Professional Fighters League heavyweight Josh Copeland is known to fans and opponents as the “Cuddly Bear.” However, as he heads into the biggest fight of his career at the 2018 PFL Championship on Dec. 31, a new moniker like the “Appreciative Bear” seems more fitting. The Idaho native is thankful for the financial opportunities and improved lifestyle he now has as a PFL fighter.
Copeland surprised many, as he became a finalist in the heavyweight division during this season of the PFL. He even surprised himself.
“Even though I knew I could hang with [the heavyweights on the roster], I didn’t view myself as making it to the finals,” Copeland told Sherdog.com.
Even a week after his successful run through the quarterfinals and semifinals of the PFL playoffs, he still had feelings of euphoria over his achievement.
“To be honest, the whole first week afterwards I felt like I was dreaming. I just had that surreal feeling [of], ‘Did that really happen?’” he said with a laugh.
Despite owning an 18-5-1 record with 11 stoppage victories, reaching the finals seemed a difficult task in his mind because of the league’s unique playoff format. With having both the quarters and semis on the same night, he believed so many things could go wrong -- in terms of cuts and injuries -- that being able to traverse it all and win would take as much luck as skill.
“To me, it’s not about being the best fighter that night,” Copeland said. “It’s about being the best fighter and having a little luck, so you’re able to move on to the next fight without something bad happening.”
In an effort to have the best chance at advancement, Copeland hired a nutritionist and a meal prep company for the first time in his career. He was unable to do this in years past because he simply could not afford the added expenditure. In the months before the playoffs, that all changed.
“When I knew I was guaranteed another 50 grand [for reaching the playoffs], that’s when I went out and hired a nutritionist,” Copeland said. “It’s nice to be able to afford the luxuries like a food prep company [and] a nutritionist.”
His improved financial situation makes him grateful to be a part of league.
“That’s why I’m so thankful for the PFL. From what they paid me just for the regular season, [it is] way more than what the UFC starts people out at,” Copeland said. “It sucks fighting for all these other promotions. When I fought for the UFC, it was [$8,000 to show and $8,000 for a win].”
The 36-year-old remembers months during his Ultimate Fighting Championship run when -- after paying taxes, managers and trainers -- he would end up with $1,500 at the end of a month.
“Usually you fight, and you make enough money to get you to the next fight. It’s like normal people living paycheck to paycheck. We are literally living fight to fight,” Copeland said. “It’s cool to be in a promotion where they are going to treat the fighters right and we can actually prepare like a real professional. We don’t have to worry about [thinking], ‘Dang my back’s all jacked up and I need a massage, but I can’t afford the 50 bucks to go and get it.’ It’s nice to know I can treat my body right.”
Copeland had a new level of comfort during his training for the playoffs. With the help of nutritionist Alex Kikel, Copeland looked leaner than ever at PFL 8. The Grudge Training Center combatant received an awakening in proper athlete nutrition during those six weeks.
“He’s just a brilliant and intelligent guy,” Copeland said. “It’s nice to have a guy that actually knows what he’s talking about.”
During his work with Kikiel, Copeland learned about the right supplements to take, what to eat, how much to eat and the importance of timing when ingesting meals.
“Timing is so important, especially when you’re training three or four times a day,” he said.
The investment paid off, as his energy level was strong following two hard-fought rounds against Francimar Barroso in the quarterfinals.
“After beating Francimar, when I went back [to the locker room], my energy was through the roof. I felt great,” Copeland said.
Along with his nutritional improvement, the “Cuddly Bear” felt energized before the semifinals because of his pairing with UFC veteran Alex Nicholson.
“I loved the matchup with Alex Nicholson,” Copeland said. “He’s the type of guy that’s successful because he’s aggressive -- aggressive and wild. He doesn’t really set things up. He just throws with his chin in the air. I love it when guys come at me.”
Nicholson did exactly that and even opened a bad cut over Copeland’s right eye after landing a hard spinning backfist. However, Copeland stayed composed during the oncoming rush and landed a huge overhand right, putting Nicholson to sleep before he even hit the canvas.
Copeland on Dec. 31 will enter the cage at Madison Square Garden in New York with $1 million on the line. His opponent? Philipe Lins, a Brazilian who impressively finished all three of his fights during the PFL season and playoffs. The former light heavyweight is a fighter for whom Copeland has a great deal of respect, and he is fully aware of the dangers ahead.
“He’s got crazy-fast hands [and] a stinking 79-inch reach I’m jealous of,” Copeland said. He believes the fight will turn into a striking battle, during which he aims to “push the pace, be smart, set up my attacks, just keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best.”
Although his nutrition and overall wellness has helped to improve his game, Copeland does not see it being the greatest influence in winning this fight or being better in general. He believes his continued growth as a fighter is why he is becoming the best version of himself.
“I was lacking experience and well-roundedness,” Copeland said in regards to some of his earlier losses. “Being in great shape is tremendous, but I would say now the best thing I have going for me is my experience.”
Win or lose, Copeland will have a check with many zeros waiting for him on New Year’s Eve. When asked what are his plans for the money after his bout at the PFL Championship, Copeland was quick on the draw: “The first thing I’m going to do is sit down with some of the smartest people I know and just try and figure out what to do with it.”