Mike Perry speaks about childhood, prison and turning life around

Mike Perry faces a pivotal test on Saturday against Santiago Ponzinibbio in Winnipeg. Don Wright-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in life, UFC welterweight Mike Perry went to prison for taking from others. Now, he gets paid to do it.

Perry (11-1) is one of several fast-rising prospects in the UFC's 170-pound division. He'll look for the biggest win of his career Saturday, when he meets Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC Fight Night in Winnipeg, Canada.

Fighting out of Central Florida, Perry was incarcerated for six months prior to his fighting career, after he violated the terms of a sentence for armed burglary in 2011. He was 19 at the time of the arrest.

Perry grew up in poverty, bouncing around "20 to 30" different homes between Florida and Michigan. In his late teens, he and several friends got into the habit of robbing houses to pay rent.

"I felt like, 'I'm stronger, tougher and badder than everyone else. Why can't I have what I want? I'm tough enough to take it, so I'm gonna go get it,'" Perry told ESPN's Five Rounds.

"I went about it the wrong way. Now, in fighting, I actually get to be the tougher guy and go take it -- and it's legal. It's really crazy I get this opportunity. I didn't get any guidance earlier. The things I looked up to were drug dealers and thieves, who had what I and my family never had -- nice house, nice cars, nice clothes. I said, 'Well, I'm strong. I can go get these things.'"

Some of Perry's strongest memories of his troubled youth are of winters in Flint, Michigan, when his father would borrow a boss's truck to pick Perry up from middle school, and run out of gas on the icy roads.

When relating it to his fighting career, Perry refers to those times as "suffering," which has made him a better fighter (and frequently, a very polarizing one).

"I remember warming up bologna on a gas-powered stove we had in a mobile home," Perry says. "Eating bologna and salsa, with three feet of snow on the ground outside.

"I remember running out of gas in the Suburban that my dad used to come pick me up in. We ran out of gas, and it's winter time -- walking into a gas station to get warm and my dad arguing with the clerk, him saying, 'You guys can't stay in here.' And that's Flint, because people stand in there to steal s---. My dad's arguing with the guy, 'Come on, man, I'm trying to get my kid out of the cold.' Well, it's your dumbass fault, Dad. You shouldn't have run out of f---ing gas."

Perry, 26, changed his outlook after spending six months in prison. He grew up wanting a better life -- and felt capable of doing so -- but his methods had to change.

While in prison, he told inmates that when he got out, he'd become a UFC fighter. He gave grappling lessons to a bunkmate in their cell, and shadowboxed outside.

In a little more than three years, Perry has accumulated 11 professional wins -- all by knockout. And in his personal life, his probation came to an end in 2017.

If he defeats Ponzinibbio (25-3) this weekend, expectations are his next fight could be against popular European welterweight Darren Till early next year.

"I know I'm not that dumb kid anymore," Perry said. "I'm not trying to waste this life. I'm not trying to cause trouble in other people's lives -- except for my opponents."