David „Undertaker“ Dvořák is a young and very promising Czech MMA fighter, who was the only Czech to win his debut fight in UFC. Even when he's literally tiny both in height and weight, he has the spirit of a fighter. His LP=Life.cz interview shows that he is a well educated and humble young man, who is at his most happiest in his little garden or with animals.
Tell me about your nicknames, why have they changed?
I used to be "Cockchafer", like a little bug, a pet name for a little boy, but that wouldn't really fly in the US, especially because it's not a very appropriate nickname in English. So "Undertaker" was an obvious choice, because that used to be my job for several years.
How did you decide to become an MMA fighter? You're so tiny, a former chess player...
I did self-defense in high school. I always thought I'd never use it, everyone would just slap me around. But a friend then told me about MMA being a thing. I went to try one training session and just stuck with it.
Were you bullied in school? You really are tiny...
Fortunately I wasn't, I always had a great friend group. Until the age of 15 I was the smallest and youngest in my friend group in our village, and we'd always fight. Of course I'd always lose, but that may have been one of my motivating factors, and it was never malicious, just friendly scuffles.
When you first came to a training, how did it feel? Is it manageable when one isn't trained?
These days it's manageable, because everyone knows exactly what they're getting into, the sport is on TV. Back when I started, and it's been 11 years, there were only fights without gloves. When I came to the first training session, there was just a bunch of huge bouncer types, guys around 100 kg. I was tiny, and on top of that I had long hair down to my shoulders, so somebody who doesn't belong there at all. It was a weird feeling, but I liked it.
How old were you when you started?
I was 17.
When did it become a legit job for you?
It only became a legit job now when I signed a contract with UFC, after those 11 years.
In the meantime you continued your studies?
After high school I went on to college - sports management at University of Hradec Králové.
What was your job on the side? I know that you used to be an undertaker...
I was an undertaker. Then I was helping a friend with building ponds, I worked in archaeological research for a highway, watched over people, worked the coat check at a nightclub, there was a lot od stuff.
Were these just part-time jobs alongside your studies, or was any of it full time?
The highway thing was a full-time job, I did that full time for two years, everything else were part-time jobs. I'd go work at a festival on a weekend, for example. Or my dad would hit me up and say he needed a grave dug, so I'd pack up and go.
So you only dug graves? You never handled dead bodies?
No, I only did the digging.
Why did you start playing chess? Did you take part in any championships?
I started playing at six years old and played until like seventeen. From fourteen to seventeen I played in the junior league on a pretty solid level. Then I kind of lost interest, as if I'd burned out, no motivation. I didn't have any great results yet, so I went for a change.
Compared to the other fighters, you strike me as somebody from a completely different world...
It's possible. Chess really helped me. When I was a boy, I was really extroverted, always ran around, kept hurting myself and my parents needed to calm me down somehow. So they signed me up for chess, and it kind of stuck. When you play, you have to keep thinking, work your mind, and I think it really set me apart from the others. Boys here are all spontaneous, they're out at a club, somebody pushes them and they're all up in arms already. But I'm just really chill.
What was your parents' reaction to the MMA thing?
They said I was crazy. They'd seen some rather unsavory videos, so they didn't like it at all and were against it. But when I managed to win nationals after half a year of training, they said that I probably had some kind of talent. Up to this day they aren't too happy when I come home messed up, but they're my biggest fans.
What are your worst injuries from the cage?
I don't think I have any from the cage. I had a torn calf muscle once, but that heals after three weeks, it's nothing too bad. Training, yeah, I have worse injuries from there, but never from a fight.
Were there any fractures? Or something that took a long time to heal?
I broke an arm four times. Once a friend accidentally broke my knee when he wanted to tackle me and tore my anterior ligament. That put me out of commission for two years.
It must be really hard to get back in shape after that.
Yeah. But that was a breaking point for me. I kept making friends and at that point my fighting record was 4:3, which is really bad, and then count the injuries into it. After that I freed myself from everything and kept going.
You're really successful with UFC, but you did turn down their offer the first time.
It was a year ago, the offer was for a heavier weight class. I'm too small for that and I don't have the weight for it. I trained with guys who fight heavier class. I know what that looks like and what they'd do to me. I wouldn't want that.
Were people shaking their heads?
Yeah, people said I'm crazy for turning down UFC, that I'd never get an offer like that again. But we had a good team, one that we still have. They knew how to work with me, we stuck to our own plan. And it worked out well.
So the offer came again a year later, for your weight class.
And you didn't hesitate anymore?
I did. I'd been sick for three months straight. I had a staph infection, I kept going to the hospital for IV treatments and I was feeling really awful. Then it began to sort itself out, I'd been training for about a week and suddenly my trainer's calling me at 2am, saying that we have an offer from UFC in five weeks. I'd just recovered from an illness, so I was debating whether it's worth it. Then they told me that it isn't for one fight, but a clear contract for four fights. We said okay, we'll give it our all. And if it doesn't work out, we got three fights out of it. And it did work out.
How were you feeling?
