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Dreams and Dedication: Justin Scoggins talks 'Karate college,' path to the Octagon

UFC flyweight contender Justin Scoggins dedicated his entire life to combat sports and never looked back. He took a major risk by dropping out of high school and choosing to not obtain a college degree, but it paid off.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Scoggins was born to fight. He wasn't fit for a desk job, nor any other career path besides competing inside the Octagon. He dreamed of becoming a fighter -- not just any fighter, but more specifically, a world champion -- ever since he was a teenager.

Even today, it is all about combat sports for Scoggins. He was a high school drop-out and chose against obtaining a college degree. Fighting was his only chance of success.

"As soon as I turned 18-years-old and I had already dropped out of high school, everybody knew [MMA] was the one route for me," Scoggins told's The MMA Circus. "My family knew it, and all my close friends knew it. Everybody started pushing for me to get as much experience as I could. It's like, 'Okay, this kid is not going to college, we need to send this kid to karate college.'

"It's a big, big journey for me because this is all I've ever had. It's all I've ever wanted. I've never desired for a family, I've never desired for anything but to be the best in the world at what I do. And I have nothing that holds me back. My only distraction is my dog -- he's with me right now. I have my dog with me all the time -- we run together and everything. I'm like nobody else in this game because I'm completely in this game, to better the view of martial arts. I don't care about anything else. I want to make martial arts look good. That's all I care about."

Scoggins' parents were not on board with the idea of him dropping out of school and not getting a college degree. It definitely took some convincing.

"My parents definitely tried to force me to stay in school and not be a drop-out and things like that," he said. "They pushed me really hard. I was always grounded because I was skipping school and just getting into sh-t I shouldn't have been getting into. I was at, not a rebellious stage, but you came to those crossroads where your parents had to be your parents and they were like, 'Look, you gotta go to f-cking school.' And then, me, I'm like, 'Well, why do I gotta go to school? I'm going to be a UFC fighter.' That's all I ever said. 'I'm going to be a UFC fighter. I'm going to be UFC world champion.' I'm 24 years old now and it's going to happen."

Although Scoggins' parents wanted him in school, they were always supportive of the 24-year-old's dream of becoming a UFC fighter. Scoggins hasn't reached the title yet, but with a win over Ian McCall at UFC 201 this Saturday, he'll be the closest he's ever been to the belt. According to Scoggins, his parents' belief in him was key to his success.

"Hell yeah they believed me! That's the big thing," he said. "Everybody knew I was going to be UFC world champion. They've always known how good I was. I've been in karate since I was three years old. There was times that I was in it where I'd be like, 'Why the heck am I still doing this? I want to do other stuff. I want to play football.' And my parents were like, 'No, you gotta keep doing martial arts, you gotta keep doing this.' They're not stupid -- they could see what route I was taking. My parents basically gave me everything I have. If they had never put me in a karate class, if I wouldn't have had those parents, I would not be where I'm at."

Early in his mixed martial arts career, Scoggins travelled across North America to cross-train at several premier gyms including American Top Team, Jackson-Wink MMA and TriStar. But a pair of losses two years ago lead to a move to Revolution MMA in his native South Carolina, which he believes has improved his overall game tremendously.

"I'm finally in a place where I'm comfortable," he said. "I'm not travelling around, I'm not being pressured to going anywhere because people see that I have the knowledge, people see that I know what to do and how to do. So, it's a really relaxed process because I'm very free with my training. I make my own schedule. I do my art my way. And, there is no certain method. Some days your legs might be sore, and you don't need to work legs that day. You work your punches. You stand in a stance and you work your punches. Some days your arms are sore and your legs aren't sore. You do the opposite. Some days your core is sore. You listen to your body and you train a different part of your body every day. You train your mind every day. And it's just a complete lifestyle."

Scoggins could have perhaps explored higher-paying career options. Fighter pay has always been an issue in MMA. But he doesn't care about the money and fame. He's in this game for the love of the sport. As long as he has enough money to afford basic necessities, he's fine with fighting professionally.

"I need a place to live, I need food for my dog and I need food and water for myself," he said. "Besides that, I'm good. I don't care about getting rich, I don't care about any of that. I just want to fight and I want to improve martial arts. I want to improve combat, and make it look cooler and make it look better."

Scoggins believes going all-in on mixed martial arts was less of a risk for him compared to other fighters because he doesn't have a family to feed at home. He just has to fend for himself.

"It depends on how prepared you are for life. Really, that's what it comes down to," he said. "If you have a wife and kids and you don't have a degree and you're just relying on fighting, that's definitely risky, I can see that. But when it comes to me, as long as I've got my dog -- I can walk places, I can find places to crash, that's all I'm worried about right now in life. A lot of people might look at that and look down a nose at it, but I'm freer than you are."

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