Parker Porter made his professional mixed martial arts debut on October 13, 2007. The UFC was still a couple years away from adding the featherweight and bantamweight divisions into the fold, and the sport wasn’t legal in his home state of Connecticut.
A couple fights later, he tried to move down to light heavyweight and lost to some kid named Jon Jones, and for the next dozen years, it felt like that little anecdote might end up being the biggest moment of his MMA career, as Porter cobbled together a 10-5 record, grinding it out on the rugged New England regional circuit.
But then in the summer of 2020, Porter got a call that would change his life, and kick off one of the coolest stories of the last several years in the MMA world.
“It’s been a wild ride,” the heavyweight said with a laugh as we spoke a week prior to his departure for Singapore, where he faces Junior Tafa in Saturday’s main card opener. “It was definitely unexpected when it happened, and I caught my lucky wave and I’m trying to ride it as far as I can; not waste a single moment. It’s something that I was chasing for over a decade and a half, and it finally became a reality for me.
“I feel validated; 100 percent validated in my efforts, and that’s the biggest thing for me,” added the 38-year-old, who has amassed five wins in seven UFC starts since dropping his debut, and enters Saturday’s contest off a first-round stoppage win over Braxton Smith in May. “I was really pursuing things relentlessly, non-stop, trying to make things happen, and life was throwing every curveball it could conjure up at me.
“I always managed to make my way back to it and was still hanging out at the top of the ranks in the local scene. For me, I always circled back to this — ‘I can’t just walk away from this; I gotta keep trying.’”
Think about this for a second: Porter suffered a first-round knockout loss in September 2013 that dropped him to 6-4 as a professional.
It was his second straight defeat and first fight off a nearly two-year layoff. He’s already been at this for just under six years and was struggling to break through beyond the regional ranks, not to mention struggling with the myriad challenges that present themselves when you’re grinding in MMA’s minor leagues, working multiple jobs to make ends meet and trying to be a good husband and father, all while chasing a dream that felt like it kept getting further and further away.
Throughout this journey, he pressed pause for a couple years, a couple different times, but ultimately still came back to the sport, putting in another two-and-a-half years hustling for fights under the CES banner without any guarantees that the call he’d been waiting on for all those years was ever going to come.
And yet he still kept after it.
“It’s been absolutely challenging,” he said, reflecting on the long, difficult journey. “I’ve been married twice now — found my unicorn on that second go-round — and we’ve got three kids.
“I’ve got twin 10-year-old boys and a three-year-old who is as much of a handful as the twins are, and life was coming at me, working three jobs at one point just to make sure nobody had to go without and bills are paid, roof over our head, and still trying to be able to find time to train while having a real wacky schedule with my twins going back-and-forth between households — it’s been a constant moving target that I’ve always had to try and hit, and I can’t miss.
“It’s one of those things where if you miss, it’s game over; it’s not a re-do. You don’t get to hit the reset button. It’s been extremely challenging, but I’ve learned as I’ve gone through all this, making mistakes and adjustments, and I’ve got the best support system around me that I’ve had my entire life between my wife, my coaches, my friends, my family.”
As much as he’s excited for himself to be competing on the highest level in the sport, the greater reward for the 38-year-old heavyweight is being able to show his kids that you really can make your dreams come true if you’re willing to put in the work and keep chasing after them.
“I’ve been given the chance to actually show them that it really does happen,” said the proud father. “I’m not just over here saying, ‘That’s what you gotta do!’ Talk is cheap, but I’m over here being able to lead by example for them, teach them how to be good, hard-working, persevering men once they grow up — doing the right things like not giving up on things they think are worthwhile, believing in themselves, pushing through difficulties and always keeping their focus on the target.
“They get to see first-hand what it’s like, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows,” continued Porter. “You see some of these celebrities where you just see them come up — you don’t know too much about their backstory, but they’re over here experiencing it, witnessing it first-hand that it does take a lot of work, a lot of perseverance.”
They’re also getting to see their dad do some cool things too, like head down the road to ESPN headquarters for an interview and jump on a plane to compete in Singapore, something even Porter said he would have considered crazy if you told him five years ago that this is what his future would entail.
“I would have said, ‘That sounds cool, but I don’t know what you’re on, man! I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon,’” he said with a laugh when asked about being presented with a vision of the future. “That’s what would have come out of my mouth.
“Even here in my home state, it wasn’t legalized until five years ago, so if you had told me when I started this stuff that I would be traveling to a different country to fight for the UFC, I would have been like, ‘No — you’re high, bro!’ That wasn’t even a thought in my head when I started pushing for this.”
But now he’s here, and it’s happening, as for the second time this year, he’d headed abroad to face a member of the Tafa Gang.
While there have been others that have shared the cage with UFC siblings — Josh Neer faced both Diaz Brothers; Cole Miller faced Dan Lauzon in the Octagon and Joe Lauzon on TUF 5; Bryan Barberena beat both Joe and Jake Ellenberger — Porter joins Katlyn Chookagian as the only fighters to face siblings in the same year,
Chookagian lost in her bid to unseat Valentina Shevchenko from the flyweight throne in February 2020, but rebounded with a unanimous decision win over older sister Antonina three months later, and now the Connecticut native is looking to do something similar.
Back in February, Porter ventured to Perth, Australia, where he lost to Justin Tafa by first-round knockout. Saturday night, he steps in with Justin’s little brother Junior, looking for a measure of revenge, along with a second straight victory.
“Oh, absolutely!” he said when asked if there he’s looking to exact a little payback by returning the favor to the younger Tafa this weekend after big bro put him out at UFC 284. “I’m human. I’m not gonna say no — it would absolutely be the cherry on a sundae.”
It’s another cool wrinkle in what is an incredible story, one that is still being written, and should probably one day be turned into a movie; dibs on first crack at the screenplay.
“Now that I’m here, it’s to continue on and really make a name for myself; carve out my legacy and make my niche in the sport,” said Porter, turning his focus to the future. “I want to put my name in the history books.”
Literally speaking, he already has, as he and Chase Sherman combined for the most significant strikes landed in a three-round heavyweight fight in the summer of 2021, breaking a record Porter had set with Josh Parisian in his previous appearance.
In a broader sense, I would argue he has, as well.
Porter has spent 15 years on this journey, and the path he’s taken, his personal “Hero’s Journey” is more compelling and familiar to those of us watching from home, rooting him on, than that of the prodigious talent that bested him in those early days of their careers or countless others.
Football has Vince Papale, the Philadelphia Eagles walk-on portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film Invincible. Baseball had Jimmy Morris, the southpaw that debuted in the Major Leagues at age 35, eventually becoming the subject of The Rookie, with Dennis Quaid playing Morris.
MMA has Parker Porter, but his story is far from over.
“I’m definitely not done writing it,” he said, “but I’m certainly off to a good start writing it.”
Another chapter gets added this weekend.
UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs The Korean Zombie took place live from Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore on August 26, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!