Mike Richman decided on his third deployment to Iraq with the Marines that he wanted to pursue something other than a decorated military career.
That something was attempting professional mixed martial arts fighting.
“I just knew I wanted to do it, knew that I didn’t want to look back in 10 or 20 years and think, ‘I didn’t do that,’ when I knew I could,” Richman said.
When he informed Sgt. Arturo Blanco of his plans, however, Richman met resistance.
“No,” Richman recalls Blanco telling him. “Quit the Marines … to get beat up?”
More than six years later, Richman, 29, is still chasing his MMA dream. He’ll be in an opening bantamweight bout against former UFC fighter Nam Phan on Saturday night at Valley View Casino Arena in San Diego on the Bellator 131 card televised by Spike TV.
And Blanco, currently based at Camp Pendleton, is expected to work in Richman's corner, pending approval by the California State Athletic Commission.
“It means a lot that I’m fighting in an area heavily populated by Marines, means a lot to put that on my shoulders and put on a great performance,” said Richman, who’s 17-5 with eight knockouts and seven submissions.
He describes his fighting style as you’d expect an ex-Marine to: “Going out there, getting in people’s faces, knocking them out,” Richman said.
On Wednesday, at Blanco’s doing, Richman returned to Camp Pendleton to speak to a group of young Marines.
Veteran's day, if you will.
“[Blanco] always tells me how he remembers telling me no about a career in fighting, but how I ended up living that out and being successful,” Richman said. “So, now, he tells stories to future Marines about me.”
The unexpected reunion stirs deep memories for Richman, some too painful to revisit.
“It was my job to go on security patrols, and sometimes you found the enemies. We were in combat a couple times,” Richman said. “We lost Marines -- IED explosions -- we lost friends, brothers.
“To be able to come back where he’s stationed, to have him in my corner for this fight -- a different fight -- is pretty cool.”