Louis Taylor’s life was saved by a pastor, but not in the traditional sense.
It’s safe to assume God was involved, but this chance encounter led Taylor to the wrestling mat, not a church doorstep.
“I was in high school, and I got into a street fight,” Taylor said. “I was playing basketball when three guys came up and started with me. I threw one guy to the ground, kind of like a suplex before I knew what it was. This pastor was watching, and later he said to me, ‘I saw you out there, you look like you should be a wrestler. I know someone.’ ”
Taylor had no idea that street fight would lead him to another down the line that would earn him the middleweight championship of the Professional Fighters League and a $1 million payday.
Ken Bringe, wrestling coach at Bogan high school, was “that someone” the pastor knew.
Taylor was introduced to him and immediately joined the team. His new coach had strict policies: no gang members, no drugs and no outside fighting.
At the time, Bringe’s demands seemed controlling, and Taylor struggled to understand. He watched neighborhood friends making quick, easy money and the temptation to return to that lifestyle would almost swallow him.
“Growing up on the South Side, you become loyal to the gang that’s outside,” Taylor said. “I was able to separate myself from that, and I attached myself to wrestling.”
When Taylor joined Bogan’s wrestling team as a sophomore in high school, he had never wrestled a day in his life — but he was a fighter. Growing up on 64th and Wolcott in the Englewood neighborhood taught Taylor how to survive.
“Most people were scared to pull onto my block,” Taylor said. “They’d tell me, ‘I’m at the local McDonalds, come here.’ ”
Taylor graduated from Bogan and left Englewood for Lassen Community College in Northern California. He had plenty of opportunities to attend school near home, but Bringe wanted Taylor far removed from the neighborhood and its temptations.
It wasn’t by luck that Taylor made it out of Englewood, left Lassen and went on to wrestle for former UFC Champion Matt Hughes at Eastern Illinois. Taylor got into MMA at 27 years old and became a World Champion in the Professional Fighters League at 39. It was a series of trials and challenges that molded the naturally resilient Taylor into an unrelenting force in the cage.
During his 12-year career — one that includes Bellator and Strikeforce — Taylor has fought in 23 professional fights and suffered just one submission. He doesn’t know how to quit.
“You really can’t understand the life this kid has had,” Bringe said. “I’m not surprised at all that he won [the PFL middleweight championship]. I was in Tennessee watching the fight on New Year’s Eve and as I’m listening to the announcers describe the tough life his opponent [Abusupiyan Magomedov] had, I couldn’t stop thinking if they knew where Louis comes from they wouldn’t be calling him the underdog.”
Taylor showed everyone he was no underdog, becoming the PFL’s oldest middleweight champion on New Year’s Eve by knocking out Magomedov in 33 seconds.
“Everybody wrote it up as he just won about $33,000 a second,” Taylor said. “But I knew there were a lot of years that went into that 33 seconds. People don’t count the years, they only see that time in the ring. It’s been a lifetime to get to that point.”
For the past 12 years, Taylor has been training at the same small South Side gym, Chicago Fight Team MMA, with the same trainer, Roberto Ramirez. At this point, the gym is more like a second home and his coach is more like family.
After winning his title, Taylor returned to the South Side to prepare for Year 2 and what he hopes will be consecutive PFL championships.
“I’ve had opportunities to train at bigger gyms,” Taylor said. “And maybe my path would have been a little easier if I had left, but this is where I’m from, and I wanted to win from right here. Englewood has taught me a lot about loyalty and I’m loyal to this place.”
In his second season with the PFL, Taylor will be moving down to the welterweight division after his division was lost to make room for a female division. For the first time since high school, Taylor must get his weight down to 170, and he has about 20 pounds to cut before his fight May 9 against 31-year-old Chris Curtis.
Winning $1 million was more than Taylor had ever imagined. After setting aside money for his daughters Leila’s and Liyah’s education and paying off the mortgage on his home, Taylor realized how quickly that money goes.
This season, Taylor’s goal is to get back to the title fight so he can help in building a bright future for his community of Englewood. Taylor always dreamed of owning his own business and opening an outreach program for kids who come from similar backgrounds.
He was able to purchase the LLC, Put the Guns Down, with his winnings but that’s just the beginning.
“I want to teach these kids to look at the world with a different perspective,” Taylor said. “There’s such an imbalance of urban kids wanting to play basketball or football that they miss the bigger picture. The bigger picture is to make it out of the hood by any means necessary.”