There’s no doubting that Tim Means took the long road to get to the Octagon, but now that he’s here, don’t expect him to be leaving anytime soon.
The rising UFC lightweight, who fights Abel Trujilo on the FX-televised undercard of this Saturday night’s UFC on FOX 5 event, is riding a two-fight win streak in the UFC and has won 15 of his last 17 fights which has shot him up the division’s ranks and has many observers of the sport touting him as a future title contender. Being 6’2″, he is the tallest fighter at lightweight, making him an especially intriguing prospect.
In his last outing against Justin Salas at UFC on FX 3, the 28-year-old American opened up eyes when he finished the fight via vicious TKO in only 66 seconds. He has the opportunity this weekend to pick up his fourth win of 2012 – he also won the King of the Cage Lightweight Championship back in January – and therefore make a serious statement to both the UFC and the fans that he’s serious about making a run for the 155-pound strap.
But the path to the bright lights of the UFC hasn’t been easy for “The Dirty Bird.” No, it hasn’t been easy at all.
Means knows the questions about his troubled past are coming.
“I don’t have nothing to hide. I’m not proud of my past but I’m not afraid of it either.”
One night in 2004, Means and his friends were out drinking. As Means tells it, it was your typical Friday night out with the boys – until he ended up getting shot in the leg.
“We wound up at a local business late at night. I was out with my buddies, not old enough to get in the bar, but we had ways to get in. I wind up at a local fast food place and had some words with this guy about supposedly cutting in line. I’m not sure if we did or didn’t, to be honest I was intoxicated, but I know we shook hands and called it cool but I noticed the guy in the corner on the phone. Usually I would of left the situation but I felt like superman that night. Later that night we walked outside, I guess the guy called his cousin and the dude shot 15 rounds at us. I’m lucky to only get hit one time in the leg, and now we can laugh and talk about it, but it was a serious incident. No hard feelings to the individual who shot me, there’s no telling the story he cousin told him maybe he said we jumped him, but the guy who called him, that’s a coward’s act, you can’t forgive him. But that’s the past and onto the future.”
Means suffered a nine-inch gunshot wound to the femoral artery on his left thigh, and nearly bled to death. But he survived to live and tell the tale.
The pain from the gunshot wound was too much, and soon after Means received prescriptions for Vicodin and morphine to deal with his pain. As with most people who use morphine regularly for a period of time, Means developed a morphine dependency. He became addicted, and his drug addictions only got worse from there, as he soon turned to cocaine and methamphetamines once his prescriptions ran out.
“I had a prescription for Vicodin and morphine. I felt like I was on top of the world. That shit is awesome, but before you know it you’re abusing it and it’s not helping you get back on track. You want to stay fuzzy and tingly and it’s not helping you out. But you’re on a prescription and the doctors said if I had some pain, they signed it off without really thinking about a whole lot. It’s not their fault, it’s mine, but once they stopped signing off I starting doing cocaine and meth to get my fix. I didn’t know anything about meth at the time but it made me feel real good like I was on top of the world. But two, three years into that stuff I start look backing at my life and I have nothing to show for it. Wearing dirty clothes, living in a house I’m about to be evicted out of, I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. It was starting to become someone I didn’t want to be anymore. I was wanting to get off meths and around that time I was facing new charges for an aggravated battery charge for punching a man who broke into my house. From then on I got on probation, they were giving me drug tests, and I was trying to hide the drug tests which meant not showing up to take them or not answering my probation officers phone calls to take them and the judge put me in jail. I realized freedom wasn’t what I needed at the time, I needed to buckle down and look at my addictions that’s what I did. I went to prison, and focused on correcting myself, got out in 2009, and have been running ever since.”
Means said that the choice to quit was his and his alone, and there’s no doubt that he made the correct choice.
“I wanted to quit a couple times. It was kind of hard because my friends would come around me, I’d do a little bit and off you get. But when I was prison and coming home for the holidays and my nephews realized where I was at, it wasn’t too hard for me to quit because it was something I wanted to do. But when my parents wanted to get me off of it, I just wanted to party and run late at night. But when I went to prison it was something I wanted to do and it was easy to transition to because I didn’t want my nephews to think I was a drug addict or thief so I had to kick it.”
