2017-07-14 / Sports

From Hell and back

MIXED MARTIAL ARTS Three years away from UFC, Vinc Pichel wins in first-round KO
Jonathan Andrade
@J_ Andrade_ on Twitter

TOUGHER THAN A $2 STEAK—Vinc “From Hell” Pichel is a UFC fighter who lives and trains in Simi Valley. The lightweight won his most recent fight on June 11, a first-round knockout of Damien Brown. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers TOUGHER THAN A $2 STEAK—Vinc “From Hell” Pichel is a UFC fighter who lives and trains in Simi Valley. The lightweight won his most recent fight on June 11, a first-round knockout of Damien Brown. BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Vinc Pichel never imagined a single text message would bring so much joy.

The former Ultimate Fighter semifinalist, who was in the midst of a three-year hiatus from competing, received a brief text message from his manager, Jason House, on March 29.

“Check your email,” House wrote.

Pichel had a fight offer.

The 34-year-old lightweight wasted no time accepting the June 11 bout.

“I didn’t even look up Damien Brown,” Pichel said of his opponent. “I didn’t even know where I was fighting.”

Pichel, who lives in Simi Valley and holds a 10-1 record, had to fly more than 6,500 miles to make his return to the octagon against Brown, a UFC veteran, at the Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

He could finally return to what he does best: fighting.

“It was like having a roll of duct tape that was wrapped around my head pulled off,” he said. “I honestly felt like I wasn’t being suffocated. That depression of not knowing if I was ever going to fight again was gone.

“I had that excitement that it was time to live again.”

The long flight to New Zealand was a short journey compared to the rocky ride Pichel endured the previous 33 months.

A CAREER IN LIMBO

Pichel was coming off backto back victories in 2014. Then he received word from doctors that his previous opponent, Anthony Njokuani, had broken Pichel’s orbital bone under his left eye during a bout in Las Vegas.

Fight injuries happen, but it wasn’t the last bad news Pichel received during one of the most trying times of his life.

In November 2014, while attempting to change a flat tire on a Cadillac Escalade during a shift at his day job with AAA, Pichel tore his right shoulder yanking on a tire iron trying to loosen the last lug nut.

“My shoulder came out and slammed back in,” he said. “It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. My arm went dead for a little bit.”

Pichel suffered a Type 4 SLAP tear in his labrum. He’d have to have his bicep cut, then reattached, to resolve the injury.

He’d dealt with a similar injury in his left shoulder after his only professional loss in 2012. That took 10 months to heal.

This time Pichel was sidelined for a year and a half while he fought to get financial help from his employers through a workers’ compensation claim.

While going through the financial battle, Pichel ended his engagement with his fiancee.

“It was really hard,” he said. “For a long time, the last three years, I thought I was going to have to quit fighting.”

He even typed a retirement speech into his phone, which he still has saved.

“I honestly don’t know what kept me going,” he said, “but I’m a firm believer things always work out in the end how they’re supposed to.”

FIGHT FROM BEGINNING TO END

Pichel was born to fight, for better or worse.

His first scraps came in his youth.

Pichel, who moved to Simi Valley from Canoga Park after the 1994 Northridge earthquake, bounced from high school to high school, getting booted from each institution for fighting.

“I went to all of them except for Royal,” he said. “Royal wouldn’t even take me because they already knew.”

Pichel was kicked out of Simi Valley High (twice), Santa Susana and Apollo before landing in an adult education school in town, where he was eventually tossed for throwing a book at a teacher.

He dropped out of school and started working as an electrician; years later, he became a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers labor union.

Pichel was still getting into tussles in his mid-20s—some scuffles even landed him in jail.

In 2007, MMA veteran Mark “The Bear” Smith, a Simi Valley resident who died in 2010, challenged Pichel to test his tough-guy mentality at a gym with trained fighters.

Pichel was hooked.

He trained at Kid Gloves Boxing Gym in Simi Valley and at Moorpark College before joining Big John McCarthy’s Ultimate Training Academy in Valencia, where he met his current grappling coach, Brian Peterson.

Pichel fought 11 amateur fights in 2008—nine of his 10 wins were knockouts or submissions—before breaking the news to his mother, Mona, that he was going pro.

“She said, ‘Oh, great,’” Pichel said of her sarcastic reaction. “‘What’s your nickname going to be? The Pichel from Hell?’”

They laughed, but the name stuck.

The Vinc “From Hell” Pichel moniker was born.

LONG WAIT, QUICK KO

It only took Pichel three minutes, 34 seconds to earn a first-round knockout victory in his long-anticipated return to the octagon.

While avoiding a flurry of wild Brown punches, Pichel landed an uppercut from hell to end the bout.

“That’s experience,” said Drew Sklov, a 32-year-old Simi Valley resident who has known Pichel for 10 years. “When you’re backing up, getting punches thrown at you, to have your eyes open on a target and execute a punch that landed the way it landed, that’s high-level stuff.”

The technical move also impressed Richard LeRoy, a 27-year-old Moorpark resident who fights professionally in California Xtreme Fighting. Le- Roy and Pichel train together at Street Sports Simi Valley and at Sityodtong Muay Thai in Azusa.

“He was patient in there,” Le- Roy said of Pichel. “As soon as he started letting his hands go, he knocked (Brown) out right away. It was a really good counter. It was a pretty vicious uppercut.”

Pichel stayed in New Zealand days after his victory.

“I loved it from the moment I got there to the moment I saw it disappear from my eyesight,” Pichel said. “I honestly did not want to come back home. If I could have just got married and stayed out there, I honestly would have.”

He brought a piece of New Zealand back with him in the form of a traditional Maori tattoo, which took more than five hours to complete on his lower left leg.

Pichel incorporated his mother, older sisters Sienna and Melissa, younger sister Nicia and younger brother Tonio into the masterpiece, which tells his story.

Vinc Pichel’s been reinvigorated by his most recent success, and he’s ready to rumble as soon as opportunity knocks.

“I want Al Iaquinta, or at least a top-20 guy,” Pichel said of his next fight. “I want someone who’s going to get me some more recognition to really put a warning out there and let people know.”

Pichel said he expects to go on a tear, like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who rattled off 11 victories in three years.

“I’m like that Michael Phelps freak who will come in and wreck shop on people,” Pichel said. “That’s what I want to do.

“I want to smash some people.”

Email Jonathan Andrade at jandrade@theacorn.com.

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