Chad Robichaux: The MMA Hero You Haven't Heard of but Need to Know

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIMay 11, 2012

Photo courtesy Dave Mandel|Sherdog.com
Photo courtesy Dave Mandel|Sherdog.com

There's Brian Stann and Tim Kennedy, but there's also Chad Robichaux. 

Robichaux served in the United States Marine Corps, going on eight tours of duty in the US's ongoing struggles against terrorism. 

However, he's far more than a regular soldier.

He's a hero—not for guns-blazing or Ramboesque exploits (although I'm sure he has many such escapades to boast of) but rather, for his humanity and generosity.

When soldiers fight a war abroad, returning to regular civilian life is almost like a war in and of itself, only the battlefields are varied. Instead of deserts, mountains and cities, the battles are fought in the mind, in the house and in the office—in large part due to a growing threat to soldiers: post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

It is this foe that Chad Robichaux seeks to vanquish.

But this wasn't clear to him when he first left the service. 

No, his road to being an admirable hero of a different sort started when he used his considerable martial arts skills to found profitable Gracie Barra gyms. 

"I did eight tours of duty. When I came back from the last one I was diagnosed with PTSD. That was what kind of lead me to open my gyms in the first place," Robichaux told Bleacher Report.

"I think at one time between both gyms we had over 1000 students. It was a very big success but underneath the surface of it all I was still dealing with post traumatic stress and dealing with issues in my family."

Nevertheless, Robichaux persevered.

"I’ve been married 17 years, have a great wife and family, three kids and I have a real strong faith as a Christian. It was those things that helped me to overcome PTSD, using martial arts in there to ground me and of course my faith. I surrounded myself by strong men of character and, of course, my family," said the Louisiana native.

Robichaux was fortunate that he had such a support base. But what of men who didn't have gyms, a loving, understanding family and faith? What was to be their fate? Would they be forever destined to abuse pills and alcohol to numb the harsh memories of war and the scorn of a society that ignored—or outright denigrated—their service?

Not if Robichaux had anything to say about it—his mission had changed now that he was healed.

"Finding my own healing, I just felt compelled to do the same thing for other people," he said.

But when it came to working within existing channels, the former Bellator fighter was pessimistic to say the least. He had seen the most commonly employed methods fail; something new had to be done.

What I’ve seen, from my experience and from friends, is that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and other outlets that are out there only medicate the symptoms of PTSD, they don’t treat the root problem. So we wanted to do something different and we sought out to work on the root problem of PTSD, that’s working on a man’s heart and the root causes...not just medicating the symptoms, said Robichaux.

Sensing he had something truly remarkable, Robichaux applied the same fervor to getting his venture off the ground that he applied to the martial arts. 

"I did all the research and education I could and got certified as counselor through the American American Association of Christin Counselors to work specifically with PTSD. My wife got certified in things," he said.

Those certifications were put to good use. Robichaux moved himself and his family to rural Westcliffe, Colorado to start what would be known as the Mighty Oaks Wounded Warrior Foundation.

We run six-day and 10-day programs for guys with PTSD or TBI [Traumatic Brain Injury] or people who served and had problems reintegrating back into society. We also focus on the family. Wives and family members who struggle with reintegration of the service member into the family or into the world. That’s what we focus on. It’s an incredible program. We have four programs, and one of them involves martial arts, Robichaux said.

"Obviously in a six-day or 10-day we can only teach them about replacement therapies and physical activities being great for their mental health as well as their physical health, but we can’t teach them martial arts in 6-10 days. So We just teach them about using a physical hobby as an outlet," he said.

However, there's a more expansive program that sees servicemen spend the course of a year with Mighty Oaks.

But the guys that come for a year, that is a physical outlet we implement with them—martial arts. We have them do Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and have them do that program, get them on the mats and get them active because we found that when a guy wants to go to alcohol or drugs and take some more pills for the numbing effect or to take his mind off of the stuff their dealing with, you get the same results from physical fitness, specifically on the mats grappling. I experienced it in my personal path—the healing, he said.

Unfortunately, even the noblest endeavors are not without drawbacks. Even though opening Mighty Oaks was a blessing to many a servicemen, it was a burden to a Marine's wallet and family. 

"It wasn’t the best financial decision," he said. "We started a brand new non-profit foundation and anybody who does something like that has to realize that comes with certain struggles."

One of those struggles was Robichaux's fighting career.

It is said that a fighter is only as good as his training partners, but rural Colorado isn't renowned for it's abundance of MMA world champions or up-and-comers...or so one might think. 

While Robichaux expected to leave fighting forever due to having nobody to train with, he was pleasantly surprised when he moved to Colorado, since a true MMA legend lived in close proximity.

"We moved to a real rural area because we thought the environment was best, best environment for the troops. I knew I wouldn’t have any training partners. It’s amazing the way things work. I get up there, I thought I’d be giving up training but I ended up living 10 minutes from Brad Anderson and Randy Couture!"

"I didn’t know he had retired to a small community, the same one I ended up going to," said Robichaux.

It was the coincidence of a lifetime, and it's paying dividends in Robichaux's career as a martial artist.

"I’ve been coaching for so long, being a student again is amazing...Randy has a very strong work ethic, and he expects that out of the guys he’s gonna give time to," he said.

When it comes to ring control and overall fight strategy, the amount of knowledge he has from his own experience and from the people that coach him, it’s just a huge asset to have the opportunity to be around...When you have a guy like Randy or Brad Anderson coaching you, you just do what they say to do. There’s no cutting corners. I was pushed at a level I wasn’t pushing myself to.

Robichaux will need to draw on all of that knowledge on Friday night at Legacy FC 11 when he faces Joseph Sandoval, and he'll also need that knowledge because he is planning on making his way to the pinnacle of MMA: the UFC.

"I’m shooting for a win Friday night," he said. "Joseph Sandoval, he just got cut from the UFC, but he wants to go back at 125 pounds, so I think the winner of this fight is probably looking at a UFC shot at 125 pounds because they don’t have anyone to pick from really."

He's right. Flyweight, while exciting, is undeniably one of the UFC's most shallow divisions due in part to its novelty; the talent pool hasn't had time to develop. It's for that reason that Robichaux believes he's one of the most experienced and dangerous competitors at 125 pounds.

"I’ve been fighting since 1997, my first professional fight was in 1999. I’ve obviously been doing this a lot longer than a lot of these younger guys," said the 36-year-old.

"I can’t imagine anybody in the whole division having as much experience as I do and being able to make that weight still at my age with all the experience…I think my experience and well-roundedness will make me the top guy in the division."

Robichaux is certainly an ambitious man, but that hasn't blinded him to the people who are important to him. For this camp in particular, he is grateful for the help of his wife. 

We’re married for 17 years so she’s been around [fighting] and dealt with the hard times. She thought it was all over, but here we are again. She’s still here with me, and she’s here to support me. Even though she had her struggles with it, she’s 100% behind me. She believes in why we’re doing it. It takes everybody around you in your life—fighters know this—everybody around you sacrifices for you to fight.

Everyone may sacrifice for Chad Robichaux to fight, but Robichaux himself has sacrificed for others not to.

He offered to sacrifice his life for his country (but fortunately didn't have to—he survived), he sacrificed his body for the entertainment of MMA fans and he sacrificed his and his family's financial security to heal soldiers. 

He's the hero you hadn't heard of until you read this article.

Now you know him, know you can spread the word and watch him fight at Legacy FC 11.