Q&A: Patrick Cummins talks coffee, Cormier, mentors and pancakes

Light-heavyweight contender Patrick Cummins returns to the Octagon this Saturday (July 22) in a fight against Gian Villante at UFC on Fox 25. Last time out, in April, the 36-year-old from Doylestown, Pennsylvania eked out a majority-decision victory over Jan Błachowicz, taking his professional MMA record to 9-4.

Here, ahead of his fight with Villante, the talented wrestler tells Fighters Only’s Tony Reid about the day he got the call-up to fight Daniel Cormier in the UFC, all the while working a long shift at his local coffee shop. He quit his job, took the call, and the rest, as they say, is history.

 


 

Q: You got your start in MMA in Rio de Janeiro Brazil as a part of the EA Sports MMA Fighter Exchange. Can you talk about that experience?

Pat Cummins: It was probably the best way to get into MMA. I had been toying with the idea of getting into MMA. At the time I was on the national team and I was getting ready to go over to Russia for a tour. I just got the plane in Colorado Springs and my manger called and told me he got a really good deal for me. He went into all the specifics. EA Sports and Sherdog got together and sponsored a fighter exchange. They paired us each up with a more experienced fighter and we would train with them and get ready for a fight in Strikeforce. There were four guys that ended up doing it.

Our trip was to Brazil. We trained at every major gym in Rio. It was an awesome experience. We saw the country and got to train with so many great fighters. It was a great crash course in BJJ. I didn’t have any technique other than basic wrestling. It was an experience. Pedro Rizzo was there. Jose Aldo was trying to leg-lock me the whole time. All the little guys were picking on the big guys. Renan Barao was there, too. It was awesome.

Q: You were born in Pennsylvania, went to Penn State University and became an All-American wrestler two times over. What is your fondest memory of your time spent wrestling at PSU?

Patrick Cummins: When I went into school, I walked on. I wasn’t that good coming out of high school. I remember one of my first open tournaments I did as a redshirt freshman I wrestled a guy named Tommy Rowlands. I didn’t know this at the time, because I wasn’t educated in wrestling, but he was the number one recruit in the country at the time. I went out there and went after him like I would anybody else. Man, it must have looked ridiculous. He tossed me around. I scored some points on him but he beat me by 14 points.

I had never been beaten like that before and it lit a fire underneath me. It took me four years… we battled a couple times a year and each time I would get a little closer to him. He was majoring me, then he was beating me by four points, then he was beating me by two points and, finally, I put it on him a few times. More than any placing in NCAAs, it was that memory that I looked at as a crowning one. I never felt like that after a win. I’m not a big celebrator but, after that win, I had never experienced joy in wrestling like that. It was awesome.

Q: Now to the topic you have been asked about a few thousand times by now… can you walk us through the crazy night – the shift at the coffee shop – when you got the call to step in to fight Daniel Cormier?

Patrick Cummins: I remember my manager texting me a picture of the headline from one of the websites saying that Rashad (Evans) was injured and that there was now no opponent for Cormier. I texted him back and said I would take that fight. He said, “Okay, let’s see what we can do.”

I sent a few tweets out and it made some noise, but nothing major. Overnight, I was going to work my shift at the coffee shop. The shift started at 3:30 am and it was 9:00 pm as I was doing this. I think I gained 20 Twitter followers, so I was excited.

I ended up going to sleep and then got up for my shift and little did I know the info was somehow getting to the right people. My shift was over at 9:00 pm and, at about 8:30 pm, my phone was ringing in my pocket like crazy. I would peek at it and I see that it’s my manager calling me. I figured I would call him in half an hour when I got off. My boss was standing next to me the whole time, so I was trying to be on my best behavior. I had no idea what was going on.

Then the phone in the shop rings and my boss comes over and says it’s for me. The phone call gets disconnected, so I asked my manager if I could step out and take a call. I figured this was an emergency. She said, “Okay”.

I called him and he said this fight could actually happen. He said he was coming down there and that he wanted to put me on the phone with somebody. I said that it could wait a half hour, but he insisted. He stormed into the coffee shop in his pajamas. I was like, “What are you doing?”

He starts barking orders and my boss told him to get out of there. I was working at the drive-thru window and, as I handed someone a coffee in the car, he was on the other side of the car and started yelling, asking if I wanted to take the fight. I said “yes” and he said I had to get out there and get on the phone.

