How UFC fighter Bobby Green has survived a traumatic life by being a 'chameleon'

Bobby Green likes to do things his own way. (Getty)
Bobby Green likes to do things his own way. (Getty)

Bobby Green's voice is quivering and he's on the verge of tears. The UFC lightweight, one of the toughest guys in the world, is talking about his lifelong search for love and acceptance.

He was in and out of foster homes much of his life. He was abandoned, neglected, forgotten about. His mother once surrendered him to the state because she was unable to take care of him and continue her drug habit.

But Green had a way about him, a charm that helped him connect with people. He suffered through some incredibly difficult times as a young child, and never had a constant in his life, but he learned early on how to adapt.

As he's talking about his early life, an observer notes he's sort of like a chameleon in the way he can change personalities. As he hears that word, Green's mood immediately brightens.

"Yes!" he says with the fervor of a preacher. "Yes! One of my coaches used that exact same word. I'm like a chameleon. He said, 'You could put him with any people, and he's going to love them and they're going to love him.' They could put me with black people, white people, Mexican people, whatever kind of people, it don't matter. They all love me it seems like. I can get along and succeed in any culture.

"Being part of those cultures, I learned the ins and the outs and the dos and the don'ts. My personality, I went through so many phases, man, it's crazy. In middle school, I had a shaved head like all the Mexican kids and I was the only black guy they'd let hang with them."

But that was only the beginning. Green's personality went through so many phases that in his early years, he was often changing his look dramatically to become something he was not, different than who he was.

He was searching for something, but he often wasn't sure what it was he wanted.

It was, of course, love and acceptance that he sought, just as we all seek. But because of his upbringing, and the way he bounced around and was shuttled from place to place, he never quite got it the way most of us do.

"In high school, I had this stage where I used to spike my hair blonde," Green said. "I would wear crazy makeup. I would put on black lipstick and wear these crazy clothes. I went through a Gothic phase and a rock 'n' roll phase. As I went through all those phases, it taught me about cultures and how people accepted and didn't accept."

Green is now 27 and ranked No. 7 at lightweight by the UFC. He's scheduled to fight the very tough Edson Barboza on Nov. 22 in Austin, Texas.

All of the phases he went through – he tells the story of being booted out of school after soaking in a pool filled with red Kool-Aid and going to class all red – were bids for attention; no more, no less.

It was because of the trauma he'd gone through in his early life.

With his mother, he said, on drugs, his father also was in prison for much of his childhood.

"I wasn't like most of the kids in high school, because I didn't get attention from mother and father," he says. "I was so craving this attention, this love. So me and two other buddies of mine, we were this crazy little group and what we did was just to wake up and shock the world."

There was a time when they painted themselves white, put on tight fishnet shirts and baggy purple pants. Then they went out in public and wanted to see the reactions they'd elicit.

It wasn't always kind.

"People would be like, 'Oh my God, what are they doing?'" he said. "Society would try to make you feel that this is not OK. 'You can't do this. You can't do that. You have to be one of us.' But we didn't want to be one of them. We wanted to change everything, you know? We had this thought process that we needed to overthrow society because it was trying to turn us into robots."

Life changed forever for Green on May 31 in San Bernardino, Calif. His younger brother, 23-year-old Mitchell Wayne Davis Jr., was shot in the chest and killed in a drive-by shooting. A cousin and two uncles were wounded in the attack. His father was there, but was not hit by the bullets.

Davis had been in a gang when he was younger, but Green said he began mentoring his brother and helped him to get away from the gang life.

Davis was in the driveway working on a car with his relatives when a Black Honda Accord drove by and sprayed the area with bullets.

"He was trying to be a family man," Green said, his voice trembling and filled with emotion. "This guy was a good dude, man. He loved his family. He was doing the right thing. And they shot him. They just killed him like nothing, like he meant nothing."

