Bellator middleweight Christian Echols has detailed the immense adversity he pushed through to reach a memorable moment inside the cage on December 9.
2022 saw its fair share of contenders for mixed martial arts’ upset of the year. Among them is Leon Edwards’ fifth-round knockout of Kamaru Usman to win the UFC welterweight title and Larissa Pacheco’s defeat of the previously unbeaten Kayla Harrison at the PFL World Championship.
But how about the Bellator debut of Echols?
Earlier this month, “The Vanilla Gorilla” entered the cage to face promising prospect Pat Downey at Bellator 289. At -1500, to say the odds favored the elite wrestler would be an understatement.
In just 147 seconds, though, Downey was rendered unconscious and the odds rendered redundant.
In many cases, and perhaps even most, a fight career comes with a story behind it that tells a tale of overcoming odds, loss, and adversity. Of course, some boast a background more eyebrow-raising than others.
From Prison Bars To Bellator Steel: Echols’ Journey
During an interview with 1819 News, based in his native Alabama, Christian Echols broke down the obstacles he vaulted en route to a career in mixed martial arts and a place among some of the sport’s most notable names in the upset of the year discussion.
Similar to a number of prominent fighters, including the likes of Jared Gordon and Terrance McKinney, Echols was plagued by drug addiction — something that landed him behind bars and almost dead.
“I went through a drug addiction for a little while,” Echols said. “I went to jail. They always say, whenever you tell your story, you’re never going to tell it the same twice. You always miss out on little things. I like to sit down and tell (people) what I went through, what I did, and how I came through it. It shows what people can kind of expect as they’re going through it.”
Echols’ issues began when he suffered a broken ankle during an amateur fight. After having the bone surgically repaired, the 24-year-old became attached to the medication prescribed to him.
When the pharmacy was removed as a legitimate source for him to acquire the drugs, Echols turned to the streets.
“The doctor (prescribed) me Percocet,” Echols recounted. “I was a good kid. Sure, I was a little rough. I’m not going to say a bully, but I was definitely a meaner guy. I wasn’t into drugs. I drank with my friends at parties. I ended up taking the whole bottle before my next checkup.
“When I went in there, I was like, ‘Hey, I’m out of these.’ At that point, I was already having withdrawals. They refilled them. I got my refill and took all of those,” Echols added. “And from there, once they didn’t refill the next one, I had moved on to finding people to buy them (from) on the street.”
Echols went on to describe the dangers of purchasing pills from street dealers, evidenced by an accident at the wheel that left him hospitalized and jailed.
“If you’re buying things on the street, obviously, they could be pressed with anything, or they could be real pills, you never know,” Echols said. “I got sold a Fentanyl pressed pill. It was a painkiller. I took the same amount I usually would. I took a half a pill, which I usually would have taken, and would take the other half a pill later. Well, I took the half of pill, and that one was pressed with Fentanyl. It made me pass out at the wheel when I was driving down the road within about 10 minutes. I woke up and was in the back of an ambulance.
“My dad came in there. I could tell by his face he had just given up on me. He had heard that I was doing something before. He tried to talk to me. I didn’t listen to him. At that point, he had just given up,” Echols continued. “I was like, ‘Dad, I’m sorry. I’ll never take drugs ever again.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that before. Hope you get some help.’”
For many, martial arts provides the saving grace for escaping a troubled life. Leon Edwards, for example, credits joining a gym for taking him off the streets and resurrecting his trajectory.
But in Echols’ case, the source of his resurrection was more personal.
“After I overdosed, just seeing my dad,” Echols said. “You know how it is, growing up, you think your dad is like Superman. Anytime they’re disappointed in you, that hits hard, really hard. Seeing him sitting there crying in my hospital bed and looking at me like I was a failure, that was just something that hit me in the heart. I said I’d never do it again. I think that’s what did it. My dad didn’t give up on me, but he was done being my helper. He was done trying to talk me out of it.”
After two months in prison, Echols went about turning his life around at a sober living facility, which he credited for helping him ‘learn how to be me again’. He later began training at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu Decatur, and while his professional career opened with two losses, he leveled his record with victories in February and August of 2022.
That’s when he got the call.
“Some lady named Jane said, ‘Hey, this is Jane from Bellator MMA. Would you like to fight December 9?’” Echols noted. “I was like, ‘This is fake. Get out of here.’ Sure enough, I started talking to them. They gave me their number, offered me the fight, sent me a contract.”
The rest is history, as they say.
Having shocked the MMA community by stalling the surge of former All-American wrestler Downey, Echols will hope to have stolen the 30-year-old’s hype for himself — something he’ll look to utilize in 2023.
What do you make of Christian Echols’ journey to Bellator 289?
All quotes via 1819 News.