Up until then, the Eugene, Ore., native was plugging away as usual in the gym. He figured the main point of his fight was to give Mike Malott, a native Canadian, an out-of-town foil for a homecoming in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“That’s been my MO since I started fighting — the underdog goes into enemy territory,” Fugitt told MMA Fighting.
Nothing has changed about that. Now, he will just do it on a much bigger platform. Two-time welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson and acrobatic striker Michel Pereira vacated their pay-per-view spot, and the up-and-coming welterweights will benefit.
Fugitt and Malott could be Exhibit 1 in the case against UFC oversaturation. But Fugitt is happy to take advantage. Ask any fighter where they want to be, and it’s closest to the main event as they can get.
“I want to be a main card fighter,” Fugitt said. “I wanna be a headliner at one point. You don’t get into this sport to not be those things.
“You either think you got it, or you don’t. I think that’s the honest truth to it, and I believe that I could step in there against anybody and beat just about anybody.”
At the moment, things are going in the right direction for Fugitt. It didn’t start that way, however. Five years ago, he sat down with his boss at the lumber company where he managed 33 employees and admitted his mind wasn’t on the job. That could be an issue in a place with giant saws and planers threatening life and limb.
“I’m supposed to be there and investigating what’s going on, and I’m in my office and I’m looking at MMA Rankings and wondering who I’m gonna fight,” he remembers. “It took me a good, like, almost a month to work up the courage to go talk to my boss about it. And I finally did and he told me, ‘Yeah, man, we can’t have you here.’”
So that made Fugitt, then 29, full-time MMA fighter with a 3-1 record. It was as good as any time to make a run. Then he took a fight on nine days’ notice and got knocked out in 91 seconds.
UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture frequently said that if getting knocked out was the worst thing that could happen to you, you were doing pretty good. Fugitt chose that interpretation and moved on.
“It kind of made me more confident than anything, that I’m still always gonna have the same support system, the same family around me, they’re always gonna love me,” Fugitt said. “As long as I got that, then I got everything I need to go in there and just be me and fight my fight. So it was definitely a huge relief, I think.”
Two months after the knockout, he was back in the cage. He won his next three fights, the last of them in the LFA, a well-known UFC feeder promotion. Then the pandemic hit, forcing a gut check of the financial variety.
When a short-notice spot opened up on UFC 277, Fugitt eagerly took the job. He cut 30 pounds in one week to make the fight, and again, disaster struck. After two rounds of back and forth, Michael Morales stopped him with a flurry of punches in the third.
After that worst-case reminder, Fugitt again rebounded, stopping his next octagon opponent, Yusaku Kinoshita, in the first round. A trend was developing.
The UFC 289 main card slot is unfamiliar to Fugitt the fighter. But he sees the circumstances surrounding the fight as the same. He is getting into another situation where he is expected to lose, and he loves it.
“I think it gives me another top-level contender that they think they’re gonna just throw me to and I’m gonna go in there and lose,” he said. “I think that that’s kind of how I see it. So it’s another opportunity to go and prove them wrong again. And as long as I go in there proving people wrong, sooner or later, they’re not gonna be able to deny who I am.”
If Fugitt could send a message to the 29-year-old who decided to make this MMA thing a career, it’s that there’s power in holding on. He is about to do what he’s always dreamed, which is to show everyone that Eugene, a place more known for the Oregon Ducks than no-holds barred fighting, has some serious fighting talent.
“You want to be prepared to go through the worst of times, to suffer, to endure, and to really understand or that your dream is gonna happen, even though it’s looking bleak,” he said.