What should have been the biggest fight of Will Chope’s life was taken away from him at a few hours notice when his UFC Fight Night 38 bout was pulled from the card following revelations about an incident which occurred when the American featherweight was serving with the US Air Force.
Court documents which were dug up and published the day before the scheduled bout with Diego Brandao detailed how Chope had repeatedly assaulted his then wife in 2009 and received a sentence of five months confinement and a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force.
According to the court documents, Chope hit her with a knife handle and attempted to smother her with a pillow or blanket during a dispute over a credit card. Despite having previously declared the conviction to the UFC and served his sentence, the 23-year-old was immediately taken off the UFC Fight Night 38 card and cut from the organization when the story broke.
Chope, who has since remarried, is currently in Florida visiting his ex-wife and their daughter in a trip which he had always intended to make after his fight in Brazil. The two of them had the following to say about the original incident which led to him being dismissed from the Air Force, and the timing of the recent reports about it.
Chope’s ex-wife, Ashley, made it clear that her ex-husband never did her any serious harm during the incident depicted in the court documents.
“I was never put in the hospital and I’m not trying to downgrade the seriousness of the situation because it was a really tumultuous time for both of us, but I wasn’t seriously hurt,” she said in a video posted jointly with the former UFC fighter. “I had a couple of bruises and a couple of scrapes, but it wasn’t something that was physically traumatic. It was more emotionally painful than physically painful.”
She said that the description laid out in the court documents does not reflect what actually happened in 2009.
“With the Air Force documents, we didn’t get too see them until after we went to court,” she explained. “They were mailed to me and when me and Will were going over our copies of our original statements and comparing them to the Air Force documents, they are completely different. It wasn’t similar to my testimony or Will’s.”
According to Chope, he was faced with a choice between pleading guilty and accepting a five-month sentence or contesting the charges and running the risk of being imprisoned for much longer and chose the former option.
“They had all these different things that they wanted to say I did, and a lot of that was extremely exaggerated and some if it wasn’t even true,” Chope said. “If I argued one of the details, if I said ‘I did this but I didn’t do this’ to try and get a lesser sentence, the prosecutor could fight much harder and try and give me a longer sentence. We made a deal that I would plead guilty and in return the trial would be shortened and I would serve only five months in jail because if I fought against them there was a very good chance I would get a one- to two-year sentence, so I took the deal.”
Chope also reiterated that he had made the UFC aware of the court case and subsequent sentence when he was first signed and that at the time it hadn’t been seen as an issue.
“I didn’t plead guilty to a felony and I wasn’t convicted of a felony,” he said. “The crime is classified as simple assault. It’s a misdemeanor and I put that on my UFC contract and my application.”
Ashley said that seeing this story dug up by the MMA media five years later came as a complete surprise.
“They happened five years ago in 2009 and I was really shocked and surprised that this came up again,” she revealed. “We moved past it so long ago and are really good friends now. It really upsets me that all of this is causing so many issues for Will at the moment and I just want us to be able to let it go and move on.”
Chope also wanted to emphasize that this was an episode that they both believed belonged in their past.
“I’m 23 years old. This happened when I was 18 years old. A lot of things have changed since then and I’ve changed a lot,” the fighter explained.
No one can condone a domestic assault, no matter how minor the injuries, and in many respects the UFC’s stance is admirable. The question is whether this same set of standards will be applied consistently across the board as there will inevitably be fighters on the roster, either now or in the future, who have committed more serious offenses than Chope’s.
The UFC paid both Brandao and Chope with the former getting his win bonus and the latter getting the same financial compensation he would have received if he had lost the fight. Given the timing of the articles, which came out less than 24 hours before UFC Fight Night 38, the organization was forced to make a snap call.
Perhaps if there had been an opportunity for Chope’s former wife to talk to UFC officials and clarify exactly what happened, the organization might have softened its stance and allowed the bout with Brandao to go ahead before releasing him if he suffered what would have been a second successive loss, but that is just conjecture.
For the time being Chope is focused on doing what he did to get signed to the UFC in the first place, fighting as frequently as possible on any promotion which will pay him. His UFC purses dwarf the money he was earning previously but there is at least a silver lining to the cloud: he was able to use some of his earnings from the UFC Fight Night 38 non appearance to pay for a trip to Disneyland with his ex-wife and daughter.
You can watch Chope's and his ex-wife's full video statement below.