If what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, UFC lightweight Tim (The Dirty Bird) Means is very well prepared for a career in fighting.
The 28-year-old lightweight from Edgewood, N.M., took on Spencer (The King) Fisher two weeks after being shot in the leg. Means has also survived drugs and prison.
"I can't forget the past or what I've been through," said Means. "If I forget then I'll wind up a mess again."
Means (18-3-1) meets UFC debutante Abel Trujillo (9-4) on Saturday on a televised card in Seattle.
Trujillo, 29, has a degree from William Penn with a major in sports administration and a minor in business management.
He is also a tough nut, hardened from training with champions at the elite Blackzilians camp in Delray Beach, Fla. His nickname is Killa, as in Team Killa tattooed on his chest.
"The guys I train with are the best in the world ... I want to fight the best people in the world," Trujillo said.
"When I got the opportunity to fight Tim Means, it was like that was the challenge I'd been wanting. It's exactly what I need. I don't want to start in the UFC fighting lower guys. They gave me a great challenge."
Means is on an 11-fight unbeaten streak and has won both his UFC bouts to stretch his winning streak to nine.
Benson Henderson defends his lightweight title against Nate Diaz in the main event of the Key Arena card. Also on the card, Canadian welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald faces former lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn.
Means and Trujillo (pronounced tru-HE-o) were set to meet Sept. 1 at UFC 151, only to see the card cancelled.
Trujillo, who has been training with the Blackzilians since last October, only got on the card Aug. 1 so had a shortened training camp to prepare for Means, a six-foot-two southpaw.
He took some time off after the postponement to recover from some minor injuries before returning to training.
Trujillo is on a four-fight win streak and says he is ready for the UFC. Stars like heavyweight Alistair Overeem, a fellow Blackzilian, apparently agree.
"When you hear something like that from a guy like Alistair Overeem, it kind of sinks in," said Trujillo, a former NAIA all-American wrestler.
Means kept training after the UFC 151 cancellation, helping fellow fighters in his gym prepare for bouts. They included his girlfriend Brenda (Boom Boom) Gonzales, who is the King of the Cage women's 125-pound champion.
Gonzales (4-0) defended her junior-flyweight title Saturday by stopping Elsie Zwicker in Towaoc, Colo.
"She's one of those few females that has one-punch knockout power," said Means. "I've seen her drop some guys with 16-ounce gloves on."
"She'd never been in a fight until we got together," he added, meaning he introduced her to MMA. "She's just one hell of an athlete."
Means trains at FIT NHB in nearby Albuquerque and at Power MMA in Gilbert, Ariz., with the likes of fellow UFC fighters Ryan Bader and Aaron Simpson.
A former wrestler, Means said he got into MMA because he was being bullied at school and had "a real anger problem."
"So I got into mixed martial arts with the mindset that I was going to learn how to defend myself and give it all back." he said. "And that's exactly what I did and wound up getting in streetfights, getting shot, getting myself into trouble — just not being a very good person. Just being a mean guy.
"I had time to sit (in prison) and reflect on that. And that's not who I am. Deep down I have a conscience. I care about individuals and I was pretty disappointed in the person I was becoming."
He was also mindful of his nieces and nephews, not wanting to lead them down the wrong path. "I didn't want to be that role model."
Today, he has a family behind him and responsibilities to a girlfriend, daughter, dog and a mortgage. He says his wild days are behind him.
"Running with the wrong crowd, I could blame it on those guys but it was mainly me just making stupid decisions because I didn't have responsibilities," he said of his past.
The five-foot-eight Trujillo had his share of fights growing up. He was a small kid and got picked on.
"I was just real mischievous," he said.
He got into MMA during college at the urging of his assistant wrestling coach.
"Fighting is basically like wrestling with punches," he said. "I needed something to do when wrestling was over with."
He became a father in college and started working after graduation to take care of his daughter.
"After working a couple of years, I just realized I wasn't really happy. I felt like I wasn't fulfilling my destiny. I always thought I'd be great at something."
Trujillo turned his attentions to MMA again, first in Iowa near William Penn. He lost two of his first three pro fights.
