Esther Lin / Strikeforce
Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
As soon as Pat Cummins’ story started spreading to fight fans, the 33-year-old mixed martial artist was flooded with support from people just like him — the average Joe.
Cummins was approached by UFC officials Thursday to take a fight while working the drive-thru for minimum wage at a California coffee shop, and he jumped at the chance to compete in the co-main event of UFC 170 on Feb. 22 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center against Daniel Cormier.
Light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans was scratched late Wednesday after injuring his knee in training. Initially, the injury didn’t appear too severe, leaving officials optimistic a few weeks of rehabilitation would do the trick. They would move the fight to an April card in Baltimore.
But when tests revealed Evans would be out long-term and with Cormier persistent to remain on the Las Vegas card, a replacement had to be found.
From taking coffee orders and working early-morning shifts in the kitchen making pastries to a spot in a pay-per-view UFC card, Cummins knows he’s one of the fortunate ones. He was signed to a multifight contract.
“Guys on Twitter and Facebook are blowing me up. ‘Hey man, you’re the everyday guy; we are cheering for you,’” he said. “I love it. I love being the underdog. It’s where I have been a long time.”
Here’s how his life changed:
UFC President Dana White heard rumblings early Thursday about how Cummins, a two-time All-American wrestler at Penn State, said he would make Cormier cry when they grappled as training partners at the Olympic Training Center.
Cormier went on to compete in the 2008 Olympics, eventually becoming one of UFC’s rising stars with an undefeated record in 13 fights. Cummins hasn’t been as fortunate, not fighting since last May when he lost $1,000 traveling to fight in a minor league card in Colorado. White’s interest was piqued, but there was one small problem:
“I tried to call the kid but couldn’t get him. It kept going to voice mail,” White said.
Turns out, he was working the window at the coffee shop.
So, White had Ryan Parsons, Cummins’ fight manager, go to the shop to coordinate a conversation. When the coffee shop supervisor told Parsons that Cummins “couldn’t talk right now,” Parsons jumped in his car and went around to the drive-thru, handing Cummins his phone with White on the line.
“'I’m telling you right now, I made Cormier cry every time we wrestled. I broke him every time we wrestled. I’ll beat him Saturday night,'” White said Cummins told him.
Then, Cummins added: “'I hope I get this fight. They just fired me,'” White said. “(I said:) Tell your manager to go (expletive) himself and head to the gym right now. We’ll call you in a little while.”
He accepted a fight on eight days notice — truth be told, he would have jumped at the chance in eight minutes notice.
“He doesn’t look at it as taking a fight on eight days notice,” Parsons said. “He had been training to fight. It pays to be in shape. It pays to be hungry. It pays to be willing to fight any guy at any time. That’s who Pat Cummins is.”
And when he steps in the octagon, don’t expect Cummins to be overwhelmed. He has a 4-0 record but has a hard time getting fights because opponents frequently decline after seeing film — Parsons estimates 50 opponents agreed to fight Cummins, only to rescind. That’s why he fought just once each in 2010 and 2012 and twice last year. One fight was with Strikeforce.
“Relentless pressure in every way of it,” he said. “Whether it is grappling, whether it is wrestling, whether it is striking. My strong suit is I will stay in your face the whole time.”
Cummins trains at the same gym in California as established UFC fighters Mark Munoz and Brendan Schaub, relying on those fighters as more than practice partners. They know what it takes to fight in the UFC, telling Cummins not to lose hope. His time would come.
“I’m 33 years old and I’m broke. I can’t get a fight on a (minor league) card. What am I doing?” Cummins said. “... (They told him): ‘You need to keep pushing. You are made to do this.’ That’s what has kept me going. Those guys are incredible.”
White, a diehard New England Patriots fan, was quick to remind reporters of another pro athlete taking advantage of playing time after an injury. Tom Brady took over when Drew Bledsoe was injured.
“You never know in this business when you are going to stumble upon the guy,” White said. “One man’s disappointment is another man’s opportunity.”