Local UFC fighter talks about past as he prepares for future

Vinc Pichel, a professional fighter who trains in Valencia, will return to the UFC on June 10. Courtesy photo

Even though he goes by the nickname of Vinc “From Hell” Pichel, the professional fighter says he feels blessed to be where he is now.

After a three-year hiatus filled with injury and emotional turmoil, Pichel, who trains at Peterson Grapplers in Valencia, has returned to continue his career with the UFC.

On June 10, he’ll take on Damien Brown in New Zealand at UFC Fight Night 110.

“My manager called me and was like, ‘Hey, June 10. New Zealand. Do you want to fight?’ I said, ‘F— yes.’ I didn’t check the guy out or anything, I was like, ‘Yes, give me the fight,’” Pichel, a Simi Valley resident, said.

“I’ve watched my life fall apart for so long in these last few years that it feels so good and it’s so uplifting to see things finally come back into place for me.”

Raised by wolves

Pichel, 34, has been labeled as a man “raised by wolves,” a sentiment backed up by a life riddled with economic disadvantage, homelessness and drugs among other obstacles.

He got into his first fight at 8 years old. A boy at his apartment complex pushed Pichel’s brother off his bike, then tried to take the bike from him.

Vinc pounced on the assailant and pounded him until tears came.

When the moment came to explain the situation to his mom, Pichel got an unexpected response.

“She was like … It’s not OK just to fight, but if you’re protecting someone, your family, friends, someone you care about or someone who needs help, then by all means … do it,” Pichel said. “That was a huge lesson for me and something that I still live by now: You fight for your own.”

For one reason or another, the fights continued throughout his childhood.

“I got picked on a lot,” Pichel said. “Someone would say something to me. I wouldn’t say anything back. I would just swing because to me, the way I grew up is, I don’t have anything to say to you.”

Pichel was expelled from multiple schools because of his behavior, a trend that began in elementary school and continued into high school. He didn’t graduate (he earned his diploma in 2011).

From age 15 to 20, he even struggled to find a place to live and dabbled in drugs, with acid being the hallucinogenic of choice.

“I lived with friends for a couple years here and there, and I was doing drugs, too, so I was all over the place,” he said. “My mom kicked me out because I was a f— up. Honestly, I wasn’t doing too well. I was getting in trouble a lot.”

But when a friend introduced him to mixed martial arts, Pichel began to straighten out.

And, go figure, he was good at the sport, too.

After just a few months of training, Pichel showed up at Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy, a now-defunct MMA gym in Santa Clarita, to try out for the fight team. That’s when Brian Peterson met Pichel.

Peterson, who now coaches Pichel at Peterson Grapplers, didn’t think much of the inexperienced fighter.

“It was kind of like, don’t waste my time,” Peterson said of his first encounter with Pichel. “It just doesn’t make sense. At that point, it’s like, you’re not serious.”

Undeterred, Pichel arrived at his tryout a week later to disprove Peterson’s first impressions. He pushed through the hours-long regiment, all the way to the intense conditioning that ends the session.

“I just remember him doing pushups. I was going around trying to get into the heads of these guys,” Peterson said. “I just remember him doing pushups. He was still going and I was like, usually somebody without training is going to give up at this point. There’s no way they’re going to continue to push through.”

Pichel’s determination didn’t go unnoticed. It turned out to be the factor that earned him a spot on the team.

The prodigal son

Five years later, Pichel was excelling. He was winning fights and training hard, but at a cost. He found that it was weighing down his personal life.

At a party, his best friend Curtis convinced him to keep fighting. It was an important conversation, and also the last one he would ever have with Curtis.

Curtis died of asphyxiation that night, according to Pichel.

Once again Pichel considered giving up fighting, but decided to continue training as a means of coping with the loss of his friend.

Soon after, he had the opportunity to try out for “The Ultimate Fighter,” a reality show in which MMA fighters compete with one another for a contract with the UFC.

“I’m like, no way,” he said. “I kind of got teary-eyed and then I was like, f—ing Curtis. He did this for me.”

Vinc Pichel stands with coach Brian Peterson at Peterson Grapplers in Valencia. Courtesy photo

Pichel made the cut for the show and even though he was eliminated in the semifinals, he was offered a contract to fight in the UFC. He abandoned Big John’s in favor of Alliance, a gym in San Diego known for churning out talented fighters.

“They invited me like, ‘Hey come train with us,’ and I was like, starstruck,” Pichel said. “I just got off the show, I was like, ‘Damn, they want me to train with them. Like that’s sick, I’m going to do it.’”

The training went well at first, but a falling out with a coach at Alliance caused him to leave the gym and prepare for his upcoming fight against Rustam Khabilov on his own.

He was knocked out in the first round of that 2012 fight.

“He got a lot of good training in (at Alliance), hard training with high-level guys,” Peterson said. “And he came back for his fight and he lost. He lost his first fight in the UFC. And then he came back after that. He apologized to me. He said, ‘Hey look, I’m sorry.’”

It was both Pichel’s first UFC fight and his first UFC loss. The experience made him seriously reconsider his choice to become a professional fighter.

“I cried,” he said. “It really hurt me in that I had never felt so crushed in my life, and I was kind of disappointed in myself for allowing me to be so blinded and not keep myself humble and smarter to the situation that I was in.”

Fight for your own

Pichel returned to train with Peterson at Peterson Grapplers, since Big John’s had shut down in his absence. After switching gyms, Pichel won his next two UFC fights, beating Garett Whiteley and Anthony Njokuani, both by unanimous decision.

So when it came to start his training for Fight Night 110, it was a natural choice to pick up training with Peterson once again. To fight for his own.

Although he was coming off a severe labrum tear, Pichel assimilated to his training regiment, which began this past March, with ease.

Peterson said that it was only two weeks into training that he knew Pichel was ready to fight again.

“I think the only thing holding him back is time,” he said. “…He’s taken a lot of time off because of his injuries, so if he hadn’t taken the time off, maybe he would be more of a master.

“He’s got a knack for it. That’s why he reached such a high level in a short amount of time.”

Pichel’s fight, which will take place at Spark Arena in Auckland, will air on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. on June 10.

He is 9-1-0 in professional fighting.

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