Bobby Green will fight Edson Barboza on Nov. 22 in Austin, Texas. (Getty)
Bobby Green will fight Edson Barboza on Nov. 22 in Austin, Texas. (Getty)

Green had attended a fight card in Pasadena, Calif., the night of his brother's shooting. As he was heading home, his telephone rang. Green didn't get to the phone call in time, but saw that it was his biological father who had called.

Seconds later, the phone rang again.

"He never called me," Green said. "So when he called me right back like that, it's when I knew something was up. I never got two phone calls from my dad, so I knew it must be an emergency. He was like, 'Hey, we need you here. You're brother's been shot.' I'm like, 'Oh my God.' And I was rushing and trying to get there to be with him and my Dad called me again.

"I'll never forget that. Never, man. He told me, 'He's dead,' and I lost it. I just totally lost it. That's my little brother, man. My brother, my blood. It's just … I can't even tell you. It's devastating."

Green was an emotional wreck. He still hadn't come to terms with things when in mid-July, he received a call from the UFC offering him a fight in just 12 days against Josh Thomson in San Jose, Calif.

Green knew how good Thomson was and how tough of a fight it would be fighting in Thomson's hometown without the benefit of a legitimate training camp.

But the image of his brother's face wouldn't leave his mind. Taking the fight – and winning it – would be a way for him to honor his brother's memory.

Just like that, Green went out and won the fight, one of the most significant wins of his career.

It was cathartic at the same time that it was extraordinarily painful. He spoke of his brother's passing in interviews both before and after the fight and not everyone received it well.

Green was bombarded with criticism. He took the match so he could tell the world about the man his brother had been, to honor his memory. Yet, thanks to some pointed comments sent to him on social media, he wound up in the center of controversy.

"People were saying I did this for an interview or I wanted to get attention on myself," he said of speaking publicly about his brother's death. "No. That's not it. Not at all. I didn't want to do interviews, man. I don't need this stuff. I have a chaotic enough life as it is, you hear me? I don't need any more chaos in my life, but I am an open book. I just said what I felt. I wanted to honor my brother because people were putting dirt on his name. He was a good dude and I wanted to tell the world that."

Last month, tragedy struck Green again. His older brother, Charles Gasaway, also became a shooting victim. He was shot in the shoulder, back and hip, but is expected to fully recover.

Gasaway went to pick up a friend and was shot three times.

Green posted on his Facebook page that his older brother was shot. He has a desire to share his life with people, and that brought out the worst in some who made horrible comments to him on social media.

He began to cry when he was asked why he even made public the news a second brother had been shot.

Yes, even the toughest guys in the world occasionally cry, and Green unabashedly wept as he tried to explain his motivation for laying the most intimate details of his life so bare in public.

"I just want people to know, because I have this stigma where people think I'm so cocky and so arrogant," Green said. "People think I'm all this, but they see my outside figure and don't know who I truly am. They only see me with the lights and the cameras and I'm here to entertain.

Green wants to be a positive role model for others. (Getty)
Green wants to be a positive role model for others. (Getty)

"They take it to the wrong way. But I do it so they can understand that I'm a human being just like you. I go through it just like you. Don't think I got this silver spoon and I somehow just made it and I have no worries and I think I'm this life's God. I'm a human, just like you. I'm going through it, just like you."

Green said he sometimes feels as if someone has put a curse on his life. He can't explain why he's had to endure so much in such a short time.

But when he gets down, he said he's comforted by the words one of his coaches told him.

"I was saying, 'Why me? Why me?' and just struggling to deal with everything that was going down," Green said. "And he said this: 'Bobby, you have big shoulders, and they're big for a reason. You can carry the weight of the world on them.'"

Green has had to endure much in his 27 years, but he said despite difficulty understanding the reasons for the tragedy, he wants to turn it into a positive.

"Look, the bottom line is this: My life has played out the way it has and there has been an element of tragedy in it," he said. "But I want to try to be an inspiration, a role model. 'Look. Look what I've done. I survived. So can you.' I want to live a positive life and try to be an inspiration. It's hard, and of course on some days it's harder than others, but that's it. I want to be an inspirational figure. 'If I can handle it, so can you.' "

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