Tyson Pedro has waited over three years – a record 1,239 days to be exact – for this moment.
For the chance to get back in the octagon, put three knee surgeries behind him and complete a comeback, not every fighter would be able to do that.
Pedro had no idea what was to come when he walked out of the Adelaide Entertainment Center during UFC Fight Night 142 in December 2018.
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After a dominant opener, the Aussie was eventually beaten by Mauricio Rua via TKO, later revealing a leg kick in the second round tore his ACL.
What was already a tough road to the top only got tougher in 2020, when Pedro tore his meniscus in training and suffered the same injury soon after.
But when Pedro went to see a surgeon to determine the next step in his recovery, he was then told that he would need to have his meniscus cut out in addition to more work on his ACL.
But in those 1,239 days, even as the setbacks continued and a return to the UFC seemed to be slipping away, Pedro only really hit rock bottom twice.
“I think twice in those three or four years there was a thought and it was probably at difficult times,” he said. foxsports.com.au“where I was like, ‘F*** that’.”
“But other than that, I was pretty confident throughout the process that I knew I would come back no matter what. I think the majority for myself, I needed to come back to prove to myself that I was never going to quit.
That’s not to say his loved ones, those who cared about Tyson the person and not Tyson the fighter, started asking questions.
“It’s probably only the second or third where all the doubts came up,” he said.
“Where your family says to you, ‘Call it.’
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And yet here he is, ready to step back into the octagon this weekend against Ike Villanueva on the Lemos vs Andrade Fight Night preliminary card.
Ready not only to remember, but be there for all the “little things” he loved about fighting.
“Like being in the back of hangars,” Pedro said.
“It was cold and then you hear five seconds. Most of the time, I had visualized being back with my hand raised. I started doing like all the meditation, breathing, cold showers, everything to try and keep my mind in check…really visualize my raised hand in that first fight and remember those details.
There’s another memory that drives Pedro, not just upon his return, but throughout his UFC career. It’s not a nice memory, but a defining one nonetheless.
It was at a gymnasium in Penrith and Pedro was only 16 at the time, but he would have stood a bit taller, stepping into the ring for the first time with his father John.
“We had been practicing martial arts for a long time,” Pedro said.
“But that’s when I pretty much decided I wanted to fight. I told my father and it was against his will. He wanted me to go to school and we were practicing, it was the first time, and I hit him the hardest I’ve ever hit, like just a clean shot.
Now Pedro stood even taller.
“I was like, ‘F*** yeah,’ hit my dad. But then his eyes kind of glazed over.
He had only seen this once in his life at the time – of legendary Aussie fighter Mark Hunt.
“It’s like they weren’t there and they just had no idea,” Pedro said.
“He [John] was like, ‘I’m going to kill you Bobby’. And I was like, ‘Who the hell is Bobby?’ and started running around the ring. He just [hit me with] a quick one-two.
The next thing Pedro remembers was lying flat on the mat with his teeth missing, thinking, “I hope I’m not in the gym.” I hope I’m not in the gym”.
“I come and James Te Huna and a few other boys who are fighting there they still apologize to me to this day for this but I sought help and everyone claimed they weren’t in the gym because they didn’t ‘I don’t want to hide either,’ Pedro said with a laugh.
“And then I grabbed my teeth because he knocked my teeth out, broke my nose. Obviously I [had] I fell asleep and went out of the ring.
This was not the case. His father replied: ‘Where are you going?’.
“There was still 30 minutes on the clock,” Pedro said.
“He just made me hit him for another 30 minutes while I cried and he tried to bite my hands.”
Pedro described it as his brutal “initiation” into combat, which few could understand.
But it’s not something for others to understand, it’s just like that for Pedro and even if it cost him some teeth, it earned him a lot of respect from his father.
“Who knows what normality is? It was normal for me,” Pedro said.
“I’m not saying I’m the best in the world but the people who are on top of the world, they didn’t grow up like everyone else. It’s like they’ve been pushed to the limits where people would think that is child abuse.
“I think the same things with Serena and Venus Williams were happening, where they think it’s child abuse, how far they take it. But to be the best or to get to the top of anything, you have to do more than everyone else.
“All those childhood lessons and everything that toughened me up, and who I am, that’s what made me stick with the injury.
“It was that unyielding attitude, I guess, that really kept me going. It was never in my mind this time that I was like ‘that’s it’ with the injuries.
So did brother-in-law Tai Tuivasa, who quickly entered the UFC heavyweight title chase after his own battle with injuries early in his career.
“People also forget, he signed in the UFC before me, I signed right after him, but he tore his PCL and his whole knee,” Pedro said of Tuivasa.
“During the time I was fighting, he was in his tough times. Now I have been away for three years. That’s why we’re also close because we’ve both been through very similar situations, both going through ups and downs of injuries, defeats, wins.
Tuivasa is now picking up plenty of wins, his latest over Derrick Lewis catapulting him into title contention and the two are also having success away from the octagon.
They launched their own beer, Drink West, with Penrith Panthers half-back Nathan Cleary as the latest shareholder.
“The first beer made here and the first beer made for us,” is how the duo describe it on their website.
“When you grow up with black and gold, you never forget those colors. And when you grow up in the area, you never really leave.
That’s why each time Tuivasa takes the octagon, he makes it known that he represents the region, redefining what it means to be from Western Sydney – a responsibility that Pedro has now also taken on.
“To be honest, Tai kind of pushed that message on me,” he said.
“Because at the beginning, I was fighting for my family and for myself. But now, seeing this and you see the people who have supported me for three years, always sending messages: ‘Bro, when is the fight, when is it?’, it’s always Western Sydney.
“So that’s what it’s all about and I think that’s also the culture that he creates. That’s kind of the reason why I started the podcast with Tai because we had like that bad reputation that it was bad to be from the area or whatever.
“But I started noticing that people who were able to step out of that circle, who were able to face adversity and push through, ended up being really successful and there had to be a reason.
“A lot of them came from Penrith and were successful and I feel it was because they were able to deal with that adversity.”
So when Pedro steps into the octagon this weekend, 1,239 days and multiple knee surgeries later, he will be fighting for more than himself.
It will prove that the definition of “normal” is not the same for everyone. That his upbringing, whether conventional or not, is the reason he’s here, battling adversity that would have been too much for some.
“Education certainly has a lot to play for,” he said.
“You’re just always in a fight. Life is a fight. Life is a tougher fight than any we will have in the ring. I lost more flights outside in life. My life has been a rollercoaster of the worst times and quickly after the best times of my life.
And after this roller coaster ride has taken him to so many of his ‘worst times’ over the past three years, all Pedro wants is to finally come back to enjoy those ‘best times’, with his hand raised again. .