Khama Worthy was at rapper Common’s concert in Pittsburgh the Sunday before UFC 241. Worthy, who was coming off a knockout win in late July, was enjoying himself. Fighting wasn’t on his mind at all.
But 12 hours later, it would be.
Early Monday morning, he received the most important call of his life. The UFC wanted Worthy to step up on five days’ notice to fight Devonte Smith at UFC 241, one of the biggest pay-per-view cards of the year so far, in Anaheim.
Worthy hesitated at first. He didn’t know if it felt right, he said. Truthfully, he didn’t feel like cutting weight in so little time, Worthy admitted. He was 175 pounds — 19 over the lightweight limit — when he got the call. But his manager told him opportunities like this don’t come around every day. Worthy agreed, and said yes. He’d take it.
“I wouldn’t do it for a local circuit fight,” Worthy told Bloody Elbow. “It just wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t like short notice fights. I like to prepare. I’m a real big strategy type fighter.”
Oddsmakers marked him as high as a 7-1 underdog against Smith, a top prospect at 155 pounds; few gave him a shot at making the fight competitive, never mind winning.
But two weeks ago at UFC 241, Worthy rose to the occasion and then some. He knocked out Smith, whom he has trained with in the past and considers a friend, in the first round, scoring one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.
Worthy didn’t spend much time soaking in his massive win, which earned him a $50,000 performance bonus. Less than a week later, it was back to his normal life: taking his kids to daycare, teaching kids classes at The Academy: Pittsburgh MMA & Fitness.
“My wrestling coach told me, ‘No bullsh-t. Right back to training. Don’t dick around. Don’t get comfortable. Now it gets 10 times harder, because people are coming for you,’” Worthy said. “It’s right back to training. It’s just right back to the regular routine.”
Though the win still feels surreal, Worthy said it’s important not to get caught up in the moment too much. After all, this is only the beginning of the journey for him. He can’t relax now.
“A whole bunch of people make it to the UFC, then they get cut or they lose,” Worthy said. “It’s crazy, but I still have to focus. I can’t just live for that moment, because that moment is gone already, and new moments will happen. I have to earn them.”
Worthy was put in a bizarre situation ahead of his Octagon debut. He had so little time to prepare for the biggest fight of his life, the fight that, in a perfect world, he would want the most amount of time to prepare for. Plus, he had his weight cut to think about, too.
“I didn’t prepare at all,” Worthy said. “I just cut weight. I hit pads with my coach three times. My friend Kirk, he came out to see me fight. I grappled with him, he’s on my grappling team. I got one five-minute round with him. And I shadowboxed. I got into the sauna and did my mental preparation and stuff like that, but besides that, I couldn’t really prepare for anything else.”
There were two things that helped Worthy make up for the fight being on short notice. First, he has trained with Smith in the past. He said he’s especially familiar with Smith’s “power-dominant” style of fighting.
But even more important than that was the fact that Worthy had just fought three weeks prior to UFC 241. He said he didn’t have to do much mental preparation — which he considers the toughest part of fighting — for the Smith fight, because he was already dialed in. He said it usually takes him the first three weeks of a camp to get focused on the fight in front of him.
“My body wasn’t at 100 percent, but my body was already dialed in,” Worthy said. “It was easy for me to get the muscles back to firing where they were three weeks ago.”
Worthy proved a lot of people wrong earlier this month. That made the win that much more satisfying, he said.
“That’s been my entire fight career,” Worthy said. “When I told people I was gonna be a fighter, people were like, ‘Dude, you’re gonna get wrecked. This scary dude is gonna wreck you.’ My entire career I’ve been told, ‘You might not wanna do this.’ I’m like, ‘Yo, I’m doing this because it’s my passion. I’m gonna show you I’m gonna be able to do my passion and be successful at it.’”