It turns out going to prison was exactly what means needed to break his habit.
Means admits the thought of going to jail scared him, but that it wasn’t as bad once he was actually in there.
“It was scary going to prison, yeah. I had all these movie images in my head. Just a crazy lifestyle going into it. But I didn’t get involved in gangs, kept my head low and minded my own business, and it went by rather quickly but I was constantly looking forward to going home. I played basketball and ran the yard (to pass the time) but our society makes jail life easy. I can see why people keep going back. You have room and board for free, you have all your food, your exercise room’s free and there’s no responsibilities in there. Why stress on life when you can get a free meal, and that’s why a lot of people I know go back prison, because it’s an easy lifestyle.”
He says he couldn’t really do much mixed martial arts training while in jail, which is incredible to think about considering he’s gone 15-1-1 since being released.
“They had a bag in there but you try to keep your head low because if they think you’re a tough guy they’ll pick a fight and there’s always a tougher guy around the corner. But I got locked up, got into one fight, and I got left alone after that. I wasn’t an easy pushover to get my lunch. Other than that they left me alone.”
Means admits that in many ways he lost four years of his life, between 2005 and 2009, because he was addicted to drugs and in jail.
“I wasn’t really free man, I was addicted to those drugs and living in a bubble. Everybody’s life was progressing — people I knew from school, they were getting married and having kids, getting promotions at work, and I was sitting on the sidelines. I guess I didn’t have those responsibilities, all I had to do was worry about myself and party, but now there’s responsibilities and I have to look out for my friends and family and stay on the right track.”
Speaking of his family, Means admits their support has been important in helping him turn his life around and making it into something meaningful.
“They didn’t really bash on me when I was on drug. They’d throw out their opinions every so often but it was more that ‘I’m disappointed’ look than the ‘I’m ashamed’ look. They loved me, but it was my own choice to quit. I had a great family growing up. I had a harder time before my step-dad Chris stepped into my life when I was six. He showed me what it was to have a dad and I can’t thank him enough for the things he did for me and for the way him and my mom stuck by my side when I hit rock bottom.”
When Means was finally released from prison, it was his mother who picked him up from jail. He admits coming back into society was a rough adjustment at first.
“The transition to getting out of prison was a little nervous. My mom came and got me and I went to Denny’s to eat and the clanging of the silver wear and the voices rumbling in the restaurant, it was a little scary, and it took me a few months to adapt to metal forks and stuff, but we’re good now.”
As soon as Means was released from jail, he started fighting again. He says that he’s had absolutely no problems with any athletic commissions despite his background.
“I got out and started fighting two weeks after getting out. I don’t have felonies but I have misdemeanors but I haven’t had any problems with any commissions giving me fights.”
And that’s a good thing for fans, because Means is one of the most exciting young fighters in the UFC today.
Prior to getting arrested, Means put up a 3-2 MMA record, the two losses coming to future UFC fighters Spencer Fisher and Luke Caudillo. But you have to keep in mind that he took those fights just weeks after being shot, shoving gauze in his wound in order to take the fight (there really weren’t any commissions back then), only to have the stitches rip out during the fight and head back to the hospital for another surgery.
15-1-1 since those fights, Means admits that the key to victory has been consistency in practice and just evolving as a mixed martial artist.
“Before (the current run) I was just a kid who knew how to wrestle and be aggressive, take guys down and punch them. I really didn’t know MMA — it was brand new. I started doing boxing, kickboxing, BJJ, and taking time to learn each discipline. Now I have responsibilities and I’m more focused. And now I have a meanness maybe from the mental toughness of being locked up and knowing I have to defend myself and knowing being locked up in a cage is terrifying, that I need to feed myself and pay my bills, so all I have t do in the UFC is put the work in the gym and show up on fight night and try to win. And so far it’s really worked for me.”
In both of Means’ UFC bouts, against Salas and Bernardo Magalhaes, he has displayed an incredible striking attack that utilizes all eight limbs, a style similar to that of Carlos Condit.
The reason Condit and Means are so similar is because they have both been trained by Tom and Arlene Vaughn at Fit NHB in Arizona.
