It took Chad George two and a half years to rediscover his passion of competing in mixed martial arts.
The WEC bantamweight veteran stepped away from the sport in April 2015 after a submission win at Bellator 136. At the time, he was in a “toxic” relationship (which has since come to an end), he had just opened up a gym, and, ultimately, he simply did not want to keep active in the MMA scene. He lost the drive to fight on a competitive level.
“I got to a point where I had a lot of injuries, I had some life things that were going on, and I needed some time to step away and really figure out what it was that I wanted,” George told BloodyElbow.com. “I figured I [was] at a time where I really didn’t have anything left to prove in the sport, and I really became just uninterested in fighting anymore. The passion wasn’t there, and my passion grew into other things.”
That’s when he found jiu-jitsu. Well, he actually first started grappling more than a decade ago. But he started training in jiu-jitsu to compete on a professional level shortly after his last MMA bout. He had his first professional jiu-jitsu match at Eddie Bravo Invitational (EBI) 7 in July 2016. He made it to the quarterfinals of the featherweight tournament, where he fell to eventual winner and EBI champion Eddie Cummings.
Competing in tons of grappling matches and tournaments — including Combat Jiu-Jitsu (CJJ) Worlds, at which he won the inaugural bantamweight title in November — lit a fire under George that had not been burning for years. His passion to compete returned. George said that jiu-jitsu “validated that I wasn’t done yet.
“It got me excited about training, and as the level of the competition grew for jiu-jitsu, my desire to want to actually compete again in MMA kept getting bigger and bigger,” George said. “The monotony of training was gone; I was passionate about getting into the gym, improving every single day, and every day becoming one step closer to fighting these guys.”
George said that from the beginning of the retirement, he always would say he’d never return to MMA. But in hindsight, he thinks he was just trying to convince himself that he didn’t want to compete in a cage again — and it clearly didn’t work. As his entire team predicted, he said, George couldn’t stay away from MMA. After nearly three years out of the cage, George is set to return to action at Bellator 192 against James Barnes on Jan. 20 in Los Angeles.
The turning point, George explained, was when he was preparing for his first CJJ match back in March 2017. Leading up to it, George realized a training camp for CJJ, which uses EBI rules but also includes palm strikes on the ground, is quite similar to a camp for MMA. Having been through multiple training camps for CJJ has made preparations for his MMA return this Saturday that much easier.
George might have lost his passion to compete in MMA three years ago, but he always stayed in shape at his gym, California Martial Arts in Gardena. He spent his time off improving each and every day, he said, “investigating and studying the arts.”
“I’ve been planning this for a while — and when I say ‘planning it,’ the concept of it has always been there,” George said. “I never stopped training MMA. I’ve been continuously training every level of it since I retired from it. I’ve had guys in the UFC, I’ve had guys in Bellator, so it’s not like I’ve been away from it. I’ve been in the gym grinding, just not with the weight on my shoulder of, ‘Well, what’s the next thing that’s gonna happen? Where are you gonna fight? When are you gonna be fighting for a title? When are you gonna be in the UFC? When are you gonna do this, when are you gonna do that?’”
George was initially supposed to return to MMA last August at a Tachi Palace Fights event in California. His scheduled opponent, Alex Perez, was removed from the card last minute due to an offer from Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Perez won his fight on the show and was signed to the UFC, and he is now 1-0 in the promotion; he picked up a submission win in his debut last month.
George said that in hindsight, he’s glad the Tachi Palace fight fell apart, because he always wanted to make his return on a Bellator card — a much larger stage. He wasn’t thrilled about the bout cancellation at first, of course, but everything worked out for the better, he said.
George’s return on Saturday at Bellator 192 is a much different fight than any of his previous outings. He said he feels less pressure going into this fight than any other fight before, because he is only coming back for himself. He isn’t fighting again to prove to the world that he can still hang in there with elite talent. He isn’t fighting again to show that he can still be a champion. George, 35, is fighting again, because, well ... he loves to fight.
“I think that the times prior to (jiu-jitsu), it was a different me — a different me mentally, a different me that was fighting for different reasons,” George said. “Now, the reason that I fight is because I truly want to test myself. It has nothing to do with me wanting to fight to be better than the person in front of me, me trying to prove anything to the world. The me now is so much more evolved than the one that was fighting previously. Before I had all these things that I had to learn about. Now, I get to test myself. Now, I just want to be the best version of me possible.
“I don’t have to fight anymore. I’ve been doing this thing for so long. I have my school, I have other ways of revenue. It’s not about the money anymore. It’s not about me trying to prove anything. I’m doing this genuinely — now for the first time in I don’t even know how long — because I just want to fight, and that is such an amazing feeling to me.”
George only signed a one-fight contract with Bellator, but he isn’t worried about not having a long-term deal just yet. Heading into Bellator 192, he has very few expectations — he expects to win, but he has no idea what will come afterwards. He doesn’t even know for sure he’ll return to jiu-jitsu competition.
“I’m truly just fascinated with going into this one fight with no expectations past that,” he said. “I just want to fight. I want to have the best performance that I can have, and go out there and have fun doing it.
“Whether I fight again, whether I fight 20 more times, or I don’t — I’m not even putting any thought into that. Right now, all of my attention goes to Jan. 20. We’ll figure out what we’re gonna do after that based off how I feel after the fight. Maybe I get into a complete dog fight, and I need a couple months to just even recover before I think about it. Or maybe the excitement of it goes, ‘Yeah, let’s sign a deal.’ I have no idea. Me dwelling on what’s gonna happen next is kinda irrelevant when we have a job to do (on Jan. 20).”