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Apologetic LFA fighter Drew Chatman explains bizarre front flip off opponent

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Drew Chatman’s first pro mixed martial arts fight went viral for all the wrong reasons.

At LFA 36 on Friday night, Chatman won his fight via knockout against Irvins Ayala. With Ayala unconscious and lying face down, Chatman celebrated the victory — by doing a front flip off of Ayala’s back. His win was quickly overturned into a disqualification, because he struck his opponent after the bell.

The bizarre clip was everywhere by Saturday morning, with takes ranging from outrage to confusion.

An apologetic Chatman told MMA Fighting on Saturday that emotions were running high as a pro MMA debutante and, essentially, he didn’t know what he was doing in that sequence.

“I threw a kick, he tripped me and as he came down, I moved my knee in a certain position and he had hit his chin to my knee,” Chatman said. “At that moment, it happened so fast that my instincts just kicked in and I started punching. As he fell down to the floor, it was almost like I couldn’t believe he was out, because it happened really quick. My natural reaction was just to get up.

“Normally, I celebrate my fights. If you see all my amateur fights, I’m doing flips, I’m doing cartwheels or whatever the case may be. I didn’t think before I did it. I just jumped and did a flip. So it was almost like subconsciously I did what I normally what I would do celebrating a victory that I normally get.”

Chatman, 23, was suspended 90 days by the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and his pay was withheld per commission disqualification rules, CSAC executive officer Andy Foster told MMA Fighting on Saturday. Chatman committed multiple rules infractions, Foster said, including striking his opponent after the fight, unsportsmanlike conduct and hitting an opponent in the referee’s care.

When asked about the commission withholding his $500 purse, Chatman said he understood and he’s accepting the sanctions without a fight.

“Let me be honest with you, man,” Chatman said. “I don’t deserve to get paid for that. It’s disappointing watching that. My mother has to see that. People that look up to me and see me become an inspiration to them have to look at that. Even though I’m not a champion so to speak, but I overcame a lot of things and I became something that I never thought I would become. Just to have my first pro fight is crazy, because I didn’t think I’d ever be on this level. It just happened so fast.

“So, the rules are the rules. And at the end of the day, when you actually look at what took place, I’m OK with having my pay taken away. I’m OK with being suspended 90 days. I’m OK with that. Because you can’t get that back. The video is priceless. I have to look back at that and live with regret every single day.”

As difficult as it might be to now be known as the fighter who got DQ’d for flipping off of his opponent after a fight, Chatman made it clear that he knows he is not the victim — Ayala is. Chatman said he apologized to him, the commission, the referee, Ayala’s coaches and even some fans after the fight, which took place at Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon, Calif.

“I want to apologize to Irvins Ayala,” Chatman said. “He was a good opponent. And he brought the fight to me. And he had a lot of heart. It was not a good move on my part as a martial artist. And I want to apologize to the California athletic commission, because they laid down the rules, they gave a great understanding and they do their job very well. Also, to Legacy, LFA, because they gave me a great opportunity to display my skills and it was a good platform.

“I’m not gonna play the victim here, because when you look at it the real victim here is Irvins Ayala. Let’s just be real. He showed up, he fought. It was an unfortunate mishap, but it did not have to end that way. All this publicity, all this media, the reality is I was wrong and I ain’t trying to gain no fame off of this, because I’m a martial artist.”

Essentially, Chatman said, he was on an adrenaline rush. The crowd was not on his side, he said, and he was in a bit of a fog throughout.

“This was my first fight, so it was a lot of nerves, it was a lot of emotions,” Chatman said. “It was a lot of outside influence due to the crowd, being one-sided. Everything that was going through my mind as a fighter — it was all over the place. As a normal fighter experiences before a fight. But this was my first pro [bout] and I haven’t fought since last August. So, the tension and the pressure was really high.”

One of the things Chatman said he is most regretful about is people who are not MMA fans seeing this clip and thinking poorly of the sport and its participants.

“I know that after this happened a lot of MMA guys might be upset, because I’m giving them a bad name for people who are not even familiar with mixed marital arts,” Chatman said. “Someone who doesn’t even watch mixed martial arts might turn on the television and see this and then think, ‘This is how these cage fighters are.’”

Chatman’s nickname is “The Honorable.” And despite those making a joke out of it, the Fresno, Calif., native vows to keep that and just use this experience as motivation to be better. To not be remembered just as the guy who did a front flip off a helpless foe.

“I do call myself ‘The Honorable’ and I’m not losing that name,” Chatman said. “My name is not perfect. So I understand that as a person I have to grow and learn from my mistakes. And I’m not ever gonna be perfect. But I will guarantee you this: It will never happen again.”