Kurt Pellegrino hasn’t stepped into a professional Mixed Martial Arts cage since November of 2011. Since that time, Kurt has been relishing the private time with his family and running his booming MMA academy (pellegrinomma.com). On the surface it looked like Kurt was enjoying his MMA sabbatical, but the reality is that he was getting torn apart from within. Steph Daniels and I interviewed Kurt on MMA Sentinel Radio to discuss his return to fighting. Kurt stated that he is refusing to do all interviews regarding his return and he is just giving us the story. He covers his internal struggle, as well as the factors that lead to him coming back to MMA.
Kurt Pellegrino: It’s funny, because the last thing I wanted to do was fight again. But it’s been 2 years of no sleep; waking up at 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 in the morning. I can’t sleep and I always wake up the same way. The same dream always wakes me up; it’s me walking out to a cage and the cage door shutting behind me. It’s just time to get that shit out of my head and to end it. I don’t know if it would have ended if I had beaten Patricky (Freire) or even if the fight went to a decision. I just want to go to bed and wake up like normal people do. What made me want to fight again was getting some awesome words from an amazing man. He passed away and his words stuck in my head.
ES: Who was the man and what did he say?
KP: I wanted to be an Olympic gold medalist. It was my dream to wrestle in the Olympics when I was a kid. Former Olympian Jeff Blatnick was at Bellator, so he was really someone I looked up to. I asked if I could ask him a serious question and Jeff Blatnick said to go ahead and ask. I said to him, “How do you know it’s (the competitiveness) over? Is there such a thing as it being over, when someone like you or I have competed since they were 5?” I’m only telling that conversation this one time.
He told me the story about him trying out for the Olympics one more time, when he was past his prime. He was still beating ranked wrestlers and was preparing again to try out for the Olympics. He was on his way to winning another Olympic trial tourney and they called his name to the mat to compete. As he was walking to the mat, he stopped. He told the girl who called his name that he was done. She asked if he was sick or hurt and he replied that he was DONE! He walked away from her and went back to his villa where he was staying. He went to bed at 4:00 in the afternoon and woke up at 4:00 in the afternoon the next day. He said that it was his best night of sleep that he had for years. He thought about nothing and just passed out. He never lost in the tournament and was most likely going to represent the USA in another Olympics. That was it, though. He woke up the next morning and never thought about competing again. Ever. I then asked him, “What does that mean for me? How do I get rid of these nightmares and dreams?” He told me, “The only way to know its over, is to GO DO IT. If you make it to the fight, then good for you. That means it’s not over. If you get halfway there and pull out, that means the competition drive has left you.”
A few weeks later he passes away. So, I hold on to this story for about a month after he passed and didn’t tell my wife. Then, I couldn’t sleep at all because I felt I was letting Jeff down AND I’m having these nightmares?!?! I told my wife the whole story and she told me that I just had to do it! So I decided to do it and do it exactly as he said. I started training in April, to knock off 2 years of ring rust to prepare for this fight.
ES: It sounds like the Rocky Balboa movie where he says “There’s still something left in the basement”
KP: That’s the whole thing… I don’t know if there’s anything left. I just want to compete and grappling competitions just aren’t doing it for me. People say this is my 2nd retirement party. I never wanted to retire. I just hated fighting. Well, actually… I hated losing. I’d rather die than lose. I don’t want an easy fight, I want a hard fight. I want a bloodbath. All I want is just to finish it. I want to go to bed that night and have you guys call me the next day and ask how I’m sleeping. Then I say, I woke up at 7 am and it’s amazing.
ES: Do you ONLY want 1 more fight?
KP: I don’t know. What I know is that I’m not waiting for another 2 years to fight. I literally can’t sleep. It’s been 2 years of me thinking and wondering, “Am I going to be a 36 year old man wondering when I could do it, should I have done it?” I don’t want to regret something I should have done.
One of the dads of a kid I teach is named Andreas. He was a national champion swimmer. We couldn’t possibly be 2 more opposite guys. Every day he’d come in the gym and ask me, “So are you going to do it (fight)?” I made every excuse in the book not to fight and he knew it. One day he wrote me an email and said he had heard that same thing so many times. His email basically said that I was just making excuses. He could see it in my face when I said I hated fighting, that I was just making excuses. He said he was 30 something and couldn’t go back and compete, but I could. He said to stop making excuses. What’s wild is that I received the email minutes after telling my wife about the Jeff Blatnick conversation. Maybe that’s the reason I’m doing this, because of Jeff Blatnick and Andreas.
ES: Do you think maybe you kept saying you hated fighting because subconsciously you were trying to convince yourself?
KP: Yes. I wanted to fight a year ago and I just wouldn’t do it. All these people could see it in me that I wanted to fight. It took that 1 day of too many coincidences that I had to fight. When Blatnick told me I wanted to fight, right then and there I decided to fight. Then the man dies and I though, “I can’t have this on my head”. So I tell my wife the Blatnick story and then I get Andreas’ email that same day.
I’m doing this for myself, for my soul, and to make my family proud of me. If doing this fight can help me from having future regrets and getting over it, then THAT is why I am doing this. I’m doing this fight because I’ve got to get through this. I have to get through this. I just want to sleep.
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