Drew McFedries: Standing Strong

UFC light heavyweight fighter Drew McFedries has spent a lifetime standing tall against forces that have the potential to drop anyone to their knees. From becoming an adult much too soon, to living with Chron’s disease and battling a serious staph infection, to coming to terms with his mother’s murder, Drew McFedries has seen it—and lived it—all. His incredible story documents the will of the human spirit and can serve to inspire others to make their own dreams a reality.

From a Childhood to Manhood
Telling his story, says Drew, was a long-time in the making. “Nathan Quarry has said for a long time that I should tell my story,” says Drew. But it’s one he may have held back from telling simply because he recognizes that he is powerless to change the past. He’s also the type of guy who would rather move forward without making excuses than look backward or have people feel sorry for him.

By his own admission, as a child, Drew became self-reliant much too soon. A necessity, he says, due to his mother’s on-and-off addiction to drugs and involvement in prostitution.

“We were always on government assistance. My mom was into drugs—and it’s the people that drugs bring around—a lot of craziness and prostitution—and you can just imagine when people are really hard up for something.”

Drew says as a child he had “the best of the best and the worst of the worst.” The worst times came partly as a result of his mother’s severe mood swings during the times she attempted to stop taking drugs. His mother’s lifestyle brought a multitude of unsavory characters to the home, which created situations where Drew was forced to stand up for himself to adults at an early age.

“I had to fight for myself and my two sisters—I had to fight for everything.” At the tender age of 11 or 12, Drew says he quickly learned to do his own cooking, cleaning, and laundry and relied on himself for basic necessities.

Much of his life was spent without a father figure, his own having little contact with him as he was growing up. In retrospect, Drew says of his father, “the only thing I wish my father would have done is just stepped up as a man…and said, ‘yeah, I did this…you were created and I’m sorry I’m not there’… just something to some degree…it would’ve been enough for me.”

His father lives about three hours from Drew’s home in Iowa, but rarely even calls. “If I could tell any guy anything it would be to just step up…it doesn’t take a whole lot to be a good dad. It’s about being attentive…about being there if the kid does need you for any reason that you’re available… just step up and be responsible and don’t leave your kid hanging.”

From 50Cent to Urkel
The stressors at home eventually led a troubled and confused young Drew to the point of being expelled from school in his freshman year and on the verge of dropping out. Drew explained, “I was frustrated with life and everything that happened to me at home and I took it to school with me.”

Luckily, he was noticed by his gym teacher Randy Scott and recruited by Merv Habenicht, the head football coach. “They kind of took me in and taught me a lot about life and kind of turned me around,” says Drew.

“They made me who I am by introducing me to great people and bringing me into the right circle of friends.”

Habenicht, now retired as Bettendorf High School’s head football coach, and his wife Evelyn, fondly recall Drew as a young man who became a good family friend and fit into their family well. “Outside the ring, he’s a real gentleman, but when he gets into a competition I guess you could say he really turns it on!”

His coaches served as father figures who Drew wanted to both please and emulate. Kevin Freking, who is the head football coach at Bettendorf High School, was another coach Drew credits with the ability to bring about change in him. “He was one of those people—a very hard-nosed guy who didn’t take any bullshit from anybody—who helped a lot of kids get ready for football or whatever.”

“He really pushed me to my limits and was one of the guys who really formed me physically and taught me how to avoid the pain and suffering of training and to take myself to the next level.”

Freking says, “Andrew had a bad life up to that point, but he never felt sorry for himself…he was always self-driven and he knew that through hard work good things would happen…he’s always persevered through it and that’s a sign of good character.”

In many ways, Drew says he credits his alma mater Bettendorf High School for making him who his is and changing his whole ideology of what life is about. “High school was a big change for me…imagine 50Cent going to Urkel…it was that drastic.”

Pissing off Monte Cox & Impressing Pat Miletich
With the help of his mentors and a new focus, Drew lettered in football, track and soccer, baseball. After graduating high school, Drew earned an associate’s degree at Iowa Central Community College, and later attended Saint Ambrose University in Davenport, IA to study sports management.

After college, Drew worked as a bouncer and sometimes competed in Tuesday Night Fights, an amateur MMA fight show hosted by legendary MMA manager Monte Cox at a local area bar, where Drew not only showed promise but also aroused suspicion.

“Monte actually thought I had been trained by somebody else and had been sent there to beat up on Miletich guys because that’s who I was getting matched up against.”

After nearly beating an up-and-coming import fighter from England, Pat Miletich realized he was in the presence of some serious, albeit raw, talent in one Drew McFedries, and offered him the opportunity to train at the Miletich Fighting Systems gym in Davenport. Monte was then able to see Drew’s talent, dedication and commitment with training and decided to represent him as his manager.

