl who really likes Five Finger Death Punch.
“Country is something we can kind of connect on both ways, and at the same time I kind of live that life. I’m outdoorsy. I go fishing, I go kayaking, I go hunting, and I’m part of working class America which country kind of resembles in the music. I can relate to that, especially when I write music. I can put my passion into it.”