Nate Richardson still has fond memories of his former home in Africa despite leaving the country when he was just a child.
The featherweight prospect, who competes in the co-main event at LFA 82 this Friday, grew up in the west African country of Liberia, where his family made a good home until a volatile civil war broke out in the late 1990s.
“As a kid, you remember the good times,” Richardson told MMA Fighting. ‘I didn’t have toys as much, but I just got to play with my friends a lot. Soccer was a big part of my life there. That’s pretty much all you do year round. Eventually, the civil war happened.”
The bloody civil war in Liberia resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The rival factions even drafted child soldiers into the fight. The turmoil led Richardson’s family to escape to the Ivory Coast before seeking asylum in the United States. They eventually arrived in Minnesota, where Richardson finally started to feel a sense of normalcy again as he began adapting to his new surroundings.
Back at home in Liberia, his favorite pastime was soccer, but the sport barely had a foothold in the U.S. at the time of his arrival. So he had to seek out other athletic interests.
“I never did martial arts,” Richardson said. “The only activity I did was soccer. Coming here, I had to adapt to a new culture just to fit in. When I came to the United States, soccer wasn’t that big. It was mostly football, baseball, hockey. I had to learn to adjust.
“I played football a little in high school and I did wrestling in high school. Eventually, I went back to soccer my freshman year in junior college.”
It wasn’t until after high school was finished that Richardson decided to dabble in martial arts. But it had nothing to do with making a career out of the sport.
“When I got into martial arts, I had no plan in becoming a professional,” Richardson revealed. “I just wanted to learn to defend myself. I got out of high school and I thought to myself I’m a pretty good wrestler, but what happens if I meet someone who is a better wrestler than me? What am I going to do now? So I just got into martial arts to defend myself.”
Over time through his training, Richardson discovered that he was actually rather good. That led him to test the waters in MMA as he pursued amateur fights before finally turning pro.
During this period, he still sought his degree in sports management in college. But as time passed, he put his education on hold to focus solely on MMA. As his career progressed, he started to put together a pretty impressive resume, and that’s when he found out that UFC president Dana White would be attending one of his upcoming fights in Minnesota back in 2016. White was there with his YouTube series “Lookin’ for a Fight,” where he scouts up and coming prospects with the potential to sign them to the UFC.
With the UFC boss sitting cage side, Richardson knew the pressure was on to perform. He got the job done that night with a split decision victory, but it wasn’t enough to catch White’s attention.
Looking back now, Richardson can say with confidence that he’s glad the UFC president didn’t want to sign him at the time.
“When Dana White came [to Minnesota], I wasn’t ready when I was on “Lookin’ for a Fight,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t close to where I am now. I needed to grow a lot more and I have grown a lot since about three and a half or four years ago. I’ve gotten a lot better. More mature.
“I’m happy it didn’t work out that way because that means I would have been facing some of the best in the world and still trying to learn how to adapt.”
In the past four years since he first met White at his fight in Minnesota, Richardson has only competed in MMA two more times. But it wasn’t due to injury or a lack of interest in the sport.
Instead while dealing with a hand injury and a bout of patellar tendinitis in his knee, Richardson decided to test his striking after inking a multi-fight contract with GLORY kickboxing. He expected to blow through his five-fight deal rather quickly and then return to MMA but it took longer than expected due to scheduling issues.
While the move did delay his return to MMA, Richardson says the experience as invaluable and now he’s just as confident in his striking as he’s always been with his grappling.
“I had to change my style in GLORY because I was used to grappling,” Richardson explained. “In GLORY, I had to get used to striking and three minute rounds instead of five minute rounds, breaking out of the clinch quickly, just things I had to adjust my style. Now I’ve adjusted that style back into MMA.”
As he prepares for his fight against Jake Childers on Friday, Richardson hopes to build on his last knockout win in his return to MMA as he finally seeks to achieve his dream by getting the call to join the UFC roster.
Four years ago, Richardson will admit he wasn’t truly prepared for that level of competition. Now he’s ready to swim with the sharks.
“I’ve proven that I can handle competing against the best in the world,” Richardson said. “In GLORY, I was facing some of the best in the world at what they do. If the UFC is the next opportunity for me, you know I’m going to take that shot.
“Regardless if you’re undefeated or you’re a champion, if you fight me you’re going to know you’re in a fight. Cause I don’t give anything to anybody easy.”