Life after fighting.
It's not a subject many MMA fighters like to even broach, much less discuss with great certainty, but at some point every athlete has to come to the end of their career.
While most fighters point to the difficulty of giving up the rush of competition, there's also the very real question of how they will financially support themselves once that cage door closes behind them for the final time.
While some former UFC competitors like Chuck Liddell and Matt Hughes not only lived out their dreams on the biggest stages in the sport while pulling in millions of dollars, they've also been granted careers after fighting with their former employers that give them financial stability beyond what they made competing in the Octagon.
For every Liddell and Hughes, there are hundreds of fighters that maybe only made it to the UFC for a handful of fights or even fought there for several years, but never got to the level where they were pulling in six-figure paydays.
Add to that the fighters who do earn the biggest paychecks that don't have a financial plan for what happens when that money finally does dry up.
A 2009 study done by Sports Illustrated reported that a whopping 78 percent of former NFL players were either bankrupt or in financial peril within two years of leaving the league. NBA players were just as likely to fall into financial ruin with 60 percent of them reporting bankruptcy within five years of retirement.
UFC lightweight Danny Castillo doesn't know what it's like yet to make NFL or NBA money. Those players routinely pull in millions upon millions of dollars in lucrative, guaranteed contracts, but the life of a professional fighter even at the UFC level doesn't earn those kinds of dollars and certainly doesn't enjoy much job security.
It's why Castillo is joining a larger group of fighters looking towards the future when the gloves are off, and their UFC career is over.
"I know I can't fight forever and it just seemed like the perfect opportunity," Castillo told Bleacher Report about his new business. "I had the money, I haven't bought a house yet and I just don't think it's a good move to put myself in 35 years of debt when I don't know exactly what I'm going to do with my life or if I'm even going to have kids. I've been holding off and I just thought it would be more of an asset to have money coming in from a business so when I do buy that house I'll have something to pay the mortgage."
Living in Sacramento where he trains alongside other UFC veterans like Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes, Castillo recently opened a new hot pilates studio called P2O, and if the early returns are any sign for the future, he's got plenty to look forward to once his fighting career is over.
The idea for the business actually happened when Castillo and his team essentially transported their camp to Las Vegas for a few months to help team leader Urijah Faber coach his squad of fighters during The Ultimate Fighter: Live.
"I got the idea for pilates when Urijah had us out in Vegas for TUF. All of the guys, most of Team Alpha Male were out in Las Vegas coaching and filming TUF and we were just down for different ways to work out and we saw that hot pilates had a lot of popularity out there," Castillo explained. "So, we went and tried it, and it was one of the tougher workouts."
In large part, Castillo also credits Faber with the idea to open a business in the first place. Throughout his entire MMA career, even long before he was in the UFC, Faber has dabbled in the business world away from fighting.
"I'm fortunate enough to have Urijah Faber as a friend, and not only as a friend, but as a mentor," Castillo said. "Just to be around a guy like Urijah, who is so busy and so active, and seeing how he does such a good job of balancing business and pleasure and all of this at the same time is during a training camp. It's nuts. Having him as a mentor and seeing the way he's able to balance it has helped me tremendously."
In 2010, Faber co-founded Form Athletics, an apparel brand that eventually sold to K-Swiss, and while the terms of the deal were not disclosed, the former WEC champion likely took home a hefty paycheck for the work he did to start the company.
Faber has also recently started work on MMADraft.com—a website devoted to the amateur side of MMA where he will also run the first ever MMA combine at this year's UFC Fan Expo in July—as well as Optical Panacea, an MMA fighter artwork and photography project.
The former WEC champion has also created an empire in Sacramento with his gym and team, as well as multiple houses he's purchased to give fighters a place to live when they come to train or live in Sacramento and work with Team Alpha Male. All in all, Faber has proven he's a very smart fighter and businessman, and he's trying to instill those same qualities in the younger guys around him.
"You've got to think outside the box and I have the clothing line that we're pushing and I've got great partners in that. We've got a lot guys doing their own thing," Faber told Bleacher Report recently. "Chael Sonnen, Anthony Pettis is doing his own business, he's got his bar out there and he's involved in the gyms and he's starting to develop his own brand of kickboxing. We've got Scotty Jorgensen, who is out there and has his own gym. Danny Castillo opened his hot pilates studio, Chad Mendes is always thinking about how he can get involved in the business side of things of doing hunting stuff. We've got guys thinking outside the box. It's exciting to have things to work on and work on things towards the bigger picture."
Castillo learned from Faber how to balance life inside and outside of fighting to get the most potential out of training while not forgetting there is more going on than just the bout ahead of him. He played a large part in the construction and opening of the pilates studio, and even teaches a kettle bell class at his new facility.
Castillo promises none of it is taking away from his preparation for the upcoming bout he has against Bobby Green at UFC on FX 8. As a matter of fact having this new business has given Castillo some peace of mind to allow him to focus on just getting better and enjoying the fight, and not solely focused on winning at all costs.
"I think my business takes the pressure off of me," Castillo said. "The money pressure isn't there anymore because I have a supplemental income on the side. In turn, I'll actually be able to have fun in fights instead of being stressed out and focused on winning, but in the back of my mind worrying about paying bills and only making one check. That's one thing I wasn't planning on it, and now that it's happened and the business is doing well I don't have to worry about the extra added financial pressure of fighting."
Make no mistake, Castillo plans on winning his next fight, but there is no longer this overhanging black cloud that looms if he doesn't come away victorious. There's very little enjoyment in any occupation if it all comes down to one ultimate outcome, and with his new pilates studio flourishing, Castillo's mind is at ease to just go fight, go win and then go home.
"Since I've been in the UFC, it's been hard to have fun because my debut was against Joe "Daddy" (Stevenson) and everyone was saying the WEC guys weren't going to do well and I was just going to get my ass kicked. There was that pressure and the whole pressure of being in the UFC and the fight jitters, they were there. The fight after that I started to loosen up a little bit, then I had the bad fight against Jacob Volkmann, and my pay was up so I was used to having a $40,000-plus win (bonus)," Castillo explained. "Not that I live an extravagant lifestyle or anything, but I become dependant on that money. Dependant on the win bonus.
"Now I'll be able to have fun and I'm really looking forward to this fight. I believe you'll see a different Danny Castillo and if anything it's given me more motivation to actually go out there and have fun."
Castillo is also giving back from his business as well. The money from his grand opening classes was all donated to the American Red Cross, and he plans on doing more work in and around his community in Sacramento.
With his business up and running smoothly, Castillo can now turn his attention to the fight he has in July without wondering what happens next in the worst case scenario, while also plotting a long term course for when his career comes to an end.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.
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