Every day, David Mitchell said, his neck and his back hurt. The pain is a reminder of every fist, every knee, every elbow, every foot that has landed upon his body with malice since 2005. Every day he can hear his body clock ticking away the minutes, the useful minutes in which his body can still absorb and disregard a blow as if it were a mosquito bite.
"When you get hit," said the MMA fighter from Santa Rosa, "you don't even feel it."
Mitchell was describing the good old days, when he rose at a steep incline in the sport. A blow that would send Joe Jellybelly to the hospital would become a mosquito bite by the time Mitchell's adrenaline was through with it. Mitchell powered on, winning 11 fights in a row at one point. And two of those were fought when Mitchell had a staph infection. Mitchell is a hard case in the octagon and his voice lowered noticeably when he repeated what doctors told him two years ago.
"They told me the surgery would give me a couple more years (of fighting)," Mitchell said softly.
He had neck surgery to remove a bone spur that was impacting the nerve between his C5 and C6 cervical vertebrae. Now in his eighth year as a fighter, Mitchell is experiencing what every professional athlete experiences. His body can't keep up with his desire, his drive, his dream — oh, that Mitchell, 33, could spend the next 40 years in the ring trading whacks. Instead his body is telling him something else.
"There's a strong possibility this is my last fight," Mitchell said.
Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Mitchell is on the 13-match fight card at UFC 162. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the NFL of mixed martial arts. It's broadcast in 145 countries, to nearly 800 million television households, so there aren't any cupcakes fighting, as that would make for poor television and FOX doesn't promote whipped cream exchanges.
Mitchell has a 12-2 record overall in MMA, most of it coming in cage fighting. He is 1-2 in the UFC. A pro since 2006, Mitchell turned to MMA in 2005 when he saw UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell win a fight on television. Until then, the 1998 graduate of Laytonville High School said he was "irresponsible" and living an uneventful life, working in construction near his hometown. Then came the Liddell win over Tito Ortiz on television, and two weeks later, Mitchell moved to Santa Rosa to train under MMA legend David Terrell.
"I was so sore after my first two days of training," Mitchell said, "I couldn't take my shirt off. I'm sure they thought I would never come back."
He did. He grew, advanced and made it to the UFC show four times. Eight years later, Mitchell sees the end of the road for himself and he is paying attention to every last step along the way. The last days before retirement — whether it's at 33 in MMA and 60-something at a bank — pass in slow motion. For Mitchell, those minutes travel at an even slower pace because he has to lose 15 pounds in five days before he fights. Mitchell weighed 186 Monday. He has to be at 171 by noon today when he weighs in for his welterweight contest with Portland's Mike Pierce.