‘More than just a chin’: Kris Moutinho hopes for UFC return after beating demons, opponents outside it

Kris Moutinho walked out of the cage. Sean O'Malley and Joe Rogan stood in the winner’s circle and faded into the background behind him.

Blood was smeared all over his face from a half-executed attempt by his cornermen to tidy him up before the official decision. There was no hiding the battle wounds. He wore the 230 strikes he absorbed prior to the late third-round TKO stoppage.

His left cheek sported a gash. A stream of blood dribbled out from his right nostril. His hair was still mostly bright green, but some strands had turned yellow from the red that was mixed in.

As he walked toward the back, fans applauded, cheered and high-fived him in appreciation. It was unfamiliar territory for Moutinho – culture shock, really. Ten days prior, almost none of the fans who attended UFC 264 in Las Vegas knew he even existed. Now he was known all over the world.

In the blink of an eye, he was wildly popular – an instant cult hero of sorts who showed up just in time for the biggest card of the year, on International Fight Week, headlined by Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier.

He stepped in on 10 days’ notice to replace Louis Smolka. It was the biggest of spotlights for someone who never sought attention.

“I’m a very shy, introverted person,” Moutinho recently told MMA Junkie. “… I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want this attention all the time and all this other stuff. It was just hitting me so hard and people saying what they say and doing what they do.”

Sean O’Malley and Kris Moutinho

Like most fighters, Moutinho then was given a second UFC bout. He lost in 127 seconds to Guido Cannetti.

Shortly thereafter, an email from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby rolled into the inbox of Moutinho’s manager, Tyson Chartier. It was the dreaded virtual pink slip.

The ride was over. It was back to the regional scene.

For eight-plus years before signing, Moutinho dreamed of the UFC. It began and ended in the span of eight months. He was back on the outside, looking in, chasing the dream instead of living it.

Feelings of failure grew, amplified further by personal struggles.

Things turned dark, and Moutinho admits his mental health reached dark places.

“Right when I got out, I wanted to kill myself,” Moutinho said. “My life was … I was ready to end it. I wanted it to be over. I was done with fighting. I was in my head and everything and I didn’t want to do it. I was in the worst place I could possibly be.

“… I wanted to end everything. I was in a relationship with somebody else and that was going bad. Just everything else – getting kicked out of the UFC. Getting my ass kicked. Doubting if I was even good at what I was doing. Just living that way.”

Mixed-martial arts and UFC fighter Kris Moutinho, 29, of Milford, and his trademark green head of hair at the Regiment Training Center in Fall River, August 5, 2021.
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Weight lifted

Moutinho hopped in the car for the two-hour drive ahead of him. Even if he only got a couple of rounds of sparring in, it was worth it to him.

It wasn’t easy or instant, but slowly the dark clouds of his mental health cleared through persistence and dedication.

When it was most difficult, Moutinho continued training. He showed up to the gym every day to get a little bit better, and eventually joined the New England Cartel.

“We’d ask him, ‘Hey, Rob Font is in camp. Can you come spar Saturday night at 9 p.m.?’ and he’d drive two hours to do two or three rounds with Rob,” Chartier told MMA Junkie. “If the sparring got cut short, he wouldn’t complain that he drove four hours round trip to do two rounds of sparring.

“He was always like, ‘Whatever you need. Thanks for including me.’ He’s an extremely good teammate. He’s the kind of guy you want in the room. He shows up, works super hard, never makes excuses, and says thank you afterward.”

Whether it was the passage of time or some form of karma, Moutinho turned a corner in the gym. He entered a new relationship. Both life and fight things fell into place. With stability, came results.

“Meeting the girl I’m with now and just getting myself back to loving training again, loving fighting, loving what I do, it took a long time,” Moutinho said. “… It took me a long time for me to just be comfortable with myself and know this is what I was born to do and this is what I was meant to do. If you follow the plan God sets out, everything comes to fruition.”

Overall, Moutinho describes his situation as comfortable and it’s not something that will no longer be dictated by wins and losses in MMA.

He’s comfortable doing what he does, regardless of how many eyeballs are on him or what promotion he’s fighting in.

“(I’m) just having more faith in myself and not putting as much pressure on me,” Moutinho said. “I don’t think about this sport as the way I did before. I put so much pressure: ‘I have to do this. I have to be this.’ I’m at the point in my life where there’s things much more important to me. I want to have a family. I want to do things. I have a beautiful girlfriend I want to have a real life with. That stuff is way more important. If I don’t make it fighting, I don’t make it in fighting. Now, it’s just free. I’m just going to go until I don’t want to do this any more, then I’ll go do something else. That’s life. I’m young enough that I can do something with my life if this doesn’t work out.”

Double-edged sword

The loss to O’Malley always will be part of Moutinho’s story – but he plans to limit it to just a chapter and not the whole tale.

The notoriety of the fight works both for and against Moutinho. Which force is stronger remains unclear. He’s exponentially more popular than the average fighter with an 0-2 UFC start and has the street credit of someone who walked through over 200 strikes from the current UFC bantamweight champion.

The other edge of the sword is the statistics show a lopsided outing. As much as the fight might not be a blanket representation of his abilities, it’s largely what’s most remembered.

“The fight we had was great,” Moutinho said. “Whatever. Cool. I got my ass kicked, but we put on a show. It made it a whole lot bigger than it would’ve been if I went and got starched in two seconds. It is what it is. With that being said, it still gave me, even though I am who I am and the attention was a lot to deal with and stuff, I’m a lot better now. I’m a lot more understanding now. … All things come on both sides, there’s good and bad to everything and I appreciate the opportunity that I got.”

Jul 10, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Sean OÕMalley lands a hit against Kris Mountinho during UFC 264 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

One more chance

Through the O’Malley fight and all the discussion surrounding it, Moutinho didn’t learn much about himself or O’Malley. He wasn’t surprised O’Malley went on to win UFC gold and he wasn’t surprised at his own chin and heart. He’s confident he can compete with the world’s best.

“I’m not a perfect fighter,” Moutinho said. “That’s why I think a lot of people like my style even more. It’s the same reason people like guys like Max Holloway. It’s not because they’re just great fighters. They’re willing to risk it and go in there and do things that are imperfect to look for finishes and look to get the fight going. That’s how I feel like my style is. I’ll do stupid sh*t. That fight, I made so many stupid mistakes.

“I walked around with my hands down, just trying to chase a guy down and get a finish. I don’t care. This is my style. I’m going to go out there and try to finish it all the times. I make mistakes. If you catch me, you catch me. If not, you’re in for it. This is the way that it is. I’m just here to put on the best shows possible.”

So now what?

Moutinho admits getting back in the UFC is not a life or death situation, but he’d like a shot at redemption – and feels like he’s earned it. He’s won all four fights inside the distance with two TKOs and two submissions.

And who knows? Moutinho won’t rule out a rematch of what currently remains by far his biggest claim to fame. But above all else, Moutinho wants redemption and the opportunity to show he’s more than a hard-head.

“I want to have my chance to get back in there and work my way back and prove to people that I’m much more than just a chin to get punched on,” Moutinho said. “I can take shots. I can give shots back. I can put on wars. I want to work my way back to my chance to fight him again, if I ever get that opportunity again. … So who knows? I fight the best guys and I’m looking to try to beat them all.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie