- Ryan Hockensmith
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Nobody came. Lyle Beerbohm sat in a prison cell for 18 months, and nobody came. Not his mom and dad. Not his brothers or sisters. And, most painfully, not his young daughter. But that's how Beerbohm wanted it.
The 155-pound Strikeforce fighter had become a crystal meth junkie. He'd stolen from his family, committed multiple felonies, put drugs ahead of everybody and everything in his life. It got so bad that when Beerbohm found out he owed the state of Washington 18 months, his dad was upset.
"He wanted me in for longer," Beerbohm says.
So the last thing he wanted was to see those same, hurt people looking at him behind bars. Beerbohm did his time—alone.
And then one day he plopped down in front of the prison TV and started watching The Ultimate Fighter. He doesn't remember which season, or who was fighting. But within five minutes, he had the craziest drug recovery program ever considered: Lyle Beerbohm would become a mixed-martial artist.
Sounds ridiculous, right? His dad certainly thought so. Beerbohm wrote a letter from prison to pops, saying, "I want to be a cagefighter when I get out."
His dad's immediate reaction: "Oh God, Lyle got meth in prison."
Beerbohm had some skills. He was a good high school wrestler, and had been in all too many streetfights. In prison, he got into three scuffles. And, to this day, Beerbohm swears he's undefeated.
"I've never lost," he says, matter-of-factly.
When his parents picked him up at the end of his prison term, Beerbohm again insisted he wanted to fight. For 150 miles across the state of Washington, from the state pen in Walla Walla back to Spokane, Beerbohm kept discussing it; when dad drove past a Spokane jiu-jitsu gym two hours out of incarceration, Beerbohm insisted that he screech the car to a halt. Beerbohm jumped out and went in. He grabbed the owner and said, "Hi, I just got out of prison. I've never done it before, but I want to be a pro fighter."
The trainer's reaction: a knowing smile. "He'd had a hundred guys come in saying they wanted to be a pro fighter. He just threw me a jiu-jitsu gi and said, 'Welcome.'"
Funny, though. Two years later, Beerbohm is undefeated. He's 9-0, with a May fight in Strikeforce planned. He's a legitimate MMA prospect.
"I think I can beat anybody put in front of me," he says.
But that's almost irrelevant, compared with how far he's come in real life. Beerbohm is clean. He wears wacky trunks, made by his mom, that earned him the very unMMA nickname of "Fancy Pants." And, after entering prison as a terrible dad, Beerbohm is back in his daughter's life. When he came out, suddenly she was 6 and, for obvious reasons, kept a distance. But over the past two years, he's earned back her trust. He earned that trust back every day, doing the dirty work of drug recovery.
Now he cares for her, and his girlfriend's 3-year-old daughter from another relationship. He gets up every day and trains himself and others. He calls his parents. He has friends. He has a life again.
"I never want to use again in my life," he says. "I am done. It sickens me, just sickens me, the stuff that I've done."
But what he's done, and what he's doing, are very different thinga. Before his last fight, Beerbohm's parents asked to travel with him. So did the rest of his family. So did his training partners. So did his daughter.
When he climbed in the cage on Jan. 17, he was surrounded by people who were there to support him.
When the bell rang before his ninth straight win, Beerbohm looked around and realized, for the first time he can remember, everybody came.