Every athlete remembers when they first broke into their sport. In most cases, it started with one game and then evolved into a situation where they realized that they could play in that sport for real. For a handful of athletes, though, simply watching a sport and believing they could succeed in it is only part of the story, and it’s not a large part of it at that.

Take “The Crazy Cowboy” Cortez Coleman, for instance. He was watching fights at Buffalo Wild Wings with some friends, and a fellow named Chuck Liddell competed on the bill. It piqued his interest.

He was invited to train at Titan Mixed Martial Arts. He wanted to fight, but realized that the way he knew how to fight would differ greatly from what he would learn as part of that gym. By his own admission, the learning experience involved getting submitted by 14-year-old kids and their fathers. But once a few months passed, Coleman found himself able to return that favor. However, Coleman’s story really began once he was able to train with the professional and amateur fighters at the gym.

Coleman (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Coleman (top) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“These two twin guys were teaching the classes every day,” Coleman explained to The MMA Corner. “And I noticed that the man that was running the school really wasn’t there doing too much of nothing, and I asked these kids, ‘Hey, what’s going on here? How does he pay all this?’ They told me he was their manager and gets them fights, but they weren’t getting paid for any of that. So, I invited them over to my house for a barbeque, and after they told me the situation, I let them know that they were getting screwed, they were getting fucked around. For anybody that’s going to be your manager and your teacher at the school, and he’s making money and these guys are poor kids, and he’s not looking out for them in any kind of way—they got a car [repossessed] and he didn’t try to help them—so I was like, ‘Listen man, you’re getting screwed. That ain’t how one cares about you or anything.’ So, I was like, ‘Come with me and I can be your manager.’”

Coleman was afforded a firsthand feel for the life of a MMA manager after taking those kids under his wing. After lending a hand to those kids and helping them make some changes, one of Coleman’s uncles suggested that he find himself a fight. And he did. In his pro debut, he pocketed $1,600 for his 16-second submission win over Shane Elsman. He followed up by defeating Cory Hill via TKO. It didn’t take long for Marc Fiore of the H.I.T. Squad to offer Coleman a chance to train with some of the best to ever grace the Octagon.

To some, the chance to train with a coach who played an integral part in the success of former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes—and at a camp founded by the legendary Hughes—would be seen as a dream. Coleman saw it as a chance to improve as a fighter, but that goal eventually led him from H.I.T. Squad to Marc Montoya’s Factory X gym in Colorado.

“I got hooked up with Factory X through Joe Warren,” Coleman said. ”I met Warren after the Bellator fights, and we actually became friends after Warren’s weigh-ins. He was kind of upset because they didn’t get his wife there, and I was like, ‘Man, I like that guy. He’s always hyped up, and I’m always hyped up,’ and we kind of clicked, and we met a few days later and I told him I needed a camp.”

Coleman nearly called it a career before The Ultimate Fighter 16. Sometime after Coleman did the show and came into contact with Warren, Montoya asked Coleman if he wanted to spend a week with Factory X just to see if it was a good fit.

“I was like, ‘Listen brother, I’m not trying to come up there for a week. This is my job. This is my hustle, man. If I’m trying to come up, I’m trying to come up to stay for six to seven weeks,’” Coleman said. “So I did—I came up, stayed for two months and it paid off, and I went out there and had the best fight of my career. And I’m back here again and in the best shape of my life, and it was big thanks to meeting Joe Warren, him inviting me and then Marc gave me a call, and I came up here. And me and all the guys clicked well, so it’s a family and a great team.”

At the time that Coleman joined Factory X, he had already fought three times for Bellator MMA. But the camp certainly helped Coleman to switch things up within his fighting style. That evolution will pay dividends as Coleman preps for this Friday night, when he takes to the cage at Bellator 121 at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla.

Coleman (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Coleman (L) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Coleman will be in action against Joe Vedepo. A veteran of the game with a knack for finishes, Vedepo invented his own kind of choke when he submitted Mike Bernhard back at Bellator 80. Vedepo is coming off a recent win in Bellator, which halted a three-fight skid. Coleman knows this one will be fun, not only because Vedepo plans on bringing it to Coleman, but because of what specifically Vedepo may use to get the edge over Coleman.

“What makes this a fun fight is, I know he was a high school wrestler,” Coleman said, “I don’t know if he wrestled in college—I don’t think he did—but I do know he wrestled in high school. I don’t really think his wrestling is that high level at all, but in most of his fights, I saw that he has a chinny chin.”

Coleman, to date, has yet to be knocked out. That will add on to the fun of the fight when Friday night comes around. Vedepo has been stopped via strikes on four occasions. If Coleman has his way, he will do everything he possibly can to take advantage of that weakness in Vedepo’s game as he aims to put everything together once again on his home turf.

“Every opponent is dangerous, but I’m prepared,” Coleman admitted. “I got a great camp here, great wrestlers, and I’m just going to go out there and look for the stop and touch him on the chin. And maybe get a knockout, because, like I said, most of the fights I saw him—and actually, every fight I saw him—he been kind of stumbling, so that tells me that guy has been hit a little bit too much.

“This is my fifth fight with Bellator, and it’s my hometown. They give me a great energy, man. The vibes are awesome and, you know, I go back to fight for my people back home and all around the world, so I’m feeling pumped, feeling the energy. And when I step into that arena, that’s my home field. No matter whoever Bellator brings there, I’m putting that card on there, and I’m looking to put asses in the seats. So I’m feeling great. There’s no pressure on me. I have butterflies, but they all fly in formation. So, hey, it’s great

“This is never a dream, man. Five or six years ago, I probably would’ve…I’d be dead or in prison. So, I tell people all the time this is a life-changing path that the man up above did, and he’s still working on me daily.”

Cortez would love to thank his team at Factory X, Joe Warren, Marc Montoya, his sponsors, his kids, his kids’ mother, his mother, everyone in his home state of Oklahoma, everyone that follows him and helps make this journey possible, and Bellator MMA for treating him well. Follow Coleman on Twitter: @CrazyCowboyMMA