Ian McCall can pinpoint exactly where everything went downhill.
It was his first fight in the UFC, an opening round bout of a four-man tournament that would crown the promotion’s first champion at 125 pounds. Standing across the cage from him? Future pound-for-pound great Demetrious Johnson.
At the time, McCall and Johnson were on the same level, with Johnson dropping down from bantamweight and McCall widely being recognized as one of the best (if not the best) flyweights in the world before signing with the UFC.
After almost 15 minutes, it was McCall who was threatening to end the fight. He hammered away at a facedown Johnson with the final seconds ticking away, “Mighty Mouse” staying just active enough to avoid a referee stoppage. McCall’s efforts weren’t enough to earn a TKO and the bout was determined to be a majority draw after some confusion (due to a scoring error, the verdict was initially announced as a majority decision win for Johnson). The two had a rematch three months later, and Johnson would go on to take a unanimous decision en route to becoming one of the sport’s most dominant champions.
On Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, McCall explained how he felt, that his life began to “spiral out of control” after the first fight with Johnson. Since that time, McCall has gone 3-3 and seen several bouts fall through due to maladies befalling him and his opponents at the 11th hour. He has not fought since Jan. 31, 2015.
McCall turned 33 in July and he doesn’t see himself returning to action on his current contract ($16,000 to show, $16,000 to win, according to him), but he doesn’t blame the UFC for his problems.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about the UFC,” McCall said. “The UFC has taken care of me since day one. They’ve never wronged me, they’ve never done anything bad. This is my own fault. This is my own doing. Picking this sport as a profession … overdosing on drugs when I was down and out. There’s a lot wrong with my brain, it’s not just the punching. And on top of that 15 years of fighting professionally isn’t good for you.
“I don’t know if I’ll fight again. I have to figure out these issues. We still have no idea what’s wrong with my stomach. Doctors haven’t been able to figure out anything really, so I’m on my own. I’m sitting here trying this brain stimulation treatment for six weeks and hopefully it works.”
McCall was supposed to fight Jarred Brooks in February, only to withdraw with gastrointestinal issues the day of the fight. That’s the least of his worries, though. He’s more disturbed by irregularities in his brain activity, including being forgetful, experiencing bouts of rage, bi-polar symptoms, and “out-of-nowhere crying.”
He’s open about his experiences because he wants other people who are in similar situations to know that they’re not alone. McCall himself is currently doing everything he can to get his mind right.
“I’m doing brain treatment down in San Diego that’s helping,” McCall said. “Jeff Novitzky set me up with transcranial magnetic stimulation, it really does help my brain so that’s a plus. I saw a lot of bad signs, still seeing a lot of bad signs just with CTE-type stuff, TBI stuff, so it scared me. I went down there and I’m trying to fix it. Fix the depression and all the stuff that comes with that, we’ll see. I’ve got another month left.”
McCall confessed that for the first time in his life, he’s scared of what shape he’ll be in 10-20 years from now given that he’s been fighting professionally since 2002. He compared his situation to that of deceased professional wrestler Chris Benoit. The WWE star murdered his wife and son, and committed suicide back in 2007, and it was later theorized that his psychotic behavior was tied to the head trauma he endured in the ring as well as the use of performance enhancing drugs.
That chilling thought has McCall wishing he had never started fighting in the first place, despite his passion for martial arts.
“My whole career is a regret … I don’t hold any ill will toward the sport, it’s a weird place that people at the end of their career kind of go over. And no one talks about it, people fight it. I’m not gonna fight it,” McCall said. “People make Chris Benoit out to be - I always thought he was a f*cking monster for what he did. And then being with (my wife) Alicia and being around wrestlers and the stories you hear about Chris and how good of a person he was and how amazing of a father he was, all of this stuff, and it’s the TBI or drugs - I’m not saying he was on drugs - or steroids or whatever.
“That stuff drives people crazy and for me to think that through hurting my brain I could hurt someone else, like the people I love? Sorry. Not gonna happen. I’m not going to ever, ever let that happen. So I’m at least going to hop on it now and try and fix it before it gets worse and if I can fight again then cool. If I don’t fight again then sure, my whole career is a regret, but whatever, I had a lot of fun.”