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Alone, but not afraid: Jamie Pickett’s rocky upbringing

Pro middleweight Jamie Pickett details what it was like growing up with very little in North Carolina.

Photo credit: Joel Brock

To say that Jamie Pickett had to be independent as a child is an understatement.

Growing up in North Carolina, Pickett’s childhood was not like a typical western childhood. He lived with his grandparents growing up, as his father was in prison and his mom, a drug user, left the family when he was young.

He never had a family to show him how to act or what to do — in other words, he had to learn how to live life by himself. He had no one to teach him, he said.

“All the stuff I know, the knowledge I have, I got it on my own. Everything I learned, I learned by looking,” Pickett told’s The MMA Circus. “If I had a girlfriend, and I was with her family, I would see how her family did things. Because I didn’t really know. I’d see how her dad treated her mom, or how her dad did this and that. I would just watch them. And that’s how I figured out how to act.”

His mom came back for her three kids — Pickett and his two half-brothers — when Pickett was eight, but she wasn’t off drugs. The government eventually got involved, and after a battle in court, Pickett ended up living with his dad’s parents, while his two half-brothers lived with his mom’s parents, beginning at the age of nine or 10, he said. Fortunately for him, he wasn’t too far away from his half-brothers, even after the split.

“[My mom] lied to my grandmother that she was off drugs. That’s why we lived with no electricity,” he said. “When she was still on drugs, she would leave all the time. So my older brothers would try to take care of me. When the government got into it and figured out she was on drugs, they came down and took us away. They tried to put me with my mom’s mom. My brothers, they have the same dad; I have a different dad. So my grandmother — my dad’s mom — wanted me, and she didn’t want me with my mom’s mom. So my grandmother — we all went to court — took me with her. My two brothers stayed with my mom’s mom, not with my dad’s mom.”

Pickett didn’t live a glorious life. He just tried to get by — nothing more. Having enough money for basic necessities was his main priority.

“I was pretty rough when I got older,” he said. “I didn’t care about nothing because nobody taught me much. My thing was how to get money so you could survive, so you could eat the next day. I would buy canned sodas and go to the basketball courts, and fill them for a dollar a piece. That’s all I’d eat. I didn’t have anything.

“My brothers, we grew up together before we got split up. We only had one mattress in front of a kerosene heater and we would sleep together — us three — and we would put our clothes on the mattress and sleep on them. And when we woke up, that’s how we’d iron our clothes — through the night. We didn’t have electricity; the kerosene heater was the only thing to keep us warm during the coldest times of the year.”

Pickett said he spent a lot of time with older people who were bad influences, as they showed him how to life a negative lifestyle. But at the time, he thought that was the right way to live life. He didn’t know any better, he said.

“What they taught me was wrong,” he said. “They were selling drugs and getting into street fights — that’s all I thought. That’s how I thought the world was supposed to be. I didn’t understand that this was not how the world was supposed to be, because I had nobody to show me differently.

“But then, I got older and started being around different people. I went to live with my uncle, and I got around other people, like, suburb kids. And I started catching onto stuff — how they act, how they live. And I’m still learning.”

As someone who mostly grew up alone and with nothing, Pickett paid the price on multiple occasions. But he battled through it all.

“I’ve always been by myself. I have stab wounds. I’ve been jumped a lot,” he said. “People beat me up all the time, because they knew I was by myself. They knew I had money, and they would rob me. So I learned growing up you can’t be around those kind of people and act that kind of way.”

Fast forward two decades, 28-year-old Pickett’s family is more intact than it once was.

“We still hang out and see each other. My mom, I still hang out and talk with her. My dad, he’s out of prison now; I still talk with him,” he said. “I try to leave the past (behind). It still bothers me, but I’m a grown man. There’s nothing to dwell on now. It happened that way, and that’s just how it is.”

Pickett, a 7-2 professional middleweight, said it’s very possible his rocky lifestyle growing up led to his mixed martial arts career.

“I’ve always liked fighting,” he said. “When people would try to pick on us, I’d be the first one to try to fight. And I was the smallest. Once I started doing jiu-jitsu and wrestling and all that stuff, I was like, ‘I’m gonna fight.’ I had my first fight, I won, and ever since then, I’ve been begging for more. I can’t stop. I love it.”

He learned a lot as a child, including lessons he can use today in his fighting career and even everyday life.

Jamie Pickett and his grandmother
Photo via Jamie Pickett

“I used to get mad about stuff and want to stop,” he said. “Even now, if I get tired or feel I can’t do something, my grandmother [says], ‘Quitting is not in your blood. Do not quit. People that quit are the ones on the side of the roads holding signs, “Do you have spare change? I’m hungry.” You’re not a quitter.’ And I’ve had that mindset for a very long time.

“[My grandmother] is the closest thing to me in life. I drive home to help her almost every weekend. And my grandfather, who is sick. My grandmother, a former school teacher and heavy church goer, has been the only reason I didn’t go down a dark path.”

Pickett last fought in November 2016, defeating Rashaun Spencer by unanimous decision at Conflict MMA 42 in North Carolina. He was scheduled to compete at a Bellator MMA card this past weekend, but his bout was scrapped due to “budget” issues, per Pickett. He was also slated to face UFC veteran Gasan Umalatov at Fight Nights Global 65 on Sunday, but flight issues led to the cancellation of his fight.

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