Joe Proctor is talented enough that he already has five years in the UFC under his belt, something that less than one percent of the promotion’s fighters can say.
But he’s not a natural at mixed martial arts like Jon Jones is, and Proctor has had to work for everything he’s gotten.
He holds a 4-3 UFC mark and 11-4 overall MMA record heading into Saturday’s bout in Nashville, Tennessee, against Bryan Barbarena. He lost his last bout and two of his last three, and so he walks that thin line that so many fighters do:
Win, and he’s guaranteed another fight and another opportunity to impress the big bosses. Lose, and it could all come to a screeching end.
Proctor, who was on Team Faber in the live season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2012, has had to walk that tightrope his entire career. He’ll make $13,000 to show and $13,000 to win on Saturday.
It’s a tough way for an athlete to make a living, particularly since there are no medical benefits or retirement plan.
As much as he’d want to train full-time and focus completely on his fighting career, with a wife and a family to support, Proctor can’t afford to do that.
So, Proctor has a full-time job. He’s a corrections officer at Plymouth County Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Plymouth, Massachusetts, that has housed, among others, ex-mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger.
Proctor works 40 hours a week, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., going in after a long day of training. It’s not ideal for someone looking to advance in the UFC, but when you have young children and you’re not making six figures a fight, it’s what must be done.
“I’ve got a pension at the end of being a corrections officer,” Proctor said. “I don’t have a pension at the end of punching and getting punched. In the long run, I have to look at this as what’s best for my family. Having a quote-unquote real job is what I need to do and it’s something I can keep forever.”
Proctor’s job is a thankless but extremely necessary one. Every day is different, but it’s rarely a light and cheery atmosphere at work. There are plenty of murderers and rapists in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, which is Massachusetts’ largest prison, and nobody is happy to be in there.
Proctor has had to respond to many similar incidents.
“Unfortunately, I have been in those situations and I have seen some of that crappy stuff,” Proctor said. “It’s tough to have to see that and be around it, but it’s a job and you can’t allow your feelings to get into it. You know when you sign up for the job, those kinds of things are going to happen. The first one I saw, it was kind of weird, and it did affect me a little bit.
“But you see things every day and I don’t want to say you get used to it, but you understand that that can happen. You have to do your job to try to control the facility and be prepared as best you can.”
His goal at the end of each shift is a simple one: Go home alive, with no injuries, and see his family.
And it’s not unlike the goals he has in the UFC. When you’re an independent contractor who gets paid only after competing, an injury that cancels a fight can be devastating and dramatically impact the ability to pay bills and put food on the table.
He’s a teammate of UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon, who will fight Stevie Ray on the main card. Lauzon is one of the sport’s most exciting fighters and has become a UFC staple, as well as a consistent bonus winner.
Lauzon made $116,000 in his last fight, getting $58,000 to show and another $58,000 to win. When he adds in one of the UFC’s $50,000 Fight Night bonuses, as he often does, Lauzon winds up making a significant salary for the year.
Lauzon will work Proctor’s corner, which is unusual for someone who is on the card. He’s done it previously, but this will be the first time he does it in the UFC.
“I don’t see it being a problem,” said Lauzon, who will corner Proctor in the show’s second match and then fight in the second bout of the main card several hours later. “As one of my coaches said, ‘The hay is already in the barn.’ The preparation is done. I want to be out there to help Joey. If I see something and can yell something that sets a light bulb off for him, that’s a good thing. I’m not going to freak out or scream my head off, but I’ll look to try to help him.
“The first thing for a fighter is waiting around for the fight to happen. And so to corner him is going to give me something else to focus on and I don’t think it’s going to take too much out of me. I’ll be fine.”
So, too, will Proctor, despite the heavy daily workload he keeps. This is a self-made guy who knows the value of pushing himself.
He’s finally accepted himself as one of the world’s best fighters, even though he used to be in awe fighting guys he’d seen on TV.
“After you’ve been around and had some success, you start to believe in yourself more,” Proctor said. “At first, it’s like, ‘Wow. It’s the UFC. Why am I here?’ The one thing you realize is that if you don’t appreciate what you have, there are 100 guys out there who will do just about anything to take my spot.
“You know you have to fight for what you want and put the time in and trust that you’ve done everything possible to prepare yourself. If you do that, then it’s just go relax and have fun in the fight.”