“The style, we’re going to look alike because its the NHB style, what Tom and Arlene teach. We also have Seth Bacyznski, his style is similar because he’s a long, rangy guy like myself. Having Tom Vaughn in my corner has been has been hands down one of the best things for me because they know how to filter the bullcrap out. Arlene’s a technique and cardio freak and Tom is the same way, all about timing and knowing how to motivate you and getting you prepared for fights. Not only do they train me but I consider them family and blood and we go to war together. It couldn’t be a better fit.”
Means says that he’s not a Muay-Thai fighter, but rather a modified boxer – as well as a submission wizard, although he’s yet to show it in the UFC, only because he hasn’t had to.
“I don’t think I’m a muay Thai guy. I’m more of a modified boxer who throws knees and elbows. I feel I am top of the food chain. I have a ground game but I just haven’t showed it so I’m going to surprise wrestlers if they take me down and catch them with the cool submissions I’ve been working on.”
“I feel I’m time of the food chain in the division I just have to prove it. My grappling’s good for mixed marital arts, I strike well off my back and create scrambles well. I grapple with Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, and C.B. Dollaway.
I’m kinda excited to submit someone in the UFC but I’m seeing people think they want to take me down and see what happens but I’m looking to surprise some people on the ground.”
Don’t be surprised if that happens this weekend against Trujilo, the next name on Means’ hit list.
Means vs. Trujilo was actually set for the doomed UFC 151 card that was cancelled when UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones refused to take a short-notice fight against Chael Sonnen after Dan Henderson got injured. That shifted all the undercard fighters’ bouts back, meaning Means and Trujilo have been thinking about each other for a good 20 weeks or so now.
Means says he holds no ill will towards Jones and says the extra time to prepare hasn’t been a negative.
“It was what is it is. It’s life. There’s always a curveball thrown. I’ve just accepted it. I toned my practises down from high intensity to lower intensity and sharpened up my technical stuff and now I’m more mentally and physically prepared for this fight.”
Means says he’s watched some tape on Trujilo, who trains with the Blackzilians, and thinks he’s picked up on some of his opponent’s negative tendencies.
“I’ve only seen a little bit. He tends to hang that front shoulder real low so I’m seeing if he can change it from that style. If he does I have a gameplan, and if he changes it I have a gameplan for that too. I’m looking to test his will and test his heart.”
He’ll be looking to use his height, weight and reach advantages over Trujilo on Saturday night, as well as his obvious advantage in striking to claim the victory.
“I cut from about 180 most of the time. I’m walking around 175 or 180 by fight night. I have some weight, height and reach for sure.”
As for a prediction, Means would only say that he expects the fight to end with a vicious finish.
“We’ve both been saying were going to finish each other so I wouldn’t expect anything less than that. Someone is going down in the fight, so I’m going with that prediction.”
As for what’s next, Means says he hasn’t looked that far into the future as his current focus is on Trujilo and Trujilo only.
“Abel Trujilo is my mission right now and I have to beat him as violently as possible in Seattle on Saturday.”
Despite everything he’s been through – the drug addictions, the jail time, becoming someone who he hated – Means has soldiered on and has made something of his life.
And not only has Means not only got a second chance at living a normal life, he’s also got a second chance at a career as a mixed martial artists, and he knows it.
“I’ve had three or four chances in life. I’m lucky I’m not dead or something far worse. I have a second chance at this fighting stuff, obviously, and I’m thankful for my freedom everyday and I’m thankful to see my family everyday.”
And that’s why he’s decided to do something meaningful in his life, and become a role model for those younger than him. Because if anyone’s made mistakes in their life, it’s Means, and his story is proof that anyone can turn theirs around if they really want to and become the person they want to be.
If there wasn’t that damned weight cut.
“I’ve always been a guy who has had a heart but I really don’t care what people think of me. Getting in trouble at an early age and then having my nephews watching me be a jerk and a bully, it wasn’t the person who I wanted to be. So now I’m trying to be a role model and a different guy. Btu it’s hard sometimes when you’re cutting weight and want an Oreo or something, it’s hard to be that nice guy, but it comes with the territory.”
Means fights Trujilo this Saturday night at UFC on FOX 5, which takes place at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington, United States. Do not miss this fight – and remember not to blink.