"I was going in there on pure adrenaline and I was gassing out," he explained. "I would basically get to the point where I had no gas in my tank and I would just give up.
"I had to realize this is not a street fight, it's an actually professional sport."
So he worked on his conditioning and mental strength, winning his next four. Two losses followed, both of which Trujillo disputes. He says one (Scott Cleve) was a hometown (split) decision and he never tapped out in the other (Alonzo Martinez).
Means was 2-1 as a pro when he met Fisher in March 2005 in the aftermath of getting shot.
Means was shot after an altercation in a club. Someone had objected to Means and his friends supposedly cutting into line. But Means and the man talked it out and shook hands.
When an intoxicated Means left an hour later, shots were fired.
"Bang bang bang bang bang. Fifteen rounds the guy shot into the six of us. No words, I just walked outside and started getting shot at. It was really like a sequence out of a movie."
The bullet hit his femoral artery but a friend tied Means' belt around his leg to slow the bleeding.
Everyone survived the ambush. The shooter, who was also under the influence, was later arrested.
"I shouldn't have been in a position where I started a fight with another guy," said Means.
He took the Fisher fight on two weeks notice and with a gash in his leg held together with staples from the gunshot wound.
"It wasn't the best thing for me but at the time in my life, and the things that were happened, I needed to get in and fight somebody and release some frustration because I wanted to get even with the guy that shot me. And that wasn't the right way to go about doing so."
Fisher, who went on to the UFC, was 11-1 at the time. Taking advantage of Means' lack of jiu-jitsu at the time, Fisher won by triangle choke in under two minutes.
In the short-term, Mean says the fight prevented him from going out and doing something stupid in the streets. But in the long-run, it didn't help because he didn't rehab his injury and fell back into partying.
He had one more fight, a win some three weeks later. Then came what the UFC calls a four-year hiatus from the sport.
Means calls it prison.
He was sent away for a string of misdemeanours. After a string of drug appearances and lies before the same judge, he "just saw right through me" and ordered him behind bars.
"In a lot of ways he saved my life doing that ... I was in and out for about four years."
"I got out in the department of corrections and I let it correct me," he added.
He didn't fight again until February 2009 and has gone 15-1-1 since.
After being released, he returned to MMA — wanting to stay in training and to make some money. But wins kept coming and Means went on to win several King of the Cage titles, including junior-welterweight and lightweight.
Then the UFC called.
Means usually weighs 180, cutting down to 155 for lightweight. He trains full-time.
"There's too many good guys out there that are too violent to not take serious all the time. So I'm in the gym three times a day, six days a week and enjoying every minute of it."
Means expects Trujillo to be motivated in his UFC debut
"I'm expecting the guy to come out with something to prove," Means said.
"I'm expecting him to stay standing until I catch him with something and then he'll resort back to his takedowns," he added.
Means' nickname came from an amateur fight and a botched hair dye job. "It was supposed to be red but came out pink."
At first, they toyed with The Flamingo but The Dirty Bird eventually stuck.
Trujillo got the nickname Killa in college.
"I always had kind of like an anger problem growing up and in college I kind of demanded respect from everybody," he said. "Everybody, especially the wrestlers, just called me Killa and it stuck with me."
When some of his fellow wrestlers got into MMA, they opted for Team Killa as a name.
Trujillo was initially asked to come to the Blackzilians as a training partner for Michael Johnson. The visit kept getting extended and eventually he became a full-time member.
He loves the training and the gym, but he misses his six-year-old daughter, Amari.
"It hurts but at the same time it's motivation for me to go in there and win so I can go see her."
NOTES — Illness has forced local lightweight Michael Chiesa off the Seattle card. He had been slated to meet first Rafaello (Tractor) Oliveira and then Marcus LeVesseur... Light-heavyweight Ryan (Darth) Bader is to meet Vladimir (The Janitor) Matyushenko on a televised card Jan. 26 in Chicago. The show will also feature a welterweight bout between David (Daudi) Mitchell and Simeon (The Grin) Thoresen.