Fighters can have an absence from active competition for a variety of reasons. It can be due to injury, contract disputes, a lack of confidence or simply because they just don’t want to endure the heartache that can sometimes come from the quest to become a successful mixed martial artist.

Dan “The Riot” Hyatt has some completely different reasons for his absence from the cage and they certainly are not run of the mill.

“It’s pretty much common knowledge within the Australian MMA circuit that I have battled several mental illnesses since my teenage years, including severe depression, social anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder,” Hyatt revealed in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “When you’re lying in bed for half the day or thinking about topping yourself on a regular basis, it’s hard to get motivated to train, diet and do the things required to compete in a sport like this.”

“Without going into specific details or causes for these problems, it goes without saying that this is the wrong sport to be in if you’re not fully committed and in the right head space. I’m not naive enough to believe otherwise.”

Hyatt (Facebook.com/TheRiotDan)

With so much going on outside of the cage it meant that Hyatt’s will to compete took a back seat, and in a profession where it’s vital to want to actually step inside the cage and have an intense desire to win, it wasn’t looking like Hyatt would return to action any time soon.

“My personal issues have affected me greatly as a competitor, not to mention on a family level obviously. I’ve had fights, wins and losses, where the day before or the day before the weigh in, I’ve wanted to end my life. I’m comfortable saying that, no reason to sugar coat it,” he admitted.

“I’ve had fights where I literally haven’t cared, where I’m not even there, or I’m not concerned about winning. Those are the fights I have a lot of regret about looking back, but I would never name which ones because it’s not my place to take anything away from anyone for my own problems. My performances, my commitment and my training has always been wishy-washy at best because of my issues and there is always that question of which Dan Hyatt is going to show up on the night.”

Being behind the cage instead of inside it led Hyatt to pick up some vital skills in both fighter marketing and event promoting. Whilst his training and personal development fell by the wayside he still managed to pick up skills that can be utilized well after his fight career comes to an end.

“I’ve learned a hell of a lot, a lot of valuable knowledge and approaches actually. A man whom is not willing to learn from others is a fool and although as much as I hate to say it, BRACE promoter Kya Pate is someone I learned a lot from in the aspect of marketing over a couple years,” he explained. “He is very good at what he does. Marketing is something I do enjoy, and I believe it’s something that I’m competent at, more so than a lot of people in the Australian MMA scene.”

Having spent so much time behind the scenes, Hyatt has learned exactly what it takes for a fighter to create a successful brand and his advice for up-and-coming fighters is clear.

“You have to put on a show, you have to make people care, you have to be able to illustrate your back story, give people a reason to love or hate you, a reason to buy a ticket to see you fight or to attend your event,” he said.  “Without this kind of approach, you’re just one of the many fish in a very, very big ocean fighting over scraps. Gone are the days of just being a fighter and letting your fighting do the talking. If that is how you want to approach MMA in 2013, do not quit your day job.”

Hyatt (Peter Soulis)

A term that is thrown around in mixed martial arts is “octagon jitters”, although Hyatt’s return to the cage isn’t quite the big stages of the UFC, the term is still relevant for his return after 14 months without having a professional fight.

“Considering I only started training a week ago after a 14-month layoff, my confidence is better than it probably should be really. I’m currently in Tasmania and have hooked up with Launceston Boxing Club, a great boxing and MMA club, for my short and sweet camp,” Hyatt revealed. “The entire club is more or less catering to my needs, which is fantastic from a training point of view, but they are also supporting me on a personal level in more ways than one, which is very much appreciated.”

“Even though it’s only been a week, I’m feeling right at home and surprisingly, a lot of my timing and technique is still there. I guess it’s mostly just getting that quick polish on, fitness is of course the biggest concern, but this certainly isn’t my first rodeo and I’m looking forward to a scrap.”

It could almost be said that “once a fighter, always a fighter” in Hyatt’s case and although turmoil filled his life there is still one constant–the cage.

“The decision [to return] was simple, because I have nothing else left in my life and nowhere else to go. [At the moment] I’m couch surfing, living out of a suitcase, nowhere really to belong except the gym, so it made sense to have something to focus on and commit to,” he said. “I’ve been training and fighting for seven years now, and anyone that knows me knows that I’m not suited to the 9-to-5 life, or a “normal” life if you will, so it’s back to the grind, two or three training sessions a day, living and breathing fighting and seeing where I can take this thing.”

Hyatt returns to action on Saturday June 15 on the Valor 5 show in Launceston, Tasmania. He steps in as a late replacement to face Aaron Hume and whilst it would be ideal to have spent the weeks leading up to the fight to study Hume’s handiwork inside the cage, Hyatt finds that he is in a position where that luxury just wasn’t available.

“I don’t know too much about my opponent, although I used to train with his brother several years ago. If he is anything like his brother, which I’m told he is, I’m expecting him to come out strong and have heavy hands,” he explained. “I certainly have the experience advantage in this match up, but if he doesn’t have the fitness advantage, my mind will be blown. I’m indifferent to where the fight actually goes, but it’s safe to say I’ll be looking for the takedown as always.”

“The fans at the Albert Hall in Launceston this Saturday night can expect a skinny white boy with no muscle definition in short tights throwing some weird jumpy, spinning shit at an aggressive and strong opponent,” he exclaimed. “I’m told my post-fight interviews can be very entertaining too, although every time someone puts a microphone in front of me, I tend to upset some people.”

It’s hard enough for any person to go through life battling mental health issues. His return to the cage is a test like no other for Hyatt, who finds himself with his back against the wall. If he proves to be successful and if his mind is in the game, we could very well see another Hyatt making waves in mixed martial arts.

Dan would like to thank all of his family and friends whom have supported him over the past month. He would also like to thank Launceston Boxing Club for bringing him in, no questions asked, and treating him like their own, in particularly Craig Tobler, Steve Wallace, Twigs Millwood and Rick. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Masurao Fight Wear and Millwood Building Solutions. Follow Dan on Twitter @TheRiotDan

Top Photo: Dan Hyatt (top) (Facebook.com/TheRiotDan)

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.