The opportunity put Drew training alongside the likes of Tim Sylvia, Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Jeremy Horn and Spencer Fisher, before his UFC debut at UFC65: Bad Intentions, where he won by TKO over Alessio Sakara (16-6-1) at 4:07 of the first round. His disappointing loss to Martin Kampmann (15-2-0) by arm triangle choke at UFC68:Uprising proved to be a valuable learning experience. Drew says the Kampmann fight catapulted him to the Radev win, where he knocked out his opponent in 33 seconds, because he was determined not to go to the ground again.

You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
It was, however, an opponent of an entirely different nature that took Drew to the ground after the Radev fight, when he was diagnosed with a methalyn-resistant form of staph infection that resulted in hospitalization and a skin graft on the back of his thigh.

Mentally more than anything, the infection wore on Drew more than any hardcore training session at MFS. But because of his tremendous determination and great physical shape, he was able to cut the doctor’s predicted healing time nearly in half to get back to training.

No stranger to dealing with debilitating illnesses, Drew was diagnosed with Chron’s disease about six years ago. The disease, which affects the gastrointestinal tract, is typically characterized by episodes of severe abdominal pain and cramps and other excruciating bowel problems.

During the worst of it, Drew was hospitalized and says dealing with the daily fears and pain was “brutal.” His Chron’s disease is now largely manageable with medication and a focused diet. “I learned not to touch certain foods—I can’t drink Vitamin D milk, but I can drink skim milk; I can’t eat grapefruit, but I can eat an orange…I can only eat certain types of ice cream, nuts and bread…things like that.”

Losing a Mother, Gaining Perspective
With all the trials life has placed in front of him, nothing could have prepared him for the murder of his mother Agnes just days before Christmas and weeks before his scheduled fight against Patrick Cote at UFC’s Fight Night 12 on Jan. 23.

“You know…I’ve seen so many things happen to my mother and I’ve seen her deal with so much and overcome so much—being beat up, strung out, in and out of hospital beds—that I thought she was indestructible.”

“I think a lot of my family members thought I was pretty cold to what had happened, but that really wasn’t it…I was really trying to stand strong for people in my family—mainly my little brother who is 14 because he was really confused about the situation.”

“A lot of people in the family didn’t do too well, including my sisters, and they may think I’m cold but it was more the fact that I wanted to stand tall for everyone else and kind of be that somebody to hold onto,” he explains.

“With my mom’s passing…it did reignite the fact that there were some really good times…in the end, if there’s anything to be said about my mother, it would be that she did hurt a lot of people and she do some real bad things, but nobody deserves to go out like that…every living thing deserves a chance and you never know what one more day will bring.”

To Fight or Not to Fight…
Given the tragic events of his mother’s death and his desire to be the rock his family could lean on, Drew faced the difficult personal and professional decision of whether to commit to the scheduled fight against Patrick Cote just weeks away.

“Taking the fight wasn’t the hard part,” says Drew. “It was the fact that I’d be so scrutinized for it.” Drew says sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, and that some felt he should bow out of the fight in consideration of the tough year he had with recovering from the staph infection and his mother’s death.

“I needed to take that fight to prove I could still do it…it really wasn’t about the fight…it was more about if I could persevere and push through this, and I did.”

Training for it, Drew says, was an entirely different issue. “It affected my training greatly because the fight game is very mental…it’s a very mental battle you fight to get yourself prepared.”

“It was hard to keep it together—you break down—I was cracking.”

Before the fight even began, Drew considered himself a winner—regardless of what the outcome might be—solely based on what he had overcome over the past year and his ability to even step inside the Octagon.

After a hearty standup exchange, Cote hit Drew and rocked him backwards into the cage, and even though Cote’s punches weren’t making it past Drew’s hands that were held up to shield his face, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 1:44 of the first round. In retrospect, Drew doesn’t fault the referee for what some saw as a quick and controversial stop.

“From Herb Dean’s standpoint, maybe I would’ve stopped it too. In my position, I know I should’ve fought back…bounced back. In my mind, I feel I didn’t react fast enough.”

Since then, McFedries scored a quick TKO win over Marvin Eastman and dropped a fight to Mike Massenzio via kimura.

Pushing Forward
Drew takes away from his life and Octagon experiences a belief that all of his trials have, in some way, shaped and molded him into the realistic, hardworking athlete he is today. “I think those lessons teach me that everything and anything can happen to you.”

And with the possibility that anything can happen very much a reality, Drew keeps pushing forward in the UFC, stating, “I’m so fortunate to be in the UFC—it’s a great organization—it’s the most rockin’ experience a guy can have to have 20,000 people screaming for you.”

In just 29 short years, life has thrown just about everything at Drew McFedries. His former coach Merv Habenicht says, “He has an inner spirit that keeps him going.” Some may call it the human spirit and others may call it the warrior spirit, but no matter what you call it, Drew McFedries has it. And after one hell of a year, Drew continues to stand tall with the intention of making an indelible mark in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

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