MMA Bullies

Just nursing a beer and chillin’ with a buddy in this bar in Salem, Ore., Nate Quarry wasn’t looking for trouble. And he damn sure wasn’t expecting to revisit his tortured past on this night nearly 10 years ago.

But when “Rock” was pushed a little too far, he couldn’t help but strike some fear into one of the bullies that had made his life a living hell.

Long before Quarry decided to make a career of kicking ass inside of a steel cage, he was the one getting harassed and bullied. Being a scrawny, four-eyed kid raised in a Jehovah’s Witness household didn’t give him much hope of just being one of the guys.

“I had teachers that couldn’t stand me because I couldn’t celebrate the holidays,” Quarry says. “I couldn’t compete in athletics and I couldn’t go to birthday parties. I really stood out. I had one teacher that hated me, and he had a son in my year that would torture me and make fun of me. I remember being spit on.”

Nobody with any amount of common sense would dare disrespect Quarry now, but his former bully had downed a few too many ounces of liquid courage prior to this barroom encounter.

“The guy asked me what I had been up to, but then he started asking some disrespectful questions,” Quarry says. “I’m standing there staring at the ground and I said, ‘You know, I remember being picked on a lot in school, and I think it was you.’”

Deciding to entertain his buddy and have a little fun at his former tormenter’s expense, the stern-faced Quarry slowly looked up and delivered a sobering message: “I don’t think I care for what you did.”

Jaw dropped and white as a ghost, the former bully retreated to the far side of the bar.

“My friend was just laughing!” Quarry says.

Knocked down

Quarry and other MMA stars can joke about their hurtful bullying experiences, but the growing pains of being victimized are always just a vivid memory away. It’s hard to imagine former Olympian and current Strikeforce heavyweight Daniel Cormier ever getting picked on, but that’s exactly what he endured thanks to two of his former classmates.

“I don’t know what it was and I don’t know why they wanted to fight with me,” Cormier says. “My mom was a substitute teacher, and they would make fun of her until I would say something.”

Before he worked his ass off to become one of MMA’s top submission artists, welterweight Dustin Hazelett was also a favorite target of his classmates’ verbal and physical assaults.

“I got bullied a lot and made fun of up until my sophomore year in high school,” Hazelett says. “I was always really small and weak for my age, especially in middle school and early high school. When I was in middle school it was the worst. I tried out for the football team to change that around, but I ended up getting my head stuffed in the toilet twice. Obviously I quit football and didn’t try to play any sports.”

As a refugee from South Vietnam, Cung Le was not welcomed to the United States with open arms. From first through sixth grade, Le got his ass kicked on a fairly regular basis.

“I was an easy target,” he says. “My mom told me that I had to stand up for myself. That’s what made me get into martial arts.”

Fighting back

Tired of the suicidal thoughts and the verbal and physical beatdowns, Hazelett, then 16, took up his cousin’s offer and started training jujitsu. The decision not only set his life down an exciting new path, it provided him with a much-needed jolt of confidence.

“I wasn’t even training for two or three weeks and everyone stopped picking on me,” Hazelett says. “They didn’t know what martial arts was -- they were afraid of it.”

Martial arts provided Le the same sense of freedom from the nonstop bullying.

“The team had my back, and I didn’t have to deal with the bullies,” he says. “The better I did, the less I got bullied.”

Wrestling was Cormier’s escape from bullying, but even the two-time Olympian admits it often takes more than sports to fight back. While in Chicago last November with Strikeforce stars Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Scott Smith, Cormier tried to help adolescents and young adults fight back as one of the spokesmen for a national anti-bullying campaign.

“Kids need to seek help from an adult,” Cormier says. “You can find guys like me that have dealt with these situations and overcome.”

Facing their past

With so much time passed and plenty of personal and professional accomplishments on their respective resumes, Quarry, Hazelett, Cormier and Le have learned to forgive and move beyond their painful experiences. Recent encounters with their former bullies have proven how much they’ve left their past in the past.

“As I got older, one of the guys wanted to become my friend,” Cormier says. “He was ready to make a change, so I didn’t turn on the kid. I really just embraced him to help him go in the right direction. I forgave the guy, and he actually came to my wedding.”

Le ran into one of his former bullies about six or seven years ago, but he didn’t even need to say a word in retaliation.

“I looked at him and looked at who I was, and it felt good,” Le says. “I didn’t want to do anything to him.”

As much pain as he felt as a kid, Quarry had no desire to fight back during his barroom face-off.

“I’ve been able to let the past go,” he says. “I’m not that scared little kid anymore. Now I can stand up for myself.”

Quarry’s former bully can vouch for that.
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