After spending 22 years of his life in Sacramento, Calif., UFC fighter James Irvin sold his house, picked up his family and moved to Southern California in 2010.
The decision was based partly on the fact that an entire camp of fighters his size was waiting for him in Lake Forest, Calif.
But another big reason for the relocation was that even though Irvin had broke his addiction to painkillers in 2008, they were still impacting his life two years later.
“That was a big part of moving,” Irvin said. “It was a big problem I had up there, and I wanted to get away from it. Everyone wants to help a UFC fighter and be on my good side. The doctors I knew up there, the people I knew up there — I always knew how to get it.
“I needed to get away from that. That was a big part of it; it really was.”
Following a first-round knockout loss to Anderson Silva in March 2008, Irvin tested positive for the painkillers methadone and oxymorphone. Shortly after, he received a nine-month suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Irvin later admitted he became addicted to painkillers after using them to cope with a knee injury that occurred in a fight against Thiago Silva at UFC 71.
Although he was able to kick the habit years ago, Irvin said that moving from the area where it all happened was the final step in putting the experience behind him.
“It’s a big relief,” he said. “The move has been like a breath of fresh air, kind of like starting my career all over again.
“It was a bummer to move away from my childhood friends, but that’s how dedicated I am to this sport. I was willing to make that sacrifice, and I’m looking for it to pay off in this fight.”
After experimenting in the 185-pound division in his last fight, Irvin (14-6) will return to the light heavyweight division this weekend when he meets Igor Pokrajac (21-7) on the UFC on Versus 2 card in San Diego.
His only fight in the middleweight division provided a disappointing result — a first-round TKO loss to Alessio Sakara.
Following the fight, UFC President Dana White said that he never wanted to see Irvin at 185 again.
The boss’s decision was disheartening news to Irvin. Although he admitted he looked physically drained the day of the weigh-in before the fight, Irvin said he believes a few changes to his weight-cutting strategy would have made a huge difference.
“I didn’t cut a whole lot of weight until the day of the weigh-in,” Irvin said. “I didn’t even look at the pictures of the weigh-in because people were telling me I looked so bad.
“I wish they’d let me fight there again, though. I just didn’t take my speed with me in that first fight. Hopefully, if I get a few wins, Dana will give me another chance there.”
In his first fight back at 205 pounds, Irvin isn’t just looking to win — he’s looking to give his fans something he feels he’s never shown them: A big-time win in the UFC octagon.
Although he holds seven wins under the UFC banner, Irvin says he’s never been involved in a truly memorable fight in the organization.
Despite suffering from major knee injuries and a drug addiction in the last three years, Irvin feels that at 31, his time in the sport is now.
With the weight of his past officially off his shoulders, anything is possible.
“I’m definitely not on the downside of my career, but I haven’t had my good fights in the UFC yet,” Irvin said. “I think the real James Irvin hasn’t been able to showcase himself yet. I get these knockouts, but they’re usually at the end of a bad fight or just a quick thing.
“I haven’t had a breakout fight yet. I’m waiting for that fight to come. All I can do is keep training, and my time is going to come. I have to keep my head up.”