Quinn Mulhern was thousands of miles from home, half blind and drowning in debt, when he realized it was time to move on.
The night before, in the opening minutes of a fight against a journeyman lightweight in Singapore in 2014, a punch shattered Mulhern’s orbital bone that left him unable to gaze above his horizon line. It was the second bad loss of a two-fight UFC run, a likely death knell for any newcomer to the promotion, and the lifelong martial artist sat in that darkness alone, lost in thought, the silence of his hotel room interrupted only by the buzzing of creditors barraging his phone. At age 29, he’d reached the grandest stage of the MMA world, and aside from a few fond memories and a bank account $20,000 in the red, what did he have to show for it? Mulhern ripped off the Band-Aid that same day, with a Facebook post stark in its honesty.
“It wasn’t nerves, I didn’t freeze…I just didn’t have the physical gifts or skill to win.”
“Bottom line is that I could put in years of continued work but I won’t be competitive at this level. Perhaps I’d get quite a bit better, but I think I’d rather spend that time on something new.”
“I feel this in my bones.”
What was he supposed to do? Mulhern had spent the best years of his youth chasing down a dream. He’d won 18 of his first 20 professional fights and mounted a successful run in the final days of Strikeforce. Every decision, every early morning and late night, had been in pursuit of one goal. He’d put plans of starting a family on hold, uprooted his life from California to New Mexico to devote himself to the minds at JacksonWink gym, borrowed money from friends to stay afloat, racked up credit card debt to finance training camps, all under the guise that it’d come back around once he finally made it where he was going. There are no do-overs in MMA. There is no instruction manual for discarded prizefighters.
“I had reached that wall,” Mulhern says today. “I had fought somebody who was not a top-tier guy even. He was good, but I was not competing against the best of the best. And I was losing.