Motivation comes in many different forms in mixed martial arts. Some fighters set out on a journey they hope will end in fame and fortune, while others find a form of primal solace in the storm of hand-to-hand combat.
For UFC lightweight Tim Means, it is a step-by-step process. He's more than content to pay his dues as he makes his way, because he knows all too well what dwells in the darkness beyond the lights.
Whether the lights are the ones flickering late nights in the gym or those hanging above the sport's biggest stage, Means nearly lost his life battling his way through the shadows. It has been a tumultuous journey and with newfound direction in his life, Means has no intentions of slowing down.
"Every day I find peace in fighting," Means told Bleacher Report. "I'm so blessed to have a job where I can vent every day's frustrations and get them out. It's amazing that mixed martial arts has blown up and I have a career I love.
"I started out as a kid that wanted to fight. I needed a way to vent my anger because I was fighting in school. I never did well with bullying and I was one of those kids who would fight at the drop of a hat. I really want to find a way to mold that and one day I opened the phone book. I got into mixed martial arts with Tom and Arlene Vaughn.
"Rather than keeping it in the ring, I was going out and getting into street fights. I was taking fights without training and took a couple early losses because of it. I ended up getting myself shot and smashed in the face with a shovel.
"Around the time I got shot, I was starting to build a little bit of a name for myself in MMA. But when I was shot, I didn't rehab it. Rather than doing the right type of rehab, I started partying and doing drugs. I ended up becoming addicted to meth and went to prison. I went through that process, got out and this is where we are at now. Five years ago to where I'm at now is amazing."
Following his release from incarceration, Means dove back into mixed martial arts with a reinvigorated passion for the sport. Over the next four years, he tore up the regional circuit and smaller promotions as he amassed an impressive record going 13-1-1 during that stretch.
He began to build momentum in his career. Means captured the King of the Cage lightweight title by defeating Tye Brown and following that victory, the call he had been waiting for finally came.
The UFC tapped Means to compete against Bernardo Magalhaes at UFC on Fuel in February. It was the biggest opportunity of his career and he capitalized on the moment, working behind an aggressive attack which pushed the pace from bell to bell.
"I felt great going into Omaha," Means said. "My coaches and team had done a great job of getting me prepared to fight at that level. I had just won the King of the Cage 155-pound title and the call couldn't have come at a better time for us. I was in shape. I went in with a bunch of confidence and had a nice little win streak going. I just couldn't have come at a better time.
"My striking coach Arlene does a great job of building me mentally. We want to get in there, get guys out and not go to the judge's scorecards. It fits right right into my personality. I feel I'm the most aggressive 155-pound fighter out there, but I attack smartly. The goal is to take somebody out and move on to the next fight. Once the cage door shuts, I'm a different person."
While Means made good in his debut against Magalhaes, it was the 66-second destruction of Justin Salas in his next outing which made UFC fans sit up and take notice. From the opening bell, Means unleashed a ferocious attack on Salas.
After rocking and dropping his opponent, Means displayed a razor-sharp killer instinct as he finished the fight. It was a solid victory, but the fashion in which it was earned put Means on the radar. Even though so much journey remains, Means plans to prove himself to the UFC fans every step of the way.
"I just want fans to give me the opportunity and I don't want them to judge a book by its cover," Means said. "I don't have all the muscles or that cool-looking physique stuff, but I come into that Octagon looking to take people out. My demeanor alone shows that. I want fans to give me the opportunity and watch me fight. You don't have to like me a person or anything like that, but we are in the fight game. I'm going to lay it all on the line, win or lose.
"I'm going to bring a street fight to the cage. It's a more technical form of street fighting, a little more thought out, but it's a fight. I have to hurt them before they hurt me. It's survival up until that point. You have to prepare yourself for battle and that's how I train every day. I'm willing to prove I belong and get in there and throw down. I'm willing to do the work to get everyone to recognize my name."
His next bout was originally scheduled to come against Abel Trujillo at UFC 151. When the ill-fated card was officially cancelled, it appeared the bout went into the ashes along with the event. Fortunately for both fighters the bout was salvaged and placed on the UFC on Fox 5 card which will take place in Seattle at the end of the year.
Where other fighters on the card have publicly voiced their anger and concern how everything went down in regard to the cancelled event, Means put his nose back to the grindstone and went back to work.
"It's on to the next one," Means said. "I've learned to become a very patient person. I have a great team and coaching staff behind me. I'm developing as a fighter and maturing as a person. This is just another obstacle I have to get past.
"I like to fight. I need to build that experience. I need to get my time in the cage with the lights on me and people watching. In order to do that, my team has to keep me busy and in doing so, I can get that experience. I'm already back in the gym and training hard for Dec. 8."