Will Chope has taken steps to rehabilitate his image. | Photo: James Goyder/Sherdog.com
The last 12 months have been turbulent for Will Chope, from the high of securing an Ultimate Fighting Championship contract to the low of being released by the organization less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to step inside the Octagon for the second time.
Having successfully made weight ahead of his UFC Fight Night 39 pairing with Diego Brandao in Brazil, Chope was resting in his hotel when a story broke surrounding the circumstances in which he had received a dishonorable discharge from the United States Navy five years earlier. Chope had completed his training camp and cut enough weight to make the 145-pound featherweight limit -- it is not an easy task for a fighter who stands 6-foot-4 -- but was suddenly left to face an uncertain future as a free agent with no fights booked.
“It was heartbreaking to work so hard for my dream and then see it get ripped away over past mistakes that happened over five years ago before I even started to fight professionally,” Chope told Sherdog.com. “The worst thing was being cut via social media without even being able to talk to anyone from the UFC to try and explain.”
Chope regrets the series of events that resulted in his being dishonorably discharged from the military following a domestic assault but questions the timing of the article which brought the issue to light. He claims to be on good terms with his ex-wife; they recorded a video together to address some of the revelations which led to his UFC exit.
Since being released by the UFC, he has fought in Taiwan and Singapore. Chope is booked to headline the Malaysian Invasion 2 “Grand Finals” show on Saturday at Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The event can be viewed online free of charge at www.mimmalive.tunetalk.com. It will be Chope’s sixth fight in the country. Having also spent time living and training in Kuala Lumpur, he has witnessed firsthand the explosion of interest in MMA there.
On paper, his matchup seems unusual because Chope is paired with Matthew Pellino -- a well-established MMA coach in the region who will be making his professional debut. Under normal circumstances, Chope would not expect to be fighting such an inexperienced opponent at this stage of his career, but the bad blood present between the two featherweights has created a lot of controversy in Malaysia.
“The Asian MMA community is very small, and Matt has had a big mouth ever since he came to Malaysia and has made false claims about his record, wrestling credentials and fight capabilities,” Chope said. “He also talked a lot of s--- about me and many other fighters, so I exposed him online over his false claims and he said he wanted to fight me.”
The list of opponents Chope has faced in his career outside the UFC contains a curious mixture of complete unknowns and well-established featherweights like Mauricio dos Santos Jr. and Takumi Nakayama. One can criticize him for taking some easier fights, but you also have to acknowledge that when the opportunity has come to step up and face a seasoned featherweight, Chope has never turned it down. At this point, he thinks he is immune to the type of criticism a matchup like the one with Pelino has the potential to create.
“Many haters have already accused me of being an over-glorified can crusher anyways,” Chope said. “I wouldn’t want to disappoint them by turning this fight down.”
The argument that Chope cherry picks opponents was slightly undermined by the fact he is scheduled to face former World Extreme Cagefighting bantamweight champion Miguel Torres in early 2015 in the semifinals of a tournament promoted by the Singapore-based organization Rebel Fighting Championship. The American booked his spot in the final four with a hard-fought decision over dos Santos Jr., an experienced Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and relishes the opportunity to test himself against an opponent who was once rated as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
“I am beyond stoked to fight Miguel,” Chope said. “I still remember watching him fight in the WEC while I was in high school. He used to be one of my idols, and as much of a cliché as it sounds, I am just happy I have made it far enough in my fight career where some of my childhood idols are now my rivals.”
Chope likes to remain active and secured his UFC contract on the back of a 14-fight winning streak that covered less than two years, all while taking muay Thai and boxing matches. In terms of combat experience, he already considers himself a seasoned veteran; yet Chope is still just 24 years old and believes he has plenty of room for growth.
“I have 27 pro MMA fights and also over 25 muay Thai, K-1 and boxing fights,” he said. “The great thing is, even with all those fights, I am still young and still improving every day. People forget I first started training MMA and martial arts back in June 2010 and jumped right into pro fights with almost no experience. I still have so much to learn and improve upon.”
The most noticeable trait about Chope is his height, and it seems highly unlikely that a taller featherweight will ever set foot inside the Octagon. Eleven of his 20 wins have come courtesy of a choke, and he has proven adept at wrapping his long arms round an opponent’s neck. Being the tallest fighter in the division does come at a cost, however, and Chope admits cutting to 145 pounds is difficult. Still, he has no intention of moving up in weight just yet.
“As far as weight cut, I finally got it down to a science that works, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t hard to make weight,” Chope said. “I know it’s crazy that I am six foot, four inches tall and can still make 145, but I plan to stay the world’s tallest featherweight for the foreseeable future.”
Chope turned around his MMA career after going 1-4 in his first five fights. He also seems to have turned around his life since being discharged from the Navy -- a point UFC President Dana White acknowledged after releasing him.
“He seems like a great guy and he’s got his stuff together,” White said, “but a few years ago, he didn’t sound like such a great guy.”
It took a 14-fight winning streak to secure Chope’s spot on the UFC roster. Earning a second opportunity will be even more difficult, but he has not given up on the idea of someday competing inside the Octagon again.
“The UFC is the biggest promotion in the world with the best fighters,” Chope said. “I want to be the best one day and the only place to prove that is in the UFC, so I hope I will get a chance to show the UFC I am a great fighter and a changed man.”