Vinc Pichel had a year away from fighting, but it didn’t come by choice.
The UFC lightweight fighter last competed on June 1, 2018, in a losing effort against rising contender Gregor Gillespie. Since then, he’s dealt with back issues and a motorcycle accident that set his return back even further.
Now back to full health, Pichel takes on Roosevelt Roberts at UFC on ESPN 3 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He sat down with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock to discuss his accident, returning from the loss to Gillespie, life as a fighter and battling against young prospects like Roberts.
Vinc Pichel’s motorcycle accident
After his second-round submission loss to Gillespie, Pichel nursed a back injury that eventually forced him to get minor surgery and several injections. Since the operation wasn’t serious, he was able to resume his normal activities the following day. That was when Pichel and friends decided to go for a motorcycle ride.
He and his friends eventually parted ways after sharing a meal, so Pichel was on his way home when he believes he was hit by a vehicle that was stopped at an intersection.
“Something hit my back end of my bike, threw my back end of my bike up in the air and to my right,” Pichel explained from what he could recall. “My tire caught on the right, whipped me back to the left. As soon as my tire whipped left, my bike was slammed down and I went flying.”
Pichel stayed on the ground following the wreck before a nearby bicycle rider approached him. The man helped Pichel to his feet and get his motorcycle situated while Pichel tried unsuccessfully to recall the details of what had happened. The car that was sitting at the intersection was no longer at the scene, which led him to believe he’d been a victim of a hit-and-run.
“All I know is I got nailed,” Pichel said. “The bike got totaled. I filed a police report and honestly, no one was there, so there’s really nothing I could do about it … I just kind of had to deal with the situation as it was.”
Shortly after the accident, Pichel managed to get his motorcycle running well enough to return to the restaurant he and his friends ate at to clean himself up before opting to go to the hospital. He underwent multiple different tests and had his road rash on his back and arm cleaned up there. The accident also re-injured his back, restarting the recovery process that Pichel had recently begun.
Getting back to training
The most frustrating part of the accident was the inability to bounce back from his previous loss quickly.
“[The recovery process] seemed really slow to me,” Pichel said. “I wanted to get right back at it and fight. I was super upset about my loss to Gregor … Anytime I fail I want to take a step back, see what I did wrong, correct myself and then [get] right back at it. That’s the kind of person I am.”
While the injury he sustained was treatable, Pichel was unable to erase the thought that his back problems could put his fighting career in jeopardy.
“[Fighters] always have that thought like any one injury could end our career,” Pichel said. “I always had that in my head, but I just kind of started training slowly, working my way back up and not trying to kill myself too much.”
At 36-years-old, Pichel is taking advantage of the time he has left in the sport. In order to make a return to the cage comfortably, he had to get back to full health.
“I’m getting up there in age, especially for the sport, but I feel pretty good body-wise,” he said. “I don’t have any damage on me now. My body feels great now.”
Pichel has previously taken a long absence between fights. Following a win over Anthony Njokuani at UFC 173 on May 24, 2014, he spent three years away from the Octagon before returning against Damien Brown at UFC Fight Night 110 on June 10, 2017.
Coming off of a win is one thing, but the loss to Gillespie gave Pichel the itch to return quickly. When he received an offer to fight Roberts in one and a half months’ time, Pichel sprung at the opportunity.
“I’ve never taken a fight on about a month or month and a half notice like I have,” he said. “Right around when the fight got announced and I signed that contract, I started ramping up my training and that’s what I’m doing right now.”
Vinc Pichel: Born to be a fighter
Pichel’s desire to get back in the win column comes from his deep-rooted passion for fighting. For as long as he can remember, he’s loved going to battle against someone.
“Most guys are trained to be fighters,” Pichel said. “I honestly feel like I was just born a fighter.”
Pichel recalls the first fight he ever encountered. Another child was picking on his brother, so Pichel intervened. He raced towards the bully on his bicycle and, not knowing how to stop, ran directly into him. He followed up the attack with punches that thwarted the child’s attempt at bullying Pichel’s brother.
The excitement of the fight coupled with his love for combat-centric movies fueled his love for fighting.
“This is the one thing that I’ve always been drawn to so much, like more than anything,” Pichel said.
Fighting became a huge part of his life at a young age, which caused trouble for him at times. Pichel’s mother kicked him out of her home as a teenager, and he had his fair share of struggles on the street afterward, but Pichel maintains that his actions never carried bad intentions.
“I was never malicious to people that didn’t deserve it or anything like that,” Pichel said. “It was to protect myself or others who couldn’t protect themselves.”
Luckily for him (and others that crossed him), Pichel channeled that fighting spirit in MMA.
Vinc Pichel vs. Roosevelt Roberts
Once again, Pichel finds himself squaring off with an undefeated fighter. The 8-0 prospect Roberts has two UFC wins under his belt since earning a contract on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
“That’s the circle of life of fighting,” Pichel said. “It’s always the young lions trying to take out the old lions.”
One of the positives to being the grizzled veteran battling rising challengers is the self-reflection that comes from it. Whether it’s in training or in the Octagon, Pichel is able to gauge just how much he has left in the tank when competing against the younger generation of fighters. Once he feels like he can’t keep up with them anymore, he’ll know his time to hang up the gloves has come.
“I would love to stay fighting forever,” Pichel said, “but I don’t want to be the guy that turns into like Anderson Silva or BJ Penn who doesn’t know when to let go.”
Despite being 36-years-old, Pichel says he has the “mentality of a 25-year-old,” and he has no problem competing against fighters 10 or more years younger than him.
“It’s all about perspectives,” Pichel said. “It’s what I love to do and I’m still enjoying and having fun, so I’m going to keep at it, man. I’m not going to stop.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.