No one would have blamed Devin Clark if he decided to call it quits this one time.
Blows to the head and face are so commonplace in MMA that they’re hardly worth mentioning on a fight-to-fight basis, but it’s rare that a fighter is caught by the kind of shot that instantly rearranges their whole mouth. That’s what happened to Clark at UFC Vegas 37.
Already in the midst of a tough fight with Ion Cutelaba, Clark almost didn’t make it out for the final round after Cutelaba caught him with a perfectly timed knee late in Round 2. The knee dug right into the side of Clark’s cheek and immediately threatened to dislodge Clark’s teeth. Clark’s corner noticed the injury right away, but after a brief discussion, Clark told his team he could continue. He went on to lose a unanimous decision.
The medical suspensions list Clark as potentially being out for six months with injuries to his mouth and ankle. On the plus side, “Brown Bear” immediately went to the hospital after his fight where they placed a metal wire in his mouth that served as temporary braces to keep his teeth in place. He later saw a dentist and he’s been told that the injury should heal on its own, hopefully in no longer than six to eight weeks. Clark also has to have his ankle injury cleared and if he’s healthy he aims to compete again in early 2022.
Looking back on the brutal fight, Clark is glad that he was given the opportunity to keep going even though it felt like he might lose his teeth.
“No, definitely not,” Clark told MMA Fighting when asked if he’d have been okay with his corner stopping the fight on his behalf. “I’m glad, that’s why I have the corner that I have. They knew to put it in my hands. They trust me and I trust them. … It’s such a weird injury, it’s an injury nobody ever thinks about.
“They’ve never thought about having to stop a fight because one of their fighter’s teeth is dangling in their mouth, so they made the right choice leaving it up to me. And me being the fighter I am, it just wasn’t quitting time yet. I knew I could still fight, so if I would have given up there, I’d be heartbroken right now and disappointed at myself for a while.”
A key part of Clark’s corner is his father David, an unmistakable voice that is regularly heard ringing through the UFC APEX during Clark’s recent fights. Having coached Devin in athletics since he was seven years old, David is uniquely qualified to determine how much more his son has to give when the chips are down.
Though having family in your corner on fight night isn’t always advisable, Clark considers his father to be a valuable asset and he gives him credit for helping him to decide to continue his battle with Cutelaba.
“I think it did make it easier,” Clark said. “At first, he didn’t know what had happened because I wasn’t facing him. Right away in the clip you see him like, ‘Let’s go, let’s go,’ but at that point he didn’t see that my teeth were messed up. Once he did, he didn’t know what to do either. If you’re good, you’re good.
“From a young age he always told us—me and my brother—during football games or whatever, he would always say, ‘Are you hurt or are you injured?’ I think it just clicked in my head as one of those deals. Well, I’m hurt, but I can still fight. So I kept going. I think it did help to have him there and just his tone and hearing that my whole life, I think it definitely helped.”
In addition to the mouth injury, Clark also hurt his ankle in the first round, which limited his options against the dangerous Cutelaba. However, despite suffering two maladies in one fight, Clark says the worst injury he’s actually suffered was when he fought Alonzo Menifield at UFC 250.
In that fight, Clark was caught with a shot that fractured his left orbital. He recalls that injury being far more painful in the moment than what happened with Cutelaba (though Clark notes that both hurt equally afterwards).
“That one the instant pain was a lot worse,” Clark said. “I had to actually react to that a lot differently. I had to kind of trick myself into telling myself that I’m okay because the pain was so bad right away I’m like, ‘What is this? What’s going on right now?’ It was that same process, ‘Are you hurt or are you injured?’
“After about 30 seconds I realized I could still fight and I was just hurt, not injured. But the pain was a lot more to deal with there just because of the eye trauma.”
Clark actually went on to defeat Menifield and while he wasn’t as fortunate against Cutelaba, the loss has been a little easier to swallow with the support that he’s received not only from friends and family, but fans who have reached out to him to applaud his toughness.
Having a seven-year-old daughter himself who is used to seeing dad get banged up, Clark is happy to know that others have been able to take a positive lesson from his fight.
“A lot of the messages that I got, the people are messaging me about letting their kids watch that fight just to show them what grit is and just to show them what a person that’s mentally strong can do and what a human person can get through with the right mindset,” Clark said. “So with all those kinds of messages and just that kind of feedback, it’s hard to feel so down about that loss. Kind of take a little victory from it just being able to show people what they can do and inspire them to be tough people when you need to be tough.
“Now it’s probably not a good idea to be that tough all the time, that’s hard on the body, but in certain situations you have to just suck it up and keep going. For me, that was that situation.”