Fighting Words: Justin Wren (right) has immersed himself in the public speaking circuit. | Photo: Dave Mandel
Justin Wren has not fought since July, and it remains unclear as to when he will return to the cage. There has been plenty to keep him busy in the meantime.
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 alum’s tentative itinerary for the second week of April included speaking engagements at several high schools, a youth group and two prisons. To cap it all off, Wren scheduled a visit to a children’s hospital in Denver with some of his Grudge Training Center teammates.
“It’s been that way since November,” Wren told Sherdog.com. “I’ve spoken to as many as five different groups in one day. It’s hectic sometimes.”
The message varies depending on the setting, but Wren said his topics have ranged from goal setting and bullying to his personal life story.
The 23-year old heavyweight has not given up on a return to the Octagon, but his balky back gradually worsened in three bouts -- all victories -- outside the UFC since he lost a split decision to John Madsen at “The Ultimate Fighter 10” Finale. In his most recent fight, Wren slammed his opponent to the mat and his “back just went.” Afterward, the Iowa native finally decided to seek serious treatment.
“Ever since ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ there’s times I was sleeping on the floor at night,” Wren said. “After my last fight, my coaches, training partners, friends and family, my agent -- they all wanted me to take off and get to 100 percent before I go back to the UFC or any of the bigger promotions.”
The Greco-Roman All-American had a multitude of ailments in his back, but a visit to Dr. Chad Prusmack has him feeling optimistic that the worst is behind him. Prusmack, a neurosurgical consultant to the Denver Broncos, also treated fellow Grudge heavyweight Shane Carwin. The 36-year-old Carwin is set to return to the Octagon at UFC 131 against Jon Olav Einemo.
Wren said he has six or seven discs in his back that are damaged but was told that the corrective procedure he will undergo should allow him to return “pretty soon.”
With his fight career on hold, Wren has immersed himself in the public speaking circuit. The gig has provided him with a steady source of income, but it was not always clear it would be his niche. Wren credits his faith for sending him on the right path.
“I didn’t know what I was gonna do to support myself,” he said. “Since I was 19, I fought professionally. I didn’t know if I was gonna go flip burgers or what.”
Wren’s break came aboard an airplane shortly after receiving advice from a friend to pray about his future.
“The guy who sat next to me started talking to me about fighting,” he said. “I asked him what he did, and he said he was the international director of an organization called Champions for Life. They hire professional speakers and professional athletes to travel all over the world. He hired me on the plane and started training me on the plane. It was crazy how it worked out.”
When Wren is ready to go full bore in the cage, he will have a stable of talented training partners there to accommodate him. He said the biggest benefit that resulted from his time on the reality show was the chance to train under Trevor Wittman at Grudge with fighters like Carwin, Nate Marquardt and Brendan Schaub.
“In my wrestling career, I got good quick because my coaches were Olympic gold medalists or my training partners were NCAA champions,” he said. “In MMA, I wasn’t necessarily surrounding myself with those kinds of people before ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ Now I’m around the best, and I’m able to implement that into my training style.”
It is that type of foundation that helps Wren believe he can make a comeback. After all, fighting was his first career choice. Speaking still makes him nervous.
“I never planned what I’m doing now,” Wren said. “All I ever imagined for myself was fighting, and that’s still all I want to pursue right now.”