Toby Misech thought he was fighting for his job when he showed up for a fight with ex-UFC bantamweight Erik Perez at Bellator 235. As it turned out, he also had to close out the show.
Misech was warming up backstage with teammates during a fight between Tywan Claxton and Braydon Akeo when Bellator officials told him a main event between Josh Barnett and Ronny Markes might be off. One fight later, he and Perez were the new main event.
“We just took it like nothing changed,” Misech told MMA Fighting. “We’re still the co-main.”
Misech didn’t need any extra pressure. One day earlier, he’d missed weight by five pounds. He figured he’d be released from his contract if he lost.
Six months ago, Misech had gotten back his old job as a stocker for PepsiCo, a tough gig to get in Hawaii. He’d taken a couple years off to be a full-time fighter, but he said it only made him lazier. A day job focused his off-hours efforts and prioritized the important things in his life. He had a safety net.
Still, nobody likes to get fired. Misech didn’t want to be promotionally homeless. It was a fight on home turf. His longtime friend and UFC Hall of Famer B.J. Penn was in the audience watching.
“It was all or nothing for this fight,” he said. “Everybody was doubting me, not giving me a chance to win. He was a contender, and I’m coming off a loss to (Eduardo) Dantas. I needed this win.”
Perez clearly needed it, too, because he came right after Misech at the opening bell. That turned out to be his downfall as he walked into a left hook that instantly sat him on the canvas.
Overhead, Misech had a few seconds to work before his opponent recovered. In a position where many fighters fire and miss from over-excitement, he placed one punch squarely on Perez’s jaw, and that was it. Any hopes for installing the Mexican fighter as a quick contender at bantamweight were laid to rest.
“If he would have won that fight, he would have been up there for that title shot,” Misech said. “I wanted to take that away from him.”
There was no high-five waiting from promoters when Misech stepped out of the cage, but that’s not out of the ordinary. He did a media scrum, got dressed and went out for dinner with his family. Later, he heard the higher-ups were impressed.
Exactly what that means still isn’t clear. Buzz rarely transfers evenly in the fight game, especially when you’re working your way up. But Misech is optimistic.
“We’ll see what’s next,” he said. “I think that’s the first time he got finished. He was riding a five-fight winning streak. He had a big name, I took him out like that. I believe (I’ve stolen his thunder).”
When Misech sprinted to the center of the cage, he wanted to send a message that he wasn’t someone to be ignored. He registered surprise from Perez, and then his fists did the rest.
Misech’s next dream is to be a Bellator champion. But he said he’ll never be a full-time fighter.
“I don’t know why, but it gives me more motivation knowing I have a fight coming up,” he said. “When I was full-time fighting, it was fighting this, fighting that, thinking about it nonstop. But with work, it distracts me from a lot of it.”
When he spoke to MMA Fighting, Misech was in the midst of distraction, talking on the phone between runs of refreshment duty. It’s a job with good hours and good health insurance. At the very least, it keeps the uncertainty ahead at bay.