August 28, 2008
UFC lightweight Kurt Pellegrino has everything on the line against Thiago Tavares next week in Atlanta. He doesn't have many options aside from fighting or teaching the sport. At UFC 88, he'll trade leather to ensure his family's survival and UFC future.
Pellegrino is opening a new Brazilian jiu-jitsu school in Belmar, N.J. But if his fight career ends anytime soon, and the business fails, Pellegrino doesn't know how he and his family would survive.
He can barely read and write, and said his math skills are at a third-grade level. He's a product of the wonderful school system in Point Pleasant, N.J. where he was moved along and allowed to graduate because he was a phenomenomal athlete (two-time runner-up in the N.J. state high school wrestling championships).
"I made it one semester at (Gloucester C.C.) and then failed out. I had my professor tell me that he could give me an A but that he wasn't really helping me by doing that. I wanted to teach special ed kids like myself down the road but that wouldn't happen if I didn't learn how to read and write so I told him to fail me."
Pellegrino said that he never worked on his reading, writing or math skills, and that he's limited to reading things like menus. He's channeled that desire to teach, into opening the new gym. The academy is due to open on Sept. 1 while he's in Atlanta.
The New Jersey native is 3-3 in the UFC and the promotion doesn't carry many fighters who are below .500. A loss could mean the end of the road. He's also in the midst of a huge life transition. Pellegrino just moved his wife and daughter back to New Jersey and is living with his in-laws.
"I look at Thiago Tavares and the fight as my new house on the line. I need to win this to get my house. I want the big four bedroom on the river in (Pt. Pleasant, N.J.)."
His losses are far from embarrassing. He was beaten soundly by lightweight title contender Joe Stevenson, but was whipping both Drew Fickett and Nate Diaz before, as he put it, quitting on himself. In both cases, Pellegrino was caught in a submission.
"I gave up in those fights. I didn't even try to move to get out," said Pellegrino.
It's almost shocking to hear Pellegrino say that he quit.
He actually had a hole kicked in face by Alberto Crane and still gutted out that win at Ultimate Fight Night 12. The loss against Diaz at UFN 13 was particularly heartbreaking considering that he may have scored 10-8 victory in the opening round and was cruising in round two. Pellegrino said that he felt like he was walking through quicksand during the fight. As soon as he had a chance to quit - Diaz shocked Pellegrino by slapping on a triangle choke with 2:10 left in the second - the 29-year old tapped instantly.
Pellegrino was wiped out mentally by the loss and spent lots of time with a psychologist where he learned that he needed to stopping placing the blame on others, like his management team, for his failures.
Since then, he also hooked up with the folks at Sityodtong in Boston. He's working with Kenny Florian, Mark DellaGrotte and conditioning coach Kevin Kearns. Florian will be part of his corner in Atlanta.
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