Sports are a whole different animal than a regular 9-5, and the athletes that are fortunate enough to compete on a professional level do so more out of desire than necessity. There are many lures to being a pro athlete. Fame, money, and the recognition that comes from being a physical specimen performing at the top of the heap have an almost magnetic appeal, which is why retirement from a sport can be such a tricky thing.
Nearly two years ago, Kurt Pellegrino decided to take a break from mixed martial arts. His decision was based on numerous factors, the main one being to spend more quality time with his family. Unfortunately, when he stepped away, he was left with the nagging feeling that something was missing from his daily routine, and since then, he says he hasn't really had a good night's sleep, nor any peace of mind that most get when they satisfactorily retire.
It came as no surprise to me when it was announced that Kurt had come out of retirement. My co-host, Evan Shoman conducted a great interview with Kurt, who detailed the inspiration behind his coming out of retirement. Below is an excerpt from the interview:
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.
You can read the entire interview here
You can follow Kurt via his Twitter account, @KurtPellegrino