Six years ago, Matthew Lopez was broke and desperate.
He was 24, living with a former college roommate in Southern California. They were being evicted, though, and Lopez had nowhere to go. His weekly income was $50, which he earned from teaching a handful of private youth wrestling lessons.
So, for several days after the eviction, Lopez, who now fights in the UFC, remained in the residence as a squatter. It was one of the lowest points of his life.
“I was flat broke,” Lopez told ESPN.com. “My roommate would take me to Taco Bell every morning and I would buy two $1 burritos. I’d eat one for lunch and one for dinner.
“When we ended up getting evicted, I stayed in the house for days with no electricity or water. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. That was low, low, low. You feel like, less than a man, you know? I didn’t have anything to my name. I had an ice chest full of pictures and some clothes.”
As crazy as this might sound, Lopez (9-1), who faces bantamweight Johnny Eduardo at UFC 212 this weekend in Rio de Janeiro, sort of chose to live in poverty. Or at least, he chose a path in which temporary poverty was a very real possibility.
Lopez, 30, wrestled at Arizona State University and Cal State Fullerton. His collegiate wrestling career ended in 2008, but he did not immediately transition to MMA.
He says he continued to live a “college” lifestyle, putting more thought into what he was doing that night than what he was doing with his life.
Around 2011, he took a summer job at a copper mine in Arizona — and that’s where his whole mindset changed.
“Basically, my job was to stand in these long, clay fields and lay hundreds of yards of pipe that a chemical would run through and drip into the ground,” Lopez said.
“One day, we were out there, and there was this guy who was like 55 years old, doing this work. And it’s not backbreaking work, but it’s not easy. And I just said, ‘I don’t want to be that guy.’ I went home that day, sat on my couch and said, ‘F— it. I’m out of here.’ I put all my eggs in one basket, moved to California and started training full time.”