Paul Bradley (Twitter: @PaulBradley184) doesn’t have to look much further than his kitchen for a spark of motivation.
Stuck on his fridge is his release letter from Strikeforce, which pumps him up more than any song, he says. In fact, after all the 28-year-old Iowa native has endured in his mixed martial arts career, motivation has never been an issue.
After a failed attempt on The Ultimate Fighter’s seventh season, during which he was kicked off due to having a contagious skin condition, and after reading what many naysayers posted about him online, for Bradley it’s been about proving himself. And four years removed from the TUF incident Bradley (16-2) will finally get his shot with the UFC after stepping up on short notice to face Rafael “Sapo” Natal on Aug. 6 at UFC 133 in Philadelphia.
“It just makes it all the more sweet,” Bradley said. “It’s been four years since The Ultimate Fighter TV show and it’s been one obstacle after another after that show. To be honest, when I was on that show I wasn’t a complete fighter. Now I’ve had the opportunity to train four solid years and just get better in every aspect of the game. It makes it just that much more sweet and that much more rewarding to finally get that shot.”
Bradley, a two-time All-American wrestler at the University of Iowa, got the chance of a lifetime with The Ultimate Fighter early in his career. Bradley, 24 at the time, went on the popular Spike TV reality show inexperienced with five professional fights under his belt. Despite beating Reggie Orr in the preliminary round to get into the house, Bradley was shocked when he was asked to leave the show because of the skin infection.
It was a difficult time in his life.
“I had a lot of people who kind of turned their back on me,” Bradley remembers. “I started reading those stupid message boards. It was really a bad time in my life. I started believing what I was reading – I wasn’t good for the sport, I was a lay-and-pray wrestler.”
He didn’t give up and pushed forward. He says he’s now well rounded, fells comfortable on his feet and calls the situation “a blessing in disguise.” But the disappointment didn’t stop there for Bradley, who thought he was back on his way up after signing with Strikeforce at the end of 2009.
But it ended up turning into a nightmare. The welterweight made his Strikeforce debut on a Challengers card in September 2009 beating Levi Avera. The next and last fight for him in Strikeforce was five months later in a losing effort to now-middleweight title contender Luke Rockhold.
After taking the fight, in February 2010, above his weight class, Bradley was shocked to receive a letter in the mail releasing him from the company. When his manager contacted Strikeforce they said it was a case of miscommunication. Bradley sat on the shelf waiting for a call for his next fight.
It never came.
After beating UFC veteran Johnny Rees two months later, he found out that he was, in fact, released all along.
“It was just a weird situation,” he recalled. ”I spent a lot of times (thinking) I was going to get a third fight with them and I was just sitting on the bench. I read that release letter a handful of times and I actually put it up on my fridge. It’s something I look at and I get pissed off. It doesn’t even take that certain song or certain movie scene to get me pumped up, all I have to do is look at that stupid contract and how I was done wrong. That’s all the motivation I need.”
Bradley’s been settled in at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy and is riding a four-fight winning streak. The frustration that he’s dealt with finally paid off when he got a call from the UFC on Monday.
“It’s been a long road. It’s been a bumpy road, but the way it turned out I think Rampage or Juanito Ibarra on The Ultimate Fighter put it best,” said Bradley. “I didn’t want to believe it then, but everything happens for a reason.”