Amazing. It actually wasn't really clicking. I was expecting euphoria to kick in, for something to change, but I've been feeling the same.
Now the sport is your job. What does your work day look like?
It looks great, I've always dreamed of it being like this. I wake up at around 7 or 8 AM, my first training at nine, the next one's approximately at 10, one's lighter, one's more intense. For lunch I'm free, I can go to my garden or sort out media. And then in the evening I have another training session. It comes out to around two or three sessions a day. When it's three, usually it's two lighter ones and one intense one, so that my body can manage to put itself together.
What else do you do in your free time aside from working in your garden?
I've taken a great liking to weapons. My brother is a huntsman, we go shooting together. I just got myself a new rifle, so I can play around with that, I dabble in trap shooting too. Otherwise it's normal stuff, my girlfriend and I went to play table tennis, I've been trying out other sports too.
There are beautiful women in MMA. How long have you been together?
And she's already used to those other beautiful women?
She's already used to it. (laughs)
How do you deal with fame? Do you feel tempted, do female fans contact you?
They've always done that. I don't have a problem with anybody, whether it's a guy or a lady writing to me, if they're interesting, i'll keep replying. But it's not like somebody contacts me and I go out on a date with them. I don't get into this at all. Plus, she's nuts, she'd kill me. (laughs)
Is she stronger than you? Does she do MMA?
She may not, but she's got guts. (laughs)
Have you been in a fight before?
Always in good spirits, I wouldn't want to get on her bad side. (laughs)
We're meeting up at the launch party for the book Život v kleci (Life in a cage). Have you read it?
I haven't read all of it. I know what it's about and I've skimmed through it, but I'll have to make time to read all of it. I have a few books I still have to finish.
How would you describe your own life in a cage?
I'd describe life in a cage as the dream life.
What does being a godfather mean to you?
It's a great honor and I'm really flattered. I'm happy to be viewed as one of the prominent figures in martial arts.
The gloves you used at the launch are yours?
Yes, the gloves are mine. They're actually the gloves from my last UFC fight.
How long do you think you can keep doing MMA as a top level sport?
It depends a lot on each fighter's health, it's very individual. I'm 28 years old now, so I think I should be able to keep both health and enthusiasm until around 35. So some seven more years. And then dedicate my time solely to being a trainer.
Won't you regret it?
No. This will end one day, I'm counting on it. Same as people ask me if I'm afraid of losing, because I have a long win streak. No, that's just the way it is, one day there will be somebody who defeats me. I'm counting on it and I'm taking it as it is.
What about your dreams? How far would you like to make it?
On the sports side, I'd like to win a UFC title, I'm going to keep pursuing that. My personal dream is building a nice house and then securing land and a building, set up an animal rescue center and dedicate myself to that in the future. Be a trainer, make money and care for animals.
I saw this post about a horse on your Facebook...
We assisted in a horse birth. I'm from a village and we had been present at horse birth and taken care of animals since childhood.
Your parents have a farm?
Not really a farm. They keep rabbits and horses, nothing big. We used to have roe deer and fallow deer, but not anymore. I grew up with animals. Even these days I often pick up and take home an animal injured in a crash and such. I'd like to do it full time.
You have to maintain a certain diet as a sportsman. How do you think normal people should maintain their bodies without being in top sports?
If I took a standard diet, not ours, I think that the basics are in eating regularly and sleeping well. Some people go to bed at a different time each day and sleep cycles are very important. Then of course maintaining some sort of a balanced diet, don't eat at fast food chains and buy all sweets. Of course, sometimes it's important to take it easy.
How did the coronavirus crisis affect you?
Aside from wearing a mask I haven't even felt affected at all. Sure, I can't just go abroad and train properly, in England for example, where I train with Karel Vémola. It's even worse in America because of the unrest, so I have to stay home.
You travel around the world to train?
I've traveled to Asia regularly over the course of three years, for about six months at a time. Once I spent 4 months in the US, where I also work, but I mostly travel to England. I travel around the world and enjoy it.
Does your girlfriend come along?
She's gotta miss you then, no?
Of course, it becomes a little bit of a crisis then.
Why doesn't she come along?
She's working, and it's financially tasking too. I can't afford to pay for two plane tickets. Every trip costs me about 50 thousand crowns, and I live rather modestly.
I thought MMA fighters made a lot of money...
Some do, but earning-wise, I'm still at the very beginning. I only have one sponsor, the JIP project that helps me financially, but otherwise I have nothing. That will only start now.
Thank you very much for the interview.
What does MMA mean to you?
The best diet before a fight?
How important is a man's height?
What's fame doing to you?
The recipe for dealing with bullying?
What kind of vegetable did you grow most recently?
How do you pick up girls?
The craziest job you've ever had?
What will you do for a living in 15, 20 years?
What sports do you like aside from MMA?
Is MMA a fitting sport for women?
The greatest feeling you've had recently?
Have you ever gotten in a fight outside of the cage, and why?
What's your opinion of MMA fighters?
I'd agree with that sometimes. Thank you.