UFC fitness guru Mike Dolce radically changed his life to help others change theirs

LAS VEGAS – The sight was disgusting, the smell overwhelmingly nauseating. Mike Dolce could barely keep from gagging as he swabbed the bathroom floor with a mop and wiped down the toilet.

A few weeks earlier, he was living the American dream. He had a large salary, well into the six figures, owned a luxury car and a fancy sports utility vehicle. He was saving tons of money for retirement and had access to a lavish expense account where he could eat at high-end restaurants on someone else's dime.

He calculated that he could retire in his mid-40s and have a casual, comfortable lifestyle for the rest of his life.

Dolce, though, was not content. He was, by far, the youngest person among the group he worked with. He was a municipal tax assessor and was at least 20 years younger than his colleagues.

There were plenty of good things about the job, but he noticed the not-so-good. He saw the guys who were well out of shape, with their bellies protruding over their waistlines. Their stress level was extraordinary; their blood pressure skyrocketing.

They were drinking to excess, struggling to maintain a happy home life. For all the material things their jobs brought them, they were, at their core, miserable.

"I could see my future when I looked at them," Dolce said. "And it wasn't the kind of future I wanted."

Dolce's then-fiancee, Brandy, was a prominent newspaper columnist who wrote a popular advice column. He approached her and told her about a job offer he'd received.

There would be no company car; no six-figure salary. There would be no retirement plan and no guarantee beyond the following week.

But like many of his colleagues, Dolce was terribly unhappy at work and getting more miserable by the day.

In 2005, it didn't take him long to say yes to a job that he thought would pay him $36,000 a year – it would wind up paying him significantly less – and would require manual labor and lots of sacrifice, on his part and on the part of his wife. He would be taking more than an 80 percent pay cut while significantly increasing the amount of hours he worked each day.

Dolce, though, never hesitated. He accepted the job as the fitness coach at Team Quest in Gresham, Ore., and, essentially, as the gym's janitor. Brandy quit her newspaper job. They sold their belongings, raided their retirement accounts, packed up the SUV and began the drive from New Jersey to Oregon.

Dolce is now 34, the author of a series of highly successful weight-loss and fitness books and has become an industry unto himself. He is the conditioning coach for a number of elite UFC fighters and his services are in high demand among athletes who need to cut weight for competition.

It all came about because Dolce realized he didn't want to work in taxation for the rest of his life. He didn't want to be an overweight middle-aged guy addicted to cocktails with an astronomical blood pressure. He was willing to do whatever it took to make a change.

But before he'd walked into the gym, before he started that supposed $36,000 a year job, he encountered some problems.

He married Brandy in the interim and they made the cross-country drive to Gresham as their honeymoon.

They were at a filling station gassing up their SUV when Dolce received a call from his new boss. It wasn't a welcome-to-town type of call.

That $36,000 a year job was now gone; the best he could get was an $8 an hour, four-hour-a-day gig. That amounted to about $8,340 a year.

The job would require him to report to work at 6 a.m., open the gym, clean the mats, clean the toilets and work until 10 a.m. And then, after that, the star MMA fighters like Randy Couture and Dan Henderson would show up.

"And guess what?" Dolce said. "I got to coach them for free."

The smart thing to do would have been to call his ex-boss, plead for his old job back and return to Long Branch, N.J.

That life, though, was not one he wanted, and he wasn't going back no matter how bad his prospects looked. He believed in himself and in what he could do if given a chance, and the job at Team Quest, if nothing else, was a chance.

"Honest to God, I never had a hesitation and I said, 'Yes,' " he said. "It's weird. I'm usually a pretty rational individual, but never did I have a single hesitation [despite the problems with the job offer]. Never did I have a doubt. Everybody around me except for Brandy was like, 'Are you sure? Are you crazy? Have you really thought about what you're doing here?' I worked so hard and people thought I was nuts to throw it all away and start over again."

It's clearly worked well for Dolce, so much so that when UFC executive vice president Don Gold wanted to start some kind of fitness program, he reached out to Dolce.

Dolce had earned a reputation as a magician in mixed martial arts. His fighters not only always made weight – and among his clients were the lost causes, the ones who had the most difficulty making weight – but they were far healthier under his tutelage.

He had created what is known as "The Dolce Diet," and thousands of ordinary people were losing, literally, thousands of pounds.

Gold reached out to Dolce, who eagerly jumped on the project. The UFC Fit program is a 12-DVD set that contains Dolce's exercise and diet tips.

When he worked at Team Quest in Gresham, he wasn't just working with elite fighters. He was also teaching average people how to get into and stay in better shape.

That, more than being around the fight scene, is what Dolce said is most important in his life.

"This is what I was born to do," he said. "I have a passion to help people achieve their dreams."

To really be able to help people the way he wanted, he had to make money to pay the bills. His wife took a job she hated as night sports editor of an Oregon newspaper, with a commute of more than an hour from their home.

A former high school wrestling star whose dream of earning a Division I scholarship ended when he tore his shoulder in the state tournament in his senior year, Dolce decided to become an MMA fighter himself to supplement his income.

