MMA fighter survived beatings, burnings to reach UFC

Mateusz Masternak was three years old when his parents parted ways, telling him “goodbye forever.” Later he was moved from one foster home to another; the housing crisis hit him particularly hard, and he recalls sleeping on his neighbors’ carpet. When he was 10, he moved out of his mother’s house.

By age 16, Masternak’s mother had disappeared, and the boy bounced from job to job and school to school. On the last day of school, a teacher noticed that Masternak appeared to be addicted to steroids. The teenager was placed in rehab. There, he reconnected with his mother, who was reconnecting with her estranged husband. Despite the fact that the man — who was repeatedly accused of beating Masternak’s mother — blamed her son for his philandering, the girl-turned-mother accepted Masternak back into her family. But instead of caring for Masternak, the man subjected his son to years of beatings, including one night in the backyard where he dunked Masternak in boiling water.

In 2007, with his eyes on fighting, Masternak began training at the Thiago Silva Athletic Center in Mexico. There, he discovered freestyle wrestling, a style of mixed martial arts that relies less on defense and more on striking. “This is the secret, I am not in the Hall of Fame for my wins or losses,” Masternak told The Times. “I am in the Hall of Fame for surviving, for pushing through, for everything I’ve survived.”

Eight years after his first foray into fighting, in 2009, Masternak became a six-time Polish national champion, and a mere four years later he was fighting in the UFC. Earlier this year, he defeated Lyoto Machida, earning the right to face the current UFC light heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier. Following that win, the Poland fighter was chosen to face the current strawweight champion, Carla Esparza, during UFC 227. Esparza defeated Masternak in the second round, unloading a flurry of punches on Masternak’s head and punching him while he was slumped on the mat. Masternak would suffer an injured hand — the hand he put in the UFC ring — but he also had an emotional outburst. In televised interviews, Masternak said he was turning back to his fight training, but the injuries prevented him from doing so. This week, he told the Polish media that he would return to the cage against Esparza “soon.”

“You don’t have a whole lot of time to chase a dream,” Masternak’s coach, Raphael Assuncao, told the Daily Beast. “And that’s what he did. He chased it for 10 years.” Masternak told the Times he now uses his body to “transform pain,” a healthy way to cope with anger. “I hope to become happy,” he said. “I really want to make my mom happy. I think she’s happy, but she wants me to do better, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Read the full story at The Daily Beast.


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