Three years ago, Kyle Kingsbury was on top of the world. He had just made his UFC main card debut with a unanimous decision victory over Fabio Maldonado, picking up the Fight of the Night bonus in the process, while pushing his winning streak to four straight inside a UFC octagon. Not bad a for a fighter who only had two years of professional experience before stepping into the most famous octagon in the world. It truly seemed like the sky was the limit for the San Jose native.
Even after dropping a decision to future UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar, fans seemed to shake off the performance as little more than a speed bump in what would inevitably become a long and illustrious career of exciting fights. But then he ran into a then-unknown Brazilian import named Glover Teixeira, who was making his organizational debut after years of dominating the Brazilian MMA scene. Teixeira would end up submitting Kingsbury less than two minutes into their bout and, just like that, Kingsbury had suffered the first back-to-back losses of his UFC career.
Looking to rebound from these losses, Kingsbury was paired up with another newcomer, but this time in the form of the British powerhouse Jimi Manuwa. He'd suffer yet another defeat. With his left his left eye swollen shut, ringside doctors were forced to call a stop to the action between the second and third rounds. His orbital bone had been fractured in two places.
While he was able to avoid surgery following this loss, the former Arizona State football player continued to feel the effects of his most recent injuries before suffering yet another major setback during a training session.
"I was getting random nosebleeds and I was like ‘these doctors don't know what they're talking about. I can't get hit in the face right now,'" said Kingsbury during an interview on the Power MMA Show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "At some point, it finally subsided... I started training hard again and then I tore my right labrum. So it was sort of one thing after another and that took a really long time to heal."
So with his fighting career at a crossroads, Kingsbury sought out the help from one some of the most ancient and storied practices known to man.
"During the process where I had been working through a lot of injuries with my body I also had the fortune of doing some Ayahuasca ceremony with the medicine men at an Indian reservation. Basically that allowed me to get over a lot of mental stuff that I had, a lot blocks that I had, a lot of fears that I had, childhood stuff, all kinds of stuff. Just so much more than I ever could have expected from it and really in the end it made me appreciate fighting for what it is."
Ayahuasca has long has used by shamans as a "window into the soul". Being labeled as a very viable cure for depression, the ritual has aided many in finding new direction in life. For Kingsbury, the experience not only opened his mind but also helped him find the answer to whether he would ever don the four-ounce gloves with UFC logo emblazoned across the knuckles again.
"My very first ceremony, I wanted to know if I was ever going to fight again and one of the things they say is you never get what you want. You get what you need. Just like the Oracle in The Matrix, they may not necessarily tell you the truth but you're going to learn what's right for you. So I wanted to know if I was going to fight again and the answer was no. Definitively no. It was kind of a hard pill to swallow but what it did was shed the idea of me being a fighter. A lot of people consider themselves what they do. Their job is what they are, it's how they define themselves, by their car, their clothes and all those possessions. The things that they do in life are them as a person.
"[Ayahuasca] very quickly sheds the ego. It very quickly strips you of all that and you realize that you are none of those things. You are just here to experience life and enjoy. So through that first ceremony I was able to appreciate everything for what it is and enjoy life much more."
Now, nearly nearly two years after he had suffered defeat at the hands of Manuwa, Kingsbury's future in combat sports was still very much an enigma in minds of fight fans. But with a new path set out before him, he had all but come to terms with the fact he may never step foot back inside the octagon. This was until earlier this year when he experienced what can only be referred to as a life-altering vision.
"I hadn't really touched back on being a fighter in any of those ceremonies until April of this year. It was the first ceremony of the year. In that ceremony you can have strong visions like a Native American would talk about in the movies. A lot times you've heard you throw up things that you're holding on to, sometimes you poop your pants or sometimes you just cry a lot. So I had never cried in that ceremony until that ceremony about a month ago.
"I just started balling. I cried my eyes out. I said ‘man why am I so sad?' and then I had a vision of myself as a 7-year-old boy in my room and my parents are fighting and all this stuff. I was like ‘wow why are they fighting?' It was fear. No matter what the argument was, no matter if they seemed angry or sad or frustrated, it was always driven by fear. And I thought holy moly I can't believe they had to live that way for that long. There was no anger or resentment, it was just compassion for them. I just really felt sorry with that much. Then I turned the table on me and I asked myself what fears I lived with and instantly I could seem myself in my last three fights and I could see the fear that I had."
Kingsbury would follow this revelation by breaking down what he calls the "different kinds of fear" he experienced in the weeks leading up to his most recent fights.
"In the Bonnar fight I had the fear of wanting to perform in front of my home crowd [of San Jose] and wanting to continue the win streak and wanting to get Fight of the Night against the guy who had Bonnar-Griffin fights. I saw that fear did nothing for me. Wanting to perform for the crowd and wanting to have Fight of the Night ended up hurting me and costing me the fight.
"The fight against Glover, I knew how good he was when nobody knew how good he was. That was his first fight in the UFC. Only other fighters knew, none of the fans knew. I was afraid of getting hit by the guy. I'll be honest, I didn't really think about it but I was afraid of getting punched by Glover. When you're afraid of getting punched you hesitate, you freeze up, you're defense isn't there and then you get hit that much harder and that's exactly what happened. He just walked right through me. Right from there, the second I realized the fear from that fight, I was catapulted into the next. I saw that I had gotten over the fear of losing. I didn't' care if they cut me from the UFC, which is always the fear for anybody in the UFC, but I didn't care at that point. It was just about ‘Now I am going to win.'
"The fear against Manuwa was I gave him too much respect. I feared his strength. Anytime we were in the clinch, which has been typically one of my strengths, because on paper he was such a good boxer, such a good Muy Thai guy, I would jump out of the clinch and try to take him back down. So I didn't spend anytime working on my skills, I just avoided his strengths at all costs. That ended up costing me as well."
It was at this moment, with his eyes wide open, Kingsbury finally came to terms with his innermost fears, the very same fears he had witnessed his parents carry during his childhood.
"It really showed me the fear that I had carried with me in those fights. It showed me the fear that my parents had carried with me throughout my childhood and it just showed how none of that makes sense. Now this isn't to say that I'm not afraid of anything anymore. Life happens, fear creeps in from any direction. The key is to be able catch it, to recognize it and to say ‘this isn't going to do me any good.' I'm either going to do what I want to do or I'm not. I'm either going to win the fight or I'm not. There's no sense in dwelling on the outcome. All I need to do is focus on how I'm going perform and being present and in the moment and that's when I can perform at my best."
Kingsbury is scheduled to make his return to the octagon at UFC on Fox 12 in San Jose on July 26. While he has yet to receive an opponent, he is no longer concerned with simply winning. He is simply happy in be able to compete in the sport he loves.
"I'll always be a martial artist until the day that I die. It's what I love, it's my outlet and it keeps my sane," said Kingsbury. "It's a very short window that I have with this opportunity to be able to fight and compete with the best guys in the world and have this body where I can push to the pinnacle and really become my best. There's going to be a time where I wake up and everything hurts and I'm not going to be able to get into this kind of shape anymore. I'm 32 years young and I have the opportunity to continue on. I'm healthy, everything feels good and so I want to get back in there."