"I had to fight to pay the bills, no question," he said. "In 2006, I made $14,000 from 'The Dolce Diet' while working with some of the world's most elite athletes. That was over a 90 percent decrease from what I'd been making previously when I was a tax assessor.

"I'm married. I'm a proud man, and so I did what I had to do to be able to make my dream happen. I had to fight. I had no choice but to fight."

Even that plan wasn't without its problems.

Dolce was training for what was to have been his final amateur fight. Only a few seconds remained in the round in which he was sparring. His coach was shouting for him to go for a double leg takedown. The coach yelled that if he didn't shoot a double before the round ended, the entire team would do sprints as punishment.

And so Dolce, ever the team man, shot the double.

But his sparring partner at the same time came up with the idea to throw a knee. As Dolce hurtled in for the takedown, the knee caught him squarely in the face.

"I wasn't knocked out, which I almost pride myself on," Dolce says now, chuckling at the thought. "I remember being on my hands and knees and seeing a puddle of blood about three feet away from me. I wondered to myself, 'Did I hit him? Did I throw a punch going in?'

"And then I saw these feet come walking over to me. Blood was shooting out of the top of my eye in a stream, like Cupid in a little fountain."

Dolce had broken the orbital bone above his left eye and would require surgery. His skull was cracked. The sinus cavity was shattered like an eggshell. He needed facial reconstructive surgery – but he was making just $32 a day and didn't have health care insurance.

The fighters loaded him into a car and drove him to the emergency room. In surgery, he wound up having four titanium plates and 27 screws inserted into the left side of his face in order to repair the damage.

Ex-UFC fighter Nate Quarry put a box on the counter at Team Quest, soliciting donations to help pay for Dolce's medical bills. Chael Sonnen emptied his wallet and gave Brandy his card, promising to help the couple pay their bills and buy groceries.

"That's why I love those guys so much and why these bonds I have in MMA are so deep," Dolce said. "I don't want to blow Chael's cover here, but he is a pretty damn good guy and he'd do anything he possibly could for you. Nate Quarry's the same way."

After he recovered, he still wasn't making a lot of money. He biked the six miles to work rather than driving a car and having to pay for gas he couldn't afford.

But someone stole his bike seat and Dolce simply couldn't afford to buy another one until the next payday. And so, for the better part of two weeks, he rode a bicycle with no seat up and down the steep Oregon hills en route to work.

Dolce recovered and fought both in the now-defunct International Fight League and on Season 7 of "The Ultimate Fighter." And though he had ability, his career path wasn't to be a fighter.

He got joy out of seeing ordinary people lose the paunch over their waists. It was like a drug for him to see someone go from being morbidly obese to incredibly in shape in just a few months.

"I just love helping people change their lives," he said, stretching the syllables in love to the max. "This is why I am on this planet, to do this job."

He's never had a fighter miss weight and vows he never will. He hasn't come up with any crazy plan, but said the science of weight loss and, for fights, weight cutting, hadn't really changed much over the years.

Fighters were struggling to make weight even though it was their jobs to do so because of a lack of good information, he said.

"Unfortunately, the art of weight cutting as it pertains to optimal performance has not evolved in over 100 years," he said. "Look back a long time ago in the archives of what combat athletes were doing to make weight. They'd just stop eating, stop drinking. They put on heavy suits and they'd work out real hard in a hot room or out in the sunshine. That's how athletes have cut weight for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, that's how the world's most elite athletes are still cutting weight.

"My athletes, though, are healthy. They are as healthy as they can be considering their chosen situation, which is to temporarily weigh 20 to 40 pounds less than their natural weight. It's because I make a priority of my athletes' health."

When Gold talked to UFC president Dana White, himself a one-time fitness instructor, about doing the UFC Fit program, White was adamant there was only one man for the job: Dolce. He'd hired Dolce to work with so many fighters, such as Thiago Alves, who seemingly could never make weight. If he was going to get into selling a fitness and weight-loss product, he wanted to do it working with the man he considered the best in the world at it.

"What makes UFC Fit different from every other workout out there is Mike Dolce," White said. "When we first started talking about this, I knew we had to work with Mike or it wouldn't work. He's someone we respect, someone we believe in and someone we know for a fact gets results.

"Mike Dolce is known throughout the sport as the guy who takes UFC fighters to another level."

Dolce chuckles at the notion of him as a celebrity. It wasn't that long ago that Dolce was a power lifter who had bulked up to 280 pounds.

Now, he weighs a solid 195 and has around 6 percent body fat.

No longer is he gagged by the smell of a filthy room as he is cleaning a toilet.

He's one of the world's leading weight-loss/fitness gurus and he's in demand around the world.

He loves to work with athletes, but insisted he'll never forget his true passion.

"All I gave up, everything I did, to pursue this dream was so that I could make a positive difference in the lives of people like you," he said. "Everything else, whatever rewards I get for doing my job, that's secondary. When I put my head on the pillow at night, I know I can sleep well knowing that I made the difference in someone living a better, healthier life that day."

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