“Every time you fight, it’s like a near death experience. You zone in, everything reverberates slowly in the mind, and you remember your training. That pressure creates diamonds!”
Chris Cope – Ex-UFC Fighter, and now Software Sales, Crowdbotics
A life spent practising various martial arts. Years dedicated to forging the skills, technique, and mental toughness necessary to prevail in the fiercest arena. You could be forgiven for believing that those that reach the top of the UFC pyramid are fearless warriors that worry about nothing.
But you’d be wrong. Of course, it isn’t that simple and life rarely works that way. We all have our weaknesses, our worries and unique circumstances to contend with. What matters is how you apply yourself to those challenges, using the skills you’ve learned along the way.
This is why we were excited to speak to Chris Cope, ex-UFC fighter and now software salesman for a company called Crowdbotics.
Even with a full-time job alongside fighting and a solid plan for what he was going to do when he hung up his gloves, Chris wasn’t fully prepared for the impact of COVID.
When we spoke to Chris, however, he was in a jubilant mood as he told us about his new role as a software salesman and how he hadn’t realised how many transferable skills he had.
A long way away from his initial plans, he was excited about the opportunities a career in sales could afford him. He told us how his mental toughness, meticulous planning and ability to tell stories were helping him make friends and close deals.
We chatted to Chris about his appearance in The Ultimate Fighter, his psychology degree, his early ambitions for life after UFC and we picked his brains for advice for other athletes seeking guidance on what to do next.
Lessons learned from a career in the UFC
Far from your typical dream job, a career in the UFC had always been Chris’s vision. Starting martial arts from the age of eight and an avid sportsman all the way through university, Chris fought hard to get anywhere in the Mixed Martial Arts world.
“You have a lot of doors get shut in your face,” Chris recollects. “You have to create your own marketability. Create your own team. I got a manager, a coach, a grappling coach, a strength and conditioning coach, a striking coach, a wrestling coach, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach and a nutritionist.
“I had to find the right teams and the right people who were invested in me and working for me. If I outgrew a team or needed something else, then I had to go looking and pivot.”
Emphasising the need to network and expand his connections, Chris was dedicated to getting in contact with those that he felt he could help. A group of people all working towards the same end adds tremendous value and offers invaluable support whenever you need picking up off the mat.
“And when you’re in the arena you just have to adapt to whatever gets thrown at you,” Chris says. “Everything moves really fast, but in your mind, it’s moving slowly and you’re almost not thinking at all. It comes down to training and thorough preparation.”
Pinpointing the fundamentals of training and the importance of establishing a support network, Chris picked up valuable lessons applicable both in and out of the UFC.
Build a post-fighting plan (but stay flexible)
While many remained relentlessly focused on the battle, Chris knew he couldn’t sustain a fighting career forever. Holding down a full-time job and training around work, Chris had high expectations for himself after UFC and wasn’t afraid to put in the effort to make it happen.
“The plan was to go to law school and become a lawyer,” says Chris. “I wanted to be able to kick ass in the cage and the courtroom. It really appealed to me.
“But what I quickly realised was that it wasn’t my cup of tea – I’m a sales guy. I like talking to people. I like getting to know why people do what they do. And that’s what ultimately landed me in sales.”
And while Chris finds himself extremely happy where he is, he’s had to weather his fair share of disappointment and remain nimble with his future.
“I was managing a gym and training to be an instructor,” says Chris. “I wanted to stay in the fight game. But COVID hit and we got shut down and I found myself unemployed. That’s when I picked up the phone to friends and began searching for a new direction.”
Recognise your value beyond sport
One of our biggest objectives at FutureProof is to help athletes understand the value they bring to the working world. Leaving the UFC is a different proposition than a full-time team sport where you don’t have time to work outside of training, but the principles stand.
What Chris found was that a natural winning mentality and decades spent trying to be the best was perfect preparation for anything, never mind a sales job.
“I wanted to be the champion of the UFC, the MVP of the Cage,” says Chris. “But now I’m working in sales I want to be the champion of that sales team. I don’t know any other way.
“As athletes and sportspeople, we want to be the best, we want to get paid, we want eyes on us, we want the attention and the glory. We want to know we are significant and that the hard work we put in pays off. Tenacity and dedication are invaluable mental qualities that you can apply to anything.”
Training in the UFC has given Chris the confidence to do things that were previously uncomfortable, like cold calling. “Anyone familiar with the show I was on will remember that I got knocked out on national television in front of millions of people,” he says.
“You have to be able to pick yourself up and move on from that. And that ability to deal with something as high-pressure as that has made it easy to just pick up the phone and talk to people.”
Learn from those that have done it before
As the conversation drew to a close, we naturally found ourselves reflecting on Chris’s transition out of the UFC and wondering if there were things he’d have done differently or if he had any advice for other athletes.
“I don’t know that I would’ve done anything that different in all honesty,” says Chris. “I guess I wish I had recognised my natural ability for telling stories and sparking up conversations sooner.
“Lean into what you do naturally and find ways to make that work for you. I enjoy telling stories and that has helped me tremendously in sales. People can reel off facts and numbers, but what you remember is the story or how they made you feel.
“Recognise what you love doing, what suits your personality and character and find a career where that makes you great.”
If you’re an athlete looking for a post-playing career and need support to make that move happen, get in touch with one of the team here at FutureProof today.
If you’re a business looking to access a diverse and driven talent pool, speak to a consultant to find out how we can support your business needs.