Damion Douglas didn't turn professional until 2007, but he'd tell you he and his fraternal twin brother, David, have been fighting all of their lives.
The twins, who will fight in separate bouts on Friday on the Strikeforce Challengers card on Showtime, grew up in Antioch, Calif., a town with areas so rough that it makes neighboring Stockton, a notoriously rough city itself, look like the fictional Mayberry, N.C.
Damion Douglas still lives in Antioch in the house that has been in his family for several generations in a specific part of town he calls "the red zone."
"I still live where I grew up and it's not a nice place," Damion Douglas said. "You have drugs and all kinds of bad stuff. In my city, there are only two spots you know not to go to and I'm in the red zone, man. I'm in the circle. I am where people don't want to go to. But it's just part of life. You come from tough places and you have to be mentally tough and physically tough to make it out of those places.
"A lot of guys have that comfort zone. They live at home with their parents or they have family that takes care of them. They live in nice neighborhoods. They don't have to worry about gunshots or drug addicts or certain individuals coming around. They don't have to protect their homes. With me, my dog barks and I'm up and at the door. Every day, I have to be ready for some new sort of challenge."
His challenge on Friday is Wayne Phillips in a three-round welterweight bout. But he's also fighting on national television and sharing the spotlight with his twin brother. They're hardly the Nogueira twins yet, but the Douglas brothers have big plans.
They train under Cesar Gracie and with Stockton's best-known fighters, Nick and Nathan Diaz, and each shares the goal of using fighting to improve their families' lives.
David, who meets Carlos Fodor in a lightweight bout, has moved out of Antioch. But he's no less hard-nosed than his brother.
"Coming from where we did, it makes you grow up faster," David Douglas said. "I don't want to raise my [two] kids in that life, if I don't have to. I want to give them the best upbringing. To be able to do that, I have to do what I do best, and that's to fight. My brother and I, we have been fighting all of our lives. It comes easily to us and it's what we know the best."
Staring another man down who is trained to knock you senseless takes a certain kind of bravery, but when you've stared down guns and knives, a punch isn't quite as fearsome.
Damion Douglas was hosting a block party last year and was barbecuing some chicken when he was confronted by the reality of living on the wrong side of the tracks. A group of men came upon the party and began to spray bullets into the crowd.
"Last summer, there was a big shootout when I was having a barbecue in front of my house," he said. "Fifteen dudes just started firing, back and forth, man. It's funny. Everyone hit the ground but me. I kept cooking my chicken. I said, 'If anyone crosses this path, I'm taking them with me.' I don't know why I did that, but that's what happens, man.
"That's what it's like when people get the wrong picture about life. Everybody wants to live that ghetto superstar life, but it's like, my mentality, I don't live my environment. People succumb to their environment and I still ain't made it up out of there, man. It's a struggle, the life. It's my grandmother's house. She raised her whole family, start to finish there."
On the day the twins' grandmother brought their father home from a hospital as a baby, a small palm tree was planted in the front yard in front of the house. The tree now towers over the house.
Damion owns the home now and is raising his three children there, though he's hopeful that fighting will enable him the opportunity to move them to an area with better schools and safer streets.
"I'm there until I can get out, but until then, I'm just trying to keep that place from becoming a crack house," he said. "When I moved in, it was a crack house and I had to clean that up. I want to be able to give my kids a place to live where these kinds of things aren't a part of their lives. That's what fighting is doing."
Damion is 3-1 and David is 8-2 and both have shown promise. But neither expects an easy path. They were essentially born fighting and don't know much else.
David said if fighting can do for Damion and him what it did for the Diaz brothers, he'd consider that a success.
"I look at Nick and Nate like they're my brothers, too," David said. "They're my main training partners. I remember when Nick was coming up and he was in my position. Look where they are today, both of them. That's something I look at and it makes me want to work as hard as they do so I can do those same kinds of things."
- Damion Douglas