12/3/17

A few years ago, I quit my job as a corporate bond trader to become a professional MMA fighter in Peru. I went to Wharton undergrad and interned in finance every summer on various trading desks. I wound up full-time on a prop desk as an analyst and got right into the grind. After two years, I was about to get my own book to trade. But I had always missed my career as a college wrestler.

One day I took a trip to Peru and connected with an MMA team there. They offered to sponsor me to come train with them, and even though it sounded crazy, a few months later I quit my job and moved to Peru to fight full-time. I had five MMA fights during my year there before leaving it behind. Since then I've been living in Spain for two years teaching English.

I wrote a book about the experience called The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.

There are a lot of stories on here about people trying to break in to the finance world, and I thought I'd offer one about breaking out. I'm happy to answer any questions you may have.

Comments (55)

11/29/17

Wow that is a unique story. Thank you for sharing. Could you talk about what you liked about your job a what made you want to leave?

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11/29/17

Thanks! So I really liked the intensity of it. Because we had a really small team managing the portfolio, I was able to jump right into the action and get my hands dirty. Being an athlete, I appreciated the competitive nature of it. Some people ask me if my job was too boring and it is a resounding NO.

What made me want to leave was that I felt cooped up. I felt like there was so much more out there in the world and I was sitting at this desk staring at my four computer screens all day. I didn't feel like I was meant to be seated in an office all day. And I felt that as I got better at trading, the rest of the areas of my life withered away and I wasn't growing as a person. I needed more adventure in my life.

11/29/17

Dude, that's wild, best of luck to you in the cage, so to speak.

Do you see yourself going back to finance in any capacity after MMA or at least consider it as a "fallback"?

Were you able to make time to train while in your finance role? If so, how?

That last question is selfish as I barely pick myself up to go to the gym.

11/29/17

Thanks Scott. To be clear, I am not currently fighting. I only fought that year in Peru and I've been teaching English in Spain for the last two years.

I've been out of finance for three years now and it seems like a distant memory at this point. I have always had it in the back of my mind as an option, but I don't think it's very likely. If I do decide to pursue something in finance, it would be in a different facet of the field. Maybe a start-up or something along those lines. But at the moment I have no plans.

For the most part, I didn't train while I was working in NY, but towards the very end I was going to BJJ and boxing gyms to train.But it was very difficult to manage a full gym regimen while working. We were going out eating and drinking so much that it got in the way.

11/29/17

The top question for me is, do you make cash money from MMA? If not, what do you do for $$ and how will you support yourself longterm? @rolliepeterkin"

11/29/17

Good question. It's a complicated answer, because it depends. Most of the time, the answer is no. Many if not all, of the low level MMA guys have to hold down a second job to support themselves. Unless you are fighting in a big organization like the UFC or Bellator, it can be tough. I was extremely lucky that we had very good sponsors affiliated with our team and league down in Peru. We actually received a salary just to train, on top of our fight bonuses. And the cost of living in Peru was ridiculously low, so I got by just fine.

To be clear, I am not currently fighting and have been working in Spain for the previous two years teaching English. Another job that isn't going to make me rich but has provided me with amazing experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything. Hope that's helpful.

11/29/17

It is comforting to know that passion and interests are still being pursuit in today's society. I think in the end, if you are happy at what you are doing, that is all that really matters.

Best of luck to you Original Poster - @rolliepeterkin"

No pain no game.

11/29/17

Thanks @H13x I wouldn't trade my experiences over the last few years for any amount of money.

11/29/17

You sound like a classic pre-2007 trader haha

But seriously, props to you. Can I ask, if you measured your happiness right now to back when you were a trader, how would you describe it?

And how would you describe the monetary aspect of things? Obviously finance would be more lucrative, but how is the tradeoff in terms of lifestyle and happiness?

What are you looking for in the long term?

I'm trying to make some tough decisions about finance right now, and it would be enormously helpful to get your perspective in this. But if not for anything else, it sounds like you are feeling fulfilled, and you can't know how genuinely happy I am for you that you're able to do this, especially as I'm being surrounded by people who willingly submit to an unwinnable rat race and am starting to wonder about myself sometimes.

