At just 25-years-old Will Chope is already a veteran of 35 pro MMA fights and many more boxing, kickboxing, K-1 and Muay Thai bouts. The American has been living in Asia for the past four years and needs to support himself and his family from fight purses.
That means stepping inside the ring or the cage every few weeks. He’s fought MMA twice in the last three weeks and seven times since the start of the year. Chope has at least three more matches scheduled between now and December and says this is partly down to his passion for the sport and partly down to the pressure which comes from trying to make a living as a fighter,
“I love fighting and I love fighting often. So it's not so bad. Just sometime I get pressure from my wife to be able to make enough so my family has enough for our living, that is the only thing that's really stressful. Especially now me and my wife have a son and we have a daughter on the way.”
Incredibly 2015 will not be Chope’s busiest year. That was when he first moved to Asia and was living and training in Phuket. The American quickly earned a reputation for his willingness to take multiple Muay Thai matches, fighting several times in a week on occasions,
“In 2011 I fought 21 times. Most of the fights that year were Muay Thai or K1 though and I only had a few MMA fights.”
In fact Chope stepped inside the cage on six separate occasions in 2011 which for your average MMA fighter would represent an unusually busy year. With such a crazy competitive schedule young athlete must take more than his fair share of damage but he says the most difficult part is the weight cut,
“The biggest challenge is constantly making weight. I love fighting and I have been lucky to never suffer any crazy injuries. Even when I broke my hand in February this year in Pancrase I fought two months later in April. So definitely weight cuts year round are the worst.”
Fighters fortunate enough to sign with the UFC don’t just secure a spot on the most prestigious platform in all of MMA. They are also guaranteed a decent pay day every time they step inside the Octagon and the financial security that comes from knowing exactly where your next fight is coming from and how much you will be paid for it.
Chope has already worked his way into the UFC once. He won 14 matches in a row between 2012 and 2013 to secure himself a multi fight contract and a spot on the organization’s first ever card in Singapore. He didn’t do too badly on his debut, getting stopped in the second round by Max Holloway in what was a ‘fight of the night’ contender.
Then disaster struck. The day before Chope was set to face Diego Brandao at UFC Fight Night 39 a story was published concerning his dishonorable discharge from the Air Force. The American was unceremoniously cut from the organization and left to pick up the pieces of a career in tatters,
“It sucked in so many ways. My personal life being on display and my past being brought up and thrown in my face and ex-wife's face, along with the financial blow.”
The revelations were disturbing. Chope had been discharged from the Air Force in 2009 after being convicted by a military court of assaulting his ex-wife. His ex-wife actually spoke out in support of him in a video which they released together a few days later but by then the damage had already been done and he found himself a free agent.
It meant Chope was once again looking to find himself fights wherever he could. However he knew it was unlikely he would ever be offered a contract as lucrative as the UFC one he had just lost,
“Over my career I have been paid as little as $100 for a small stadium Muay Thai fight and as much as $15,000 when I was in the UFC.”
Since being cut by the UFC in early 2014 Chope has won eight out of ten MMA fights. He’s gone back to doing exactly what he had been doing since his competitive career began, travelling as far afield as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines to fight.
You’d have to go a long way to find a fighter who had fought in more territories than Chope. He’s had MMA bouts in the US, the Northern Mariana Islands, New Zealand, Thailand and Guam as well as the aforementioned countries. Fans who have seen him in action might not all remember his name, but if you said to them ‘world’s tallest featherweight’ then it would probably ring a few bells.
Chope stands at 6'4" but has spent the majority of his career competing at featherweight and has even had a handful of fights in the bantamweight division. This reach and range certainly gives his opponents something to think about but he is adamant that his success has been down to skill rather than size,
“Being tall is awesome and for sure is an advantage in a lot of aspects, but it still takes a ton of training to do what I do. And most of my wins are by submission, which is not due to my height. I have literally dedicated my life to training and fighting since 2010 and I would say that is the reason for my success.”
There are a few basic rules to forging a successful MMA career and Chope has broken nearly all of them. He never turns down a fight and will face absolutely any opponent if it means a payday, regardless of the suitability of the matchup.
“I started training in 2010 and after one month I made my pro debut, which is not advisable. A lot of people close to me didn't understand what I was doing and thought I was delusional. Hell maybe I was but I just didn't want to quit and kept training and trying to book fights. After a while things started to get better and I started winning more.”
He lost three of his first four MMA fights but is now the owner of a very respectable 27-8 record. He’s beaten BJJ black belts and former champions from organizations like King of the Cage, Pancrase and the URCC. Chope also holds win over a lot of less experienced opponents but it’s all about the payday and he doesn’t pick and choose.
It’s a spirit which some of the early MMA pioneers might approve of and Chope says he actually became interested in the sport due to a family connection to one of them,
“I got into MMA through my Dad who went to the same high school as Ken Shamrock, he sparked my interest in the sport. When the very first UFC was broadcast we watched it together and I became a super fan of MMA but it wasn't until I lived on the island Guam and saw my first live event that I really thought I could fight.”
Chope’s career has clearly had its ups and downs and it takes a special kind of character to move to a completely new continent and then start fighting every other week. Not everyone is willing to make the sort of sacrifices required to compete so frequently but for those that want to make a living out of MMA in Asia he has the following advice,
“I would tell people not to be scared of fighting and also to start in China. There are a lot of fights in China and a lot of money to be made there. If you really want to fight often and make decent money right of the bat, that is the best place to start. I wish I would have known that in the beginning!”
So what’s next in store for Chope? He has an MMA bout booked in China for October 17th, another one set for Australia on October 31st and then he’s been promised a URCC title shot in December. In total he expects to fight a total of 14 times in 2015. For the busiest man in Asian MMA that represents a fairly regular year.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.