After Pat Cummins set his alarm on Wednesday to go off at 2:30 a.m. Thursday – he had to be at work at 3:30 at a Dana Point, Calif., coffee shop to bake croissants, bagels and the like – he spied a jar filled with change on a desk next to his bed.
There must be $20 in change in that jar, Cummins thought to himself.
A two-time All-American wrestler at Penn State and an undefeated mixed martial arts prospect, that $20 in loose change was worth much more to Cummins than to most people.
He hadn't had a fight in nearly a year, since May 18, 2013, a bout in which he wound up losing about $1,000. He was making minimum wage at the coffee shop – $8 an hour in California – and was scrambling to pay his bills.
"I've been scraping by," Cummins told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. "Really, really just scraping by."
Before he turned off the light and went to sleep, Cummins thought he should roll the coins, but he didn't have any coin wrappers. So, he figured the next day at work, whenever he opened a new roll of coins, instead of tearing the wrappers, he'd make certain to open them carefully.
"I didn't want to have to buy coin wrappers, so when I needed change [at the store], I was very careful not to rip them when I opened them," he said.
The wrappers were still in his pocket a few hours later when his life changed, perhaps forever.
Seemingly out of nowhere, this guy, who said he had as many as 50 potential fights fall through in the last year, was being offered a multi-bout contract to compete in the UFC, with the first bout against Daniel Cormier on Feb. 22 in the co-main event of UFC 170 in Las Vegas.
Rashad Evans was injured Wednesday and had to pull out of the fight. UFC officials initially planned to pull Cormier from the card and put the match on either in April or May, when Evans was ready.
But when UFC president Dana White learned Evans' injury was more serious than believed, he began to reconsider pulling Cormier. Cormier was desperate to fight, with about 30 not-so-well-to-do family members having purchased thousands of dollars worth of flights from Louisiana to Las Vegas to watch him.
Ryan Parsons, a well-known MMA manager, saw the reports of Evans' injury on Twitter. He knew how difficult it had been to get Cummins a fight, and he knew about as well as anyone how much Cummins was struggling financially.
Cormier had wrestled Cummins once in the past, and had defeated him by decision in the heavyweight quarterfinals of the 2007 Dave Schultz Memorial International Open in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Cummins had helped prepare Cormier for the 2008 Olympics, and claimed he'd made Cormier cry during training sessions.
Even though Parsons felt it was a long shot, he urged Cummins to take to Twitter to challenge Cormier.
Cummins tweeted Cormier, and Cormier retweeted it, and Cummins' life instantly changed.
Parsons called White to tell him about Cummins. He told White that Cummins had history with Cormier, was in shape, was willing to take the fight and that he'd once made Cormier cry in training.
White liked what he heard, but he wanted to speak to Cummins personally before committing. Parsons knew time was of the essence and that if things weren't wrapped up in a matter of hours, the UFC was probably going to move on with the show without Cormier.
Cummins had no idea White had even the faintest interest in him. He'd clocked into work at the coffee shop and began his duties. When he'd finishing making the morning's baked goods, he was assigned to work the register at the drive-through window.
His cell phone was in his pocket, on but in vibration mode. As he was taking orders and interacting with customers, his phone was vibrating continuously.
"I was working the cash register and talking to people and it's just blowing up like crazy, you know?" Cummins said. "My boss was standing next to me, but I sneaked a peek at it. I saw that my manager [Parsons] was calling me like crazy. I was like, 'I can't deal with this now. There's so much going on.' "
He shoved the phone back into his pocket and went back to work. Parsons first called at 8:32 a.m. Thursday. When he didn't get an answer, he kept calling back. Cummins answered, said, "I can't talk," hung up and went back to work.
Parsons then called the store and asked to speak to Cummins.
"They just told me he was too busy and they wouldn't put him on the phone," Parsons said.
Parsons believed this was the opportunity of a lifetime for Cummins and he didn't want to give it up without exhausting every option. So, he hopped into his car and drove to the store.
He asked to see Cummins.
He got the same answer he'd gotten on the phone: No. He's busy.
So Parsons walked outside and walked over to the drive through window. There was a car at the window and Cummins was conducting a transaction.
Parsons told Cummins, "There's a chance this fight happens," and said he needed to talk.
Cummins had noticed that in addition to Parsons' repeated calls, there was a number in the 702 area code that he didn't recognize. That turned out to be White's number.
Cummins pleaded with his boss to give him a quick break to take a phone call. She didn't know he was a professional fighter and had no idea what was going on.