I had no idea who I was talking to on the phone, but I told my boss I had to take the call and she told me to clock out and told me to get out of there; that I was done. I didn’t know what to say, but I got fired! I grabbed the phone outside, said “hello” and it was Dana White. He asked if I could go sell this fight and I told him I absolutely could. I got off the phone and I can’t even describe the emotion. It was crazy.

Q: Given the work shift would have started as just another ho-hum day, I can’t even imagine the emotions you were feeling.

Patrick Cummins: Yeah. I just clocked out and told my manager I could leave. I told him I was going to ride my bike home. I love riding bikes and I have ridden in so many awesome places in mountains and all over the place.

I can tell you that 20-minute bike ride home was the greatest bike ride of my life! Four years of work was finally paying off. I just remember thinking that if there was ever a time to shine it was now. I really believed I could go in there and get the job done. I still believe I would win that fight. The circumstances were a bit tough and things didn’t go exactly as planned but there are a few things we can take from it going forward.

Q: The idea was to sell the fight via stories and quotes from your time together with DC in the mat room. Looking back now, what are your thoughts on the way it was received by the public and the MMA community?

Patrick Cummins: I gained a lot of haters from it. They would say I couldn’t back up all the crap I talked. The only reason I got that fight is because there is history between us and I agreed to go in there and sell the fight. I don’t think it ever happened where a star drops out of a main event fight and an unknown guy comes in. I think it was a great opportunity for people to see who I am and to gain some kind of media presence. It was a good thing.

I think the loss was only a minor setback and, after a few more fights, I can be right back in that situation fighting again. I’m just excited I have a new job and don’t have to sling coffee anymore. I can actually get paid for something I feel like I am meant to do. Getting your foot in the door is the most important thing and all I want to do is win now that I’m here.

Q: Before getting the big break it was reported that up to 40 fighters turned down fights with you and that it was becoming very difficult to get a fight outside the UFC.

Patrick Cummins: Between fighters and promoters and people we talked to we had 20 people tell us they didn’t want to take the risk of fighting me at the time. A few guys would agree to fight and then get hurt. My fight before the UFC debut I was scheduled to fight a guy and he backed out last minute. He said he hurt his leg and then he sent a picture of his leg with a bruise on his shin. I was like, “Okay.” If you don’t want to fight, then don’t fight.

My manager had the foresight to actually schedule a back-up fighter, so I fought the back-up and it worked out fine. My whole family flew out to see the fight. They were excited that I actually had a fight. It was a year before that since I had a fight. We just started running through names and organizations and we had upwards of 40 guys just flat turn down the fight. It was so frustrating. I come from a wrestling background where you weigh in, sign up, look at the bracket and go wrestle whoever is across from you. It got to a point where I couldn’t support myself anymore.

When I got the big break with the UFC, it was perfect timing. I was really starting to question what I was doing with my life. At one point I remember looking at myself in the reflection of somebody’s car window when I was at the drive-thru at work. I thought, I’m 30 years old with a college degree. What am I doing? What’s wrong with me? Go get a job and move on with your life. But I basically decided to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even when you think you mentally and physically can’t do it anymore, there is always something that can carry you and get you there.

Q: You list your college ceramics professor as your hero. What makes him such an influential person to you?

Patrick Cummins: Chris Staley. That’s the guy I want to be. He is the coolest guy ever. He helped me in so many ways. He was my ceramics professor but he was so interested in every aspect of my life.

I think it’s rare for a professor to really be interested in your life. They don’t want anything taking away from their time. They think you are there to learn from them and that’s it.

He was amazing. He told me how he used to wrestle in high school. He thought it was such a great balance that I had going. I could be frustrated in the mat room but come into the studio and do artwork and forget about all that other stuff. It worked so well and he was the first professor that acknowledged that. He told me how great of a thing I had going.

The funniest memory was of us arm wrestling in class. He is an amazing guy and an amazing artist. He is really well-known but as humble as they come. He’s still giving back though teaching and the ceramics program at Penn State is one of the best in the country and he is the reason why.

Q: I see that you are a big pancake enthusiast. What is it about pancakes you love so much?

Patrick Cummins: I think it’s more a love of carbs. I take pride in my pancake recipes. I keep it really healthy. I don’t know what the cost per pancake is but the recipe I’m doing right now has chia seeds, flax seeds, couscous, whole wheat flour and every expensive ingredient you can possibly buy at Whole Foods. They are so good for you. I love it.

I enjoy baking and it reminds me of baking. When you get that perfect rise on your pancakes and they are nice and fluffy and have some consistency to them… my buddy and I were asking each other, if we got executed, what would our last meal be? I would have to go with pancakes all day.