Making it to the UFC is just the first step in Chris Gutierrez getting back something even more important.
Though there are plenty of viable options for fighters these days, few would argue that the UFC is the most prestigious promotion particularly in regards to mainstream acceptance. It’s this recognition that Gutierrez is looking to leverage in an ongoing personal conflict.
Set to make his UFC debut against Raoni Barcelos in a bantamweight bout at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale this Friday, Gutierrez is currently putting in work with the surging Factory X team in Colorado. He’s basking in the positive vibes of his coaches and teammates, but the story of how he ended up there is rife with drama.
Gutierrez moved to Colorado to start a new life with a girlfriend and their newborn son. Somewhere along the way, the relationship soured (“I guess she had a change of heart,” Gutierrez said, in a recent interview with MMA Fighting) and the couple split up. It was Gutierrez’s ex who would end up earning custody of their then-three-month-old child.
This ongoing battle outside of the cage is at the forefront of Gutierrez’s thoughts ahead of fight night.
“Where I’m at now is a blessing in disguise,” Gutierrez said. “It sucks the way it went down, but it got me to where I’m at. It’s helped me become a stronger person. It’s helped me become a stronger individual, not just as a fighter, but as a man.”
“I’m moving forward,” he continued. “I’m using my family and my son as motivation. In order for me to give my family and my son a better life, I have to be able to give myself one. It’s me in the cage. I’m the one that has to put out. If I let somebody else take that away from me, I can’t give my family and my son the things that they need to make life a little easier.”
One particular aspect of his custody battle that stung Gutierrez was that his career choice was used to build a case against him. Allegations were made about Gutierrez’s behavior and his capacity to potentially cause harm due to his martial arts training.
Gutierrez could not go into detail about the exact nature of these allegations, but he voiced his displeasure with the system and how he feels it targets individuals who fit his profile.
“I don’t believe my son should have been taken from me,” Gutierrez said. “Of course, you’re a fighter and I got accused of all these stupid things that ultimately had no truth, but because I’m a professional fighter — and this is the way I got told — because I could hurt the average person, they used that against me and that they would have to protect her and the baby.
“Unfortunately, I’m a statistic in the system and it’s got to stop. There’s got to be a way to shut that down because here I am, I’m a loving father. All I want is my son in my life and they took that away from me. I’m having to go through the court system to get him back and even then I’m doing everything the court asks and the people refuse to let me see my son.”
Gutierrez describes himself as coming from a traditional Hispanic family, one where his brothers grew up wanting to become soccer players. A lack of support from coaches and financial issues got in the way of Gutierrez pursuing that dream, another moment of adversity in his life that led him down the MMA path.
He repeatedly referred to becoming part of Factory X as “a blessing in disguise” and the team assisted him in breaking down Barcelos’s successful UFC debut against Kurt Holobaugh in July. Gutierrez is vowing to not make the same mistakes that led to Holobaugh being knocked out.
Getting that first UFC victory is crucial for Gutierrez. Not just for the sake of wins and losses, but to prove that the career he’s chosen is a respectable one. One that he doesn’t believe should be used to judge him when it comes to matters of greater urgency than fighting.
“Of course, absolutely,” Gutierrez said, when asked if he hoped success in the UFC would benefit his reputation. “One thing I’ve learned now is my existence is much greater than me. And I want to be able to give back, I want to be able to help people pursue their dreams. And not only in fighting, whatever it is, let nothing get in their way.
“But at the same time, since I do fight for a very prestigious promotion, I want people to know that I’m not this bad person. I have a job and my job’s to get in there and fight, and whatever happens happens. That shouldn’t be used against me. I want to be able to be a voice for fathers. I’m not sitting here trying to dog women, but in this country they treat men like we’re second class citizens and that’s not right. Fathers do matter. And kids, these babies, they need both. I know deadbeat fathers that have more access to their kids than I do and I just want my son in my life.”