11/29/17

@TheRealGorilla thanks!

It's crazy how different I am now from four years ago when I was sitting at that desk. I have had so many transformative experiences. If you could somehow measure and quantity my happiness it wouldn't even be close. I didn't even realize how miserable I was before that. But when I look back, I sometimes shudder at the thought that I might not have done it.

Obviously I make way less money now than I did. But I have found that it hasn't negatively impacted me. I have adjusted my lifestyle lower and I live just fine. No more expensive dinners or lavish hotel rooms, no problem. One thing about finance is you get addicted to expensive things and then it becomes a cycle where you have to earn more to keep up etc. But when you step outside the cycle, it seems weird to me now how much money we used to spend on things that just aren't important to me anymore. Not trying to criticize it, it's just that I have a different perspective now.

I honestly don't know what I'm looking for in the long term. And I'm okay with that. I've been teaching English in Spain for two years and had the time of my life. In the meantime, I've learned Spanish and Portuguese. I've been to 40 different countries. I worked in a hostel in Croatia last summer. I've made friends from all over the world. If I do decide to go back to a "serious" career, I think the lessons I've learned will help me bring something to the table.

11/29/17

That's awesome man, it's great to hear all this. You absolutely sound on point with the "golden handcuffs" lifestyle issue. I'm glad things are going well and best wishes moving forward!

11/29/17

Soft, trading is obvs way harder than fighting mma lol

Best Response
11/29/17

@JordanBelfort1 Haha I mean it's intense and nerve-wracking in it's own, different way. Some days it felt like a fist fight.

Per your handle, the guys at the gym in Peru used to teasingly call me El Lobo de Wall Street....

11/29/17

deleteee

11/29/17

@JordanBelfort1 read the book to find out why I quit... just kidding. That's awesome, I'm sure you would dominate me in boxing, I never could really "get it" when it came to striking. I was a boring wrestler in MMA.

When my wrestling career ended, I felt like there was something huge missing from my life. I thought about it every day as I sat there at my desk. I had a heartbreaking defeat o end my career too so I always felt like I had unfinished business.

After a year in Peru I fought 5 times - 2 ammy, 3 pro. Around the same time, I cut my finder open really bad on some glass and couldn't make a fist for months and that sidelined me. And then the gym/league ran into financial troubles and closed. There were many other little reasons too. But I realized that MMA itself wasn't the answer. But the adventure of living and working abroad was what I wanted in life. And that feeling of regret from wrestling all disappeared!

My tips would be to read everything you can about trading and Wall Street. Ask for book recommendations from people you respect and then read them. When you show real interest and can talk intelligently about an industry, people respect that. So many people just say they want to do it and stop there. Learn everything you can about it from people and reach out to as many as you can.

11/29/17

i fought in mma, boxing, and competed in bjj at university. fun stuff but it's hard to pull the trigger on your dreams when the journey doesn't provide fruit along the way. decided that at least in IB i'll be respected/compensated till I become president

i'll give your book a read

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

11/29/17

That's awesome that you competed in all those. It's a real brotherhood that not everyone can appreciate. I mean, I'm not here advocating that everyone quit their jobs tomorrow. Of course you gotta make a living. I hope you can still find some time to train at least! oss

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11/29/17

Out of one cage and into another! Good luck boyo

11/29/17

savage

What concert costs 45 cents? 50 Cent feat. Nickelback.

11/29/17

Yeah, The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.... a bit of a play on words :)

thanks!

11/29/17

Nice post. Do you have any interest in getting back into the world of finance? Or do you think you will continue as a professor into the future?

11/29/17

Thanks. I don't know if I will get back into finance. If I do it will be in a different capacity than I was before. Or maybe even finance in a different country, which would appease my adventurous side.

11/29/17

Respect.

Book added to my reading list.

There's just a few more plateaus I want to conquer in Trading before following your example.

11/29/17

Thanks! Best of luck.

11/29/17

Your book and life sound really interesting actually. How has international travel impacted you, and also what are some differences you've encountered since leaving finance and having that mindset to interacting with people abroad who are less focused on the rat race? I don't see a mention of your background so I'm going to assume you're American. As someone who's lived in a lot of countries, travel like that is really eye-opening, and it seems you share a similar sentiment.

11/30/17

Thanks @BubbaBanker Yes, you hit the nail on the head. It has completely changed me living abroad. It's been three years now, one in Peru and two in Spain. Most of my friends now aren't from the US. It's funny, when I was living in NYC, I couldn't conceive of a world outside of finance. It was like "don't these other people understand? This is the center of the word." But then once I traveled around, I realized how wrong I was. I had friends in Peru who were DIRT poor but were so much happier than my peers in NYC who were printing money. At this point, the "rat race" as you say is like a distant memory, where at one point it was my only reality.

I have met so many cool people from so many different cultures. I can tell you cool things about countries that I had never even heard of a few years ago. I worked at a hostel in Croatia last summer. When you start to hear about different cultures and different ways of doing things, you realize that it's not about right and wrong but just different. So yeah, it's been eye-opening to say the least.

11/29/17

a man after my own heart: hitting things, fixed income, and LatAm. couple questions

  1. what martial arts do you think most useful for MMA? can someone practice muay thai and bjj and go into the octagon with a reasonable chance of holding his own?
  2. tell me more about peru, how does it differ from other latin american countries youve visited? any places you'd be sure to recommend to others and some places you'd avoid? I have dreams about hiking maccu picchu and then surfing at chicama (near trujillo) before getting zonked outta my mind on ayahuasca
  3. what's your assessment of the fixed income market at present? what worries you? where are there opportunities? where do investors have it wrong?
  4. I studied spanish from a latam perspective and most of my profs (I minored, didn't major) were from the caribbean or central america. I'm going to spain next year for 2 weeks, from a language standpoint what should I be aware of in terms of dialect differences?

thanks man

"The four most dangerous words in investing are: 'this time it's different.'" - Sir John Templeton

"The investor's chief problem - and even his worst enemy - is likely to be himself." - Benjamin Graham

11/30/17

1) I think it's undeniable that wrestling is the most important component in MMA. If you look at all the UFC champions at a given time, a majority of them have a wrestling background. Even GSP who wasn't a wrestler by training, has trained so extensively in it that he has reached a top level. Yeah, muay thai is the martial art that I respect the most probably because it's bada$$ using every limb to strike, including elbows and knees. Of the striking arts, it is the most practical. Also, BJJ is hugely practical. It's like they hacked the operating system of a fight and found all the loopholes. It is so cerebral and fun to train. So that is definitely a lethal combination, but with the addition of wrestling takedowns, it's optimal!

2) Peru is an amazing and beautiful country with such great people. It is a very poor country, but the people are so humble and will invite you into their homes to feed you. In the touristy areas, you have to be careful about robberies and getting ripped off. There is a local price and a "gringo" price for most goods there. But the cost of living is pretty cheap in general. Machu Picchu is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. It will completely take your breath away. The only problem is that sometimes it's like Times Square with all the tourists. But still worth it. I've never been up to the north, but a lot of my friends used to go surfing there. I used to walk 5 mins from my apartment in Lima and go surfing on the beach there. I never did aya because it scared me. But again, I have a lot of friends who did. You gotta go to Iquitos in the Amazon jungle to do it in the right place. You can research the shaman before you go. Also, the jungle tours are amazing. I talk about my experiences there more in the book.

3) I have NO IDEA what is going on in the fixed income markets at the moment. I have been out for 4 years and honestly don't even follow it a little bit. I could have given you a good answer back then though.

4) Having lived in both Peru and Spain, the languages are not that different. Where they differ is the use of the vosotros tense (y'all) in Spain and in the slang. For instance, in Spain they say "tio" for "dude" even though it literally means "uncle." When I first arrived to Spain, I used all the Latin American words and no one had a problem understanding me.

11/30/17

Holy shit, I'm actually working in Peru and I remember reading your story and Ben's in the local news. Let me know whenever you're back, would love to grab coffee with you.

11/30/17

No way! That's insane. Such a small world. Ben is a huge celebrity down there. You walk down the street with him and people stop him to ask for autographs. And he was always a guest star on those silly reality game shows down there. I'd meet a girl at the bar and she'd be like "Do you know that big American MMA guy I saw on TV?" I made a few appearances on TV to promote my fights down there too. What a wild time! Thanks for the comment.

