Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC
And when the flyweight decided that goal would never be realized, and that fighting would take more from him than he wanted to give, he decided to hang up his gloves just one fight into his UFC career.
“I need to justify what I mean by that,” Flick said on What the Heck after announcing his retirement at 30. “The UFC never did me wrong. I love everything the UFC did for me. I love the goals that I got to get to the UFC, to the person it made me.
“But what I mean by that is there’s no benefits of beating my body up no more being in the UFC. We have no 401k. We have no benefits. We have no fallback. Fighters are too stupid to unionize, and it’ll never happen, because there’s other fighters that will fight for that money. I love the money I got, but this is just to go show everybody that money doesn’t buy happiness.”
Flick had a fight booked against Francisco Figueiredo, the younger brother of UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC Vegas 26 on May 8 in Las Vegas. But after a stutter step in his octagon debut, a UFC Vegas 17 meeting with Cody Durden that was delayed by two weeks when Durden came down with pink eye, he struggled to find his groove in the gym.
Then Flick had a conversation on Easter weekend with his father, his former coach and mentor who’d fallen away from the sport, he said, due to drug addiction. That conversation was part of the catalyst for his decision to completely alter his path in life and give up a promising career in the octagon that had started with an eye-popping, bonus-winning victory by flying triangle.
“I haven’t talked to my father very much, and that conversation made a big difference on me in my life,” Flick said. “I thought my dad was going to change his life to come be in my corner in the UFC, to be there like I told people in the Contender [Series]. I thought that would change my dad’s life. I thought it would change my brother’s life. I thought it would let them know, ‘I still want y’all there. I want y’all in my life. I believe in y’all. I love y’all. We did this together.’
“And it didn’t make a difference. So I found out I was fighting for all the wrong reasons. I was still fighting to get my dad back, to get my brother back, to have my family there again, for my girls to see my dad and my brother. And it didn’t matter.”
Flick’s goal now is to write a book about his journey to the UFC, an up-and-down path that took a decade to materialize, and focus on being a good father to his wife and daughters. The latter is something extremely important given his upbringing, which he said was touched by poverty and domestic violence before he found stability in martial arts and family in Sand Springs, Okla.
A CNC machine operator at a plastics factory that makes plexiglass shields used to protect workers against COVID-19, Flick said he makes $40,000 a year in his day job and has worked two jobs since becoming a professional fighter. Retiring from fighting, he said, means his wife can pursue her dreams and he can tell his story.
Since making his decision final, he still hasn’t heard from his father.
“He’s never asked me anything, and I’m not fighting for him no more,” said Flick as fought back tears. “I’m fighting for my kids. I’m fighting for my wife, and I’m not going to lose them. And they’re way more than what fighting has ever meant to me. People need to know what goes on in fighters’ lives.”
Such a blunt and earnest disclosure from a fighter who should, on paper, be far away from retirement has not been received well by some of the UFC’s fanbase, he said. Commenters predictably have questioned his intentions, called him scared, or said with his attitude, he never would be as big a star as a Conor McGregor.
“Look, I’ve got 20 pro fights,” Flick retorts. “I’ve fought UFC vets bare-knuckle, ... That’s not it. I’m 16-5, and it’s kill or be killed. I’ve only have three fights that went to decision. If the want is not there no more, I’m not going to do that to my family, to my coaches, to my training partners, everybody that sacrifices everything to help keep me going forward. It’s not there no more, and it was a hard way to find out, but I’m happy with that.”
Flick said he’s now in the process of offboarding from the UFC. Two hours after he told his coach he wasn’t going to be coming in to the gym and needed time to think about his next steps forward, he said he received a call from the promotion saying the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was waiting at the gym to drug test him.
Flick has never failed a drug test, but it was another reminder that the life of a fighter is not what he wants.
In 2019, he had contemplated retirement after a brutal loss on the regional circuit. But he’d battled back to build a winning streak and put himself in line for a shot at the UFC, winning the flyweight title in the LFA, a feeder league to the industry-leading fight promotion.
Then came his win on the Contender Series and a fight with Durden. But on the day of the fight, he was suddenly left without a job to do. The promotion paid his $10,000 purse, but he struggled with what that postponement would mean for his health and his family.
“How much weight did you put back on after that fight?” he said. “Can you do it? Is it mentally going to drain you? Nobody asks those questions. Nobody ever does. I literally had an hour to decide what I wanted to do.”
Still in Las Vegas, Flick asked his corners give him a workout. Fight or no fight, he wanted to do what he’d come to do. He didn’t celebrate with beer or pizza afterward and resolved to beat Durden when they eventually met.
“And that’s what I did,” he said. “That Sunday, when I got home, I had one good meal with my family. I was 148 pounds. That’s 22 pounds in over 48 hours I put on after weigh-ins, and I had 12 days to turn it around and cut it again.”
Flick’s job had given him five weeks off to train for the first date with Durden and he got an additional two weeks when the bout was rescheduled. It was the first time he’d ever trained for a fight without having to clock in.
The flying triangle earned Flick an additional $50,000 for “Performance of the Night.” But after taxes, management and training fees, he said his take home was much less.
“You don’t bring much in, but you keep striving for more, but I keep losing more time with my family,” he said.
As he neared his fight with Figueiredo, Flick had heart-to-hearts with his wife and his manager. He decided he couldn’t continue to live the lifestyle of a fighter and full-time worker and be anything close to what he wanted to be for his family.
“I’ve been bottling it up and using that to motivate me and to push,” he said. “I don’t know what I’ve done to my body. Nobody knows what we do to the insides from the mental toughness, to the training, to the weight cutting.
“I just feel free. I was so happy to wake up this morning at 6:30, instead of 4:30, 5:00 in the morning, to have a cup of coffee, to grab breakfast. My four-year-old woke up, daddy got her some milk, daddy got her cartoons on. It was great, and then I got to go to work.”
He said the UFC has accepted his decision and will keep the door open if he wants to return in the future. How likely that is to happen, he’s dubious. But when asked if his decision to retire is final, he also said, “I believe so.”
“I’m 30 years old, and I did everything I wanted,” he said. “The desire was not the money, it was not the fame. By the time they do unionize, or me and my dad work things out, I think it will be too far down the road. I’m not the type that wants to come out of retirement.
“I’ve already got somebody from bare-knuckle, like, ‘Is that your interest? Do you want to do bare-knuckle?’ No, I don’t want to do bare-knuckle. Are you friggin’ stupid? That’s not why I got out of it. If I want to fight, I would fight in the UFC. That’s the biggest stage in the world.”
Recently, Flick said he spoke at a local high school to athletes about the need to think about the next step in life. He has another message for his colleagues who fight past their prime: If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.
“[The UFC] did everything they said they were going to do in their contract, everything I agreed to,” he said. “There was nothing I wanted more. It’s just the fact that once I got there, and I experienced it, I realized it’s only going to take more from me, and I’m still going to have to keep my job to take care of my family and my loved ones.”