"I said to her, 'Please, please, this is a really big emergency and I need a couple of minutes to take this phone call,' " Cummins said. "She was giving me a little bit of attitude. She said, 'Why don't you just clock out. You're done.' I'm like, 'Did I just get fired?' "
Indeed he had. But he didn't have time to argue with her. Parsons had re-entered the store and handed his phone to Cummins.
White was on the other line. He wanted to hear from Cummins the story of making Cormier cry and whether he would accept the fight.
"Here I am, I'm having this crazy day, I'm making minimum wage, I can't get a fight, I've just been fired and he sticks the phone in my face and here I am talking to Dana White," Cummins said. "It was unbelievable. Just incredible. And so he says, 'Tell me if this story is true. Did you make Daniel Cormier cry?' He said, 'If it's true, we've got a fight on our hands.'
"I told him I'd put it in writing, do it on video, whatever he wanted. And I got the fight."
And so, armed with a bout against the UFC's No. 4-rated heavyweight and a multi-fight deal, Cummins walked out of the store into the next phase of his life.
Cummins, 33, has had an interesting life, to say the least. He graduated from Penn State in 2004 with a degree in fine arts, with an emphasis in ceramics. He wanted to be an artist, and eventually hoped to become a teacher.
He was a two-time All-American at Penn State, and in 2004 was the runner-up in the NCAA Division I heavyweight finals, losing the championship match to Tommy Rowlands.
But life at Penn State didn't always go swimmingly. He and another former wrestler, Eric Bradley, were arrested in 2008 for burglarizing a fraternity. At the time of the arrest by the Penn State University Police, he was charged with criminal conspiracy to commit burglary, burglary, criminal trespass, receiving stolen property and other charges.
Cummins describes the incident as a prank.
"It was one of those stupid things and when I look back on it, I think to myself, 'How could I be so dumb?' " Cummins said. "It seemed like an innocent thing at the time. 'Oh, we're just kind of goofing around.' We were playing pranks on fraternities here and there, but I never put it into perspective that, 'Hey, this is not right.' "
When he was arrested, he said, "It all kind of came crashing down on me and I recognized that I was raised better than this."
He said he told the truth and that wound up hurting him. After much legal maneuvering, he was sentenced to eight months in jail.
He was assigned to work release and could leave to do his job during the day. He spent his nights in jail.
He said he was with similar inmates and would make hummus for them. He wasn't housed with rapists and murderers and so he said that while it was humiliating, "Where I was, it wasn't the scary place like a scene out of a movie or anything."
After his release, he turned to MMA and has gone 4-0. But he and Parsons insist few on the regional circuit are willing to fight him and that he was forced to take the job at the coffee shop in order to eke out a living.
He's fought once in 2010, once in 2012 and twice in 2013.
He's no Jon Jones, and there were men on the regional circuit willing to fight Jones, now the UFC's light heavyweight champion and the sport's best pound-for-pound fighter.
It seemed to defy logic why it was so hard for Cummins to get fights.
"The last fight I had was in May of last year, and since that time, at least 50 guys turned me down for a fight," Cummins said. "There aren't that many professional MMA fighters who are out there at 205. We've beaten the bushes everywhere. We looked at fighting overseas, we've looked at fighting here and there's just no one who will take a fight.
"I guess they're searching me on Google and they find out I have wrestling credentials and, I don't know, but they won't fight."
Cormier will, even if the others won't. And though Cormier vehemently denies it, Cummins insists he made him cry during a pre-Olympic workout at the Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs.
And because of that, despite the fact that he's a massive underdog, he believes he can defeat the man that some feel will be the one to knock Jones off his pedestal.
"One hundred percent, I believe I can go out and win this fight," Cummins said. "Look. I know Daniel. I've had this friendship with him, I'd guess you'd call it, and we've trained together. I know where his weaknesses are, and they're not necessarily physical weaknesses. It's mental, and I know I can go out there and exploit it. If you put pressure on him and put some adversity on him, he can't handle that.
"… We were kind of going at it [at the Olympic training center] and I could see him unravel. He came at me hard, swinging, and he was digging for underhooks. I just grabbed overhooks and tossed him on his head. It takes him forever to come back to the middle. He was upset, and we tie up and I could hear sniffling. I look over and I see this guy was crying. There was no mistaking. One hundred percent, the dude was crying."
Cormier vehemently denies that story. The truth will be determined on Feb. 22 in the Octagon.
But what is undoubtedly true is that Cummins no longer has to grab coin wrappers from work to roll his change.
He's got a full-time job and a career, and it came all in the span of about 12 hours on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
"I would never believe all of this if it didn't happen to me," Cummins said. "It's totally crazy, but I woke up yesterday getting ready to go work at a coffee shop and I'll wake up tomorrow as a UFC fighter with an opportunity to beat one of the best guys in the world.
"It is simply amazing."
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