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Chris Gutierrez explains his road from ‘rock bottom’ to UFC Nashville

Chris Gutierrez discusses his upcoming bantamweight matchup with promotional newcomer Ryan MacDonald at UFC Nashville. The event takes place March 23 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. and will air exclusively on ESPN+.

“El Guapo” talks about how he feels with the fight being a little over a week away, switching opponents from Martin Day to Ryan MacDonald, what friends have said about his opponent in the past, training at Factory X and what a positive influence Marc Montoya has been, how his mental approach to fighting has changed, the state of the bantamweight division, fighting on the ESPN family of networks and much more.

Gutierrez also discusses his UFC debut, a second round submission loss to Raoni Barcelos at the TUF 28 Finale. Heading into, and following, that fight, the 27-year-old had other battles to contend with — one with custody of his son — which was talked about in a prior interview with MMA Fighting — and another with himself.

“Mostly, it was a mental thing,” Gutierrez said to MyMMANews.com about his fight with Barcelos. “I was going through a really bad custody battle and that ate away at me during the whole week of the fight. I was trying to be professional and fight through it, but I’m only human. My son means everything to me. Even though it may be insignificant to others, its a big, significant thing for me in my life. It cost me. It made me very emotional for the fight. I broke down mentally before that fight. Not taking anything away from Raoni Barcelos, a tremendous athlete and it was an honor to share the cage with him, and I’d love to do it again. But I got to work my way back up and I get another opportunity to pursuit my dream and that’s what I’m thankful for.”

Gutierrez found himself in a very bad place and it could’ve gotten much worse. Just when things were as dark as could be, he began to seek answers. With finding those answers, Gutierrez was able to grow and learn about himself and his will.

“You know what it’s really taught me? It’s taught me how strong I am,” Gutierrez said. “It taught me resilience and how much I can overcome. I always knew I was a strong person, strong-willed. I just never knew the extent of how strong. I hit rock bottom a couple of months back. A lot of people may not know exactly what that means, I’ll let your mind take over at that point. Whatever you picture in your mind, it probably happened. I was at a very low place in life and my team, my family, they encouraged me and my faith in God got a lot stronger as well. I’m happy. I came out of that dark spot with the help of my close family and friends at Factory X and I’m thankful for that. It’s made me a stronger person mentally and physically.”

Prior to getting the call to the UFC, Gutierrez competed for multiple promotions such as LFA and WSOF. As the trials and tribulations of his life began to take over, he found himself in a situation where he could’ve lost a lot more than just an MMA fight. While Gutierrez couldn’t discuss specifics of what lead him into this bad situation, he turned to something he thought was long gone — his faith.

“I was facing a year in prison,” Gutierrez said. “The day before, I kind of accepted it. I was going to pre-trial for it, all over something I had no control over. I have no control where I’m going to be 15 minutes down the road. I just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time, got into trouble due to some circumstances and I was facing a year and a half — trying to give me the maximum. During the pre-trial, I had lost faith with God. Any bad name you could think of, I called God. I didn’t believe in him. I called my mom the day before, she said, ‘Keep your faith! God always loves you!’.  That very next day, I was going to court and I had this very warm feeling inside. I remember, the day before, I said, ‘If you’re really real, you’ll show me your love. Because, as of right now, I don’t believe in you at all.’ I accepted what was coming to me. When I went into the courthouse, my lawyer even said, ‘You look good. You have this glow to you.’ I didn’t know why, but I felt great. That was the turning point where God was like, ‘You may have lost faith in me, but I’m going to show you how much love I have for you. I’ll never turn my back on you.’ He did. It’s just been blessings after blessings, and that was the first blessing. I’ll always be grateful.”

Continuing on the road of spirituality, Gutierrez turned to a couple of mentors at Factory X in Coach Marc Montoya and UFC middleweight Ian Heinisch, who fights Tom Breese this weekend at UFC London. The story of resurgence that Heinisch has is one of legend, and one he hopes can inspire people with — as he told MyMMANews.com. Gutierrez has found solace with their kinship and motivation.

“Coach Marc was telling me that having a relationship with God is a two-way street,” Gutierrez explained. “It’s not just you seeking it when things are going bad, you have to seek it when things are going good too. I think that was a flaw of mine. He got me to go to church at Red Rocks here in Colorado, Ian also reached out to me telling me to start going to church. It’s right down the street from my house. Me and Ian chop it up all the time. He knows about my problems, I know about his. He’s a good friend of mine, he’s a really good mentor and I really look up to him.”

There have been a lot of changes over the last several months for Gutierrez, including the opportunity to see his son more and more. While he doesn’t get to see him every day, Gutierrez cherishes the time he does have with his son, and with the lessons he has learned along the way, it translates into becoming a better father and overall person.

“I did not get to see him at all for my last fight,” Gutierrez said. “I actually (now) only get to see my son twice a week. Of course, as a professional fighter, you get accused of things. With little proof and ‘how do you back it up?’, but you still get picked at like you could’ve done something. That’s a different subject. I don’t mind talking about that later. It sucks. It definitely sucks that fighter stigma hindered me in my case. What they don’t understand is that I’m fighting on the biggest platform in martial arts and it’s a dream come true for me. I don’t see how they don’t see that I’m making strides in my life. Look where I was last year to where I am now. Mentally, I’m a lot stronger. I’m not only a better person, I’m a better man. Being a better man, I’m a better father, a better son, a better brother, a better partner in my relationship with my girlfriend, I’m a better student. I learn, I seek advice and I have no ego with that. I’m an open book. I’m learning to love and live life again. That’s what I’m grateful for.”

When it comes to the fight itself, Chris Gutierrez isn’t going to call his shot. That’s just not the type of fighter he is. One thing is for certain, however, in the mind of Gutierrez, he envisions the fight ending in one way: with his hand being raised and picking up that elusive first victory inside of the Octagon.

“I’ve never really called what I’m going to do,” Gutierrez said. “Whatever they give me, I try to take. I wish I had that luck where I cold call it an do it. I have a feeling that I’m not going to need the judges. I’m going to get my hand raised, no mistake about that. I have a feeling we’re not going to need the judges. It’s going to be excited. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it. I’m in a reflective state and I don’t take anything for granted. I have another opportunity to pursuit my dream and change my life. I’ll be damned if I’ll let somebody else take it  from me. I’ve already had somebody else take something from me  and I can’t do nothing about it. But I can do something about March 23.”

You can watch the entire interview above with Chris Gutierrez as he prepares for his return to the Octagon on March 23.