How Matthew Lopez went from 'flat broke' to fighting at UFC 212

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Six years ago, Matthew Lopez was broke and desperate.

He was 24, living with a former college roommate in Southern California. They were being evicted, though, and Lopez had nowhere to go. His weekly income was $50, which he earned from teaching a handful of private youth wrestling lessons.

So, for several days after the eviction, Lopez, who now fights in the UFC, remained in the residence as a squatter. It was one of the lowest points of his life.

"I was flat broke," Lopez told "My roommate would take me to Taco Bell every morning and I would buy two $1 burritos. I'd eat one for lunch and one for dinner.

"When we ended up getting evicted, I stayed in the house for days with no electricity or water. I didn't have anywhere else to go. That was low, low, low. You feel like, less than a man, you know? I didn't have anything to my name. I had an ice chest full of pictures and some clothes."

As crazy as this might sound, Lopez (9-1), who faces bantamweight Johnny Eduardo at UFC 212 this weekend in Rio de Janeiro, sort of chose to live in poverty. Or at least, he chose a path in which temporary poverty was a very real possibility.

Lopez, 30, wrestled at Arizona State University and Cal State Fullerton. His collegiate wrestling career ended in 2008, but he did not immediately transition to MMA.

He says he continued to live a "college" lifestyle, putting more thought into what he was doing that night than what he was doing with his life.

Around 2011, he took a summer job at a copper mine in Arizona -- and that's where his whole mindset changed.

"Basically, my job was to stand in these long, clay fields and lay hundreds of yards of pipe that a chemical would run through and drip into the ground," Lopez said.

"One day, we were out there, and there was this guy who was like 55 years old, doing this work. And it's not backbreaking work, but it's not easy. And I just said, 'I don't want to be that guy.' I went home that day, sat on my couch and said, 'F--- it. I'm out of here.' I put all my eggs in one basket, moved to California and started training full time."

Lopez moved to Orange County, California, and started a crash course in cage fighting. Initially, his only source of income was those private wrestling lessons.

The first few years were tough. He burned through his savings, which is when he got on the Taco Bell diet. And despite his wrestling background, there was no guarantee he'd have instant success in a new sport.

He gave himself five years. If he hadn't been signed by the UFC within five years, he'd change course and get a "normal job."

"That was a straight-up introduction to the sport," Lopez said. "I remember [former UFC middleweight] Mark Munoz would even tell me sometimes, 'You don't have to spar today. Take it easy.' I said, 'No, I need to learn. And I need it to be on a fast track.'"

By 2015, Lopez was 4-0 and signed with regional promoter RFA, which has a history of sending talent to the UFC. In April 2016, he recorded a first-round TKO finish at an event in South Dakota, which UFC president Dana White attended. The UFC signed him shortly after.

Many would say that's a happy ending to Lopez's story, but his future in professional fighting is still somewhat in the air.

Lopez is 1-1 through two fights in the Octagon. The UFC usually releases a new signee if he or she gets off to a 1-2 start.

Of course, Lopez expects to win on Saturday -- but Eduardo (28-10) is an established veteran. If things were to not go Lopez's way in Brazil, would he be willing to return to the regional circuit and try to grind his way back into a UFC contract?

"It's funny, this camp has been the first time where that's crossed my mind," Lopez said. "I really don't know. I don't know what I would do next. I think there are other leagues out there now where you can still make a decent living, but I don't know. I try not to think about it, but it's definitely in the back of your head. How could it not?"

Now training out of Denver, alongside UFC lightweight Justin Gaethje, Lopez admits he's felt pressure ahead of this fight. But if you look at his career, that's really nothing new.

"The one thing about those tough times I went through is that it puts everything in perspective," Lopez said. "When I started making $500 per fight, it felt like I was making $10,000. I knew how to stretch that out.

"I have pressure on me, but it's a good pressure. Like, if I don't feel like running one day, it gets my ass up. I do believe, 100 percent, that I am one of the best in the world, and I'm starting to come into my own."