During Dave Courchaine‘s professional MMA debut, he took his opponent into a bear hug and was planning to his next move to get him to the ground.
Then he and the crowd at the 2008 “Strikeforce at the Dome” in Tacoma, Wash., got a big surprise. The power went out.
“I thought I got knocked out,” Courchaine told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “It was pitch black. They turned on two floodlights, and I said, ‘Are we really gonna finish the fight like this?’ It was so hard to see.”
The fight did finish, and Courchaine suffered a knockout loss, part of an 0-2 start to his pro career that made him question whether it was worth taking the time away from his roofing company and his family to train. But he continued.
Courchaine heads into a June 14 matchup with Luis Santos (56-9-1) at XFC 24 at 15-5 with an eight-fight win streak, including three wins in consecutive months from January to March. The 30-year-old welterweight will fly cross country from his home in Washington to Tampa, Fla., to try to build on his streak and boost his resume.
His hard work toward those goals began when he was barely 12 and working for the family’s construction company. It continued during his standout high school wrestling career and even with some unintentional preparation while working on roofs.
Courchaine credits his brother’s constant battling growing up (Will Courchaine is a pro MMA heavyweight), his wrestling coach’s drive for preparation and the untimely death of a sister as he was entering high school for motivating him during his career. It’s a career he hopes will take another jump soon.
“Never count me out, because I just have an extra gear,” he said. “I don’t know exactly where it comes from, but I’m definitely never giving up.”
Work like a man
Courchaine was born in California, but when he was about 12 his family moved to Cheney, Wash., a smaller college town that is home to Eastern Washington University. They lived on a farm, and his father ran a construction company, which is where Courchaine and his brother worked during their free time.
They also had 300 head of cattle to feed on the farm and other tasks.
“If it was a break, we were working,” Courchaine said. “Other kids said, ‘Great, it’s Christmas break,” but we would say, ‘Oh no, it’s Christmas break.’”
The family’s mantra was, “If you work like a man, you can act like a man.” That meant extra responsibility, but also extra freedom. So, while going to video stores to pick up R-rated movies because that was allowed as a reward for their work, the Courchaine brothers also discovered UFC videos, which they happily watched with their father.
It also encouraged their own battling with each other, which happened often.
“We were doing jiu-jitsu before we even knew what it was,” he said.
Courchaine progressed to a state championship high school wrestling career, but it came after a tragedy. His sister, who was 22, died from an aneurysm when he was heading into high school. Distraught, he needed a distraction – so he entered wrestling and excelled.
As he increased his skill and his toughness, Courchaine also constructed a take-you-on attitude that would later help his career.
“If you thought you were bad, I was gonna make you prove it,” he said. “And I wouldn’t quit, I would just keep coming at you.”
Building a career
Courchaine set up his first amateur MMA fight because of that attitude. He attended a show when he was 19, and he ended up sharing words with Dennis Hallman, a longtime MMA pro who is also from Washington. Courchaine challenged him, but Hallman couldn’t fight an amateur, so he sent one of his fighters against Courchaine.
After that, Courchaine rapidly built his amateur career before taking a break when he started a family. When Strikeforce was planning its Tacoma show in 2008, the promotion called Courchaine, and he accepted his first pro fight.
Then the lights went out, and he lost. He also lost his second fight in May 2009, and he wondered if he should continue.
“It was a big gut check,” he said. “I had my family and other things going on, so I didn’t know if I should be doing this.”
A six-fight win streak cured that, and it also caused Courchaine to try to build his skills. That’s why he started training at a boxing gym, even though some of the others snickered that an MMA fighter was trying boxing for the first time.
About six months in, he even took a pro boxing fight. To that point, he had been concerned about meeting an MMA opponent who wanted to stand up and punch. After the boxing match, which was admittedly full of beatings, Courchaine was more confident (and he later went on to earn two pro boxing victories).
Starting in April 2012, Courchaine went on his current eight-fight win streak. During that time, he was working daily at his own roofing company, which involved heavy lifting and actions with a roofing gun that mimic punching.
He has even moved back to his family’s farm, getting closer to his roots to raise his family with his fiancee. He believes that has helped his preparation for his upcoming fight and for his career overall.
“I’m training like I did in high school, just hard work,” he said. “It’s a good feeling, and I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.”
Last week, we told you the story of Andrew Leone‘s rise from the underground New York MMA to an MMA career he started when he left a college wrestling scholarship. He bounced back from a loss to top Geje Eustaquio by unanimous decision at ONE FC 9 on Friday.
Leone is now 6-1 in his last seven fights and 6-2 overall in a pro career that began in June 2010.
Back in June 2011, we talked with flyweight Sean Santella about his first MMA training session, which caused an injury that kept him out 14 weeks, an unreported stroke that didn’t stop him from fighting and the meaningful tattoo he inked as a reminder on his right forearm.
Since our column, Santella has gone 6-1 to boost his record to 13-3. That included a victory on May 13 against Dave Morgan at Cage Fury Fighting Championships 24 in Atlantic City
For the latest on XFC 24, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Award-winning newspaper reporter Kyle Nagel pens “Fight Path” each week. The column focuses on the circumstances that led fighters to a profession in MMA. Know a fighter with an interesting story? Email us at news [at] mmajunkie.com.