12/1/17

Most respected / admired fighter?

Most respected / admired financier?

Where in Croatia? Favorite bar?

What's next?

Pura Vida ;)

12/3/17

The fighter I respect the most is definitely George St. Pierre because he is one of the greatest ever and super humble. I think Jon Jones is the most talented ever but he can't seem to get out of his own way. My favorite financier is probably Jack Bogle because not only did he go to my high school but I appreciate that he revolutionized the way people invested and he was consistent in his principles of putting his customers first.

I worked one summer as a pub crawl leader at a hostel in Hvar, an island off the coast of Split. It was a crazy and fun experience that taught me a lot about dealing with people. I took them to a crazy bar called Kiva every night. There were so many fun places there. I am not sure exact what is next. We shall see.

12/3/17

What an adventure! I love your cosmopolitan lifestyle. I have lived in different countries and I'm currently having one semester abroad at Middle East, absolutely enjoy immersing in different cultures therefore I can somehow relate to your experience.

And why switching from highly competitive endeavours (finance/sport) to teaching English at Spain?

p/s: Will definitely read your book!

"If you're afraid - don't do it, if you're doing it - don't be afraid!"
-- Genghis Khan

12/3/17

Thanks man. That's a really good point about competitive endeavors. I grew up wrestling as well. So I was competing at a really high level even from a young age. And a reading desk is always high pressure. Then MMA. Teaching English in Spain was like the exact opposite. It was very relaxed and low pressure. It was really nice to have that for an extended period for almost the first time in my life. But the best part about living abroad is that you are always growing and being challenged by daily obstacles. And you are always learning new things about the culture. Plus I took pride in my work there teaching children English. I was able to have a real impact on them. Any way you measure it, I've had an amazing time in Spain.

12/3/17

Pretty dumb move man.

"Elections are a futures market for stolen property"

12/3/17

lol thanks!

12/4/17

Do you still train in Spain/what city? If you've ever been to Gracie Barra in Seville we may have met.

12/4/17

To be honest I don't really train anymore. I trained some BJJ when I first got to Madrid and I twisted my ankle so bad I was out for months, and I never really recovered. I wrestled with their national team which has a training center in Madrid and I even went to compete at a tournament in Barcelona with them. You are so lucky you live in Seville. I LOVE that place and was actually there just a month or two ago visiting friends.

12/4/17

I'm winding down on my study abroad experience it here and its definitely going to be a difficult place to leave behind - hope your ankle recovers.

12/4/17

I misspoke there. My ankle did actually recover 100 percent months later, but I was never able to really fully dive back into it. Too many distractions in Spain I guess...

12/4/17

3 victories including a finish, nice work "Omega", why wouldn't you nickname yourself Alpha though ?

12/4/17

Ha I never thought of that. I chose Omega because it's my actual middle name. But when I first got down there they wanted to call me El Chico de Wall Street. I wish I had stuck with that because it's super funny. Although at the time it seemed lame to me for some reason.

12/4/17

Do you find any similarities between MMA and the world of finance?

PS. Good luck with your career!

12/4/17

Yeah so many things in common. Mentality wide you had to be aggressive to succeed. And not afraid of making mistakes. My old boss really believed in the value of experience and helped my get trading experience very early in my career. Similarly in MMA, my coach wanted me to write fight experience asap so he put me in an amateur fight just 21 days after arriving in Peru! I was in over my head but I wound up winning and becoming better for it -- in both cases.

12/5/17

Just wanted to say good for you man. It's always nice to hear the stories of people who have resisted the lure of security and comfort to pursue something more. Glad to see that it has worked out for you.

I'll be finishing my current work assignment in May. Taking an extended leave of absence to go travel, curate new life experiences, and introduce some excitement and serendipity back into my life.

12/5/17

That's awesome! Glad to hear it. It's cliche to say that you only live once, but if you have the opportunity to take an extended trip and travel, you definitely should. Best of luck in your adventures!

12/5/17

Power move dude. BJJ monkey here. No Gi or Gi? I started with Gi but the no GI guys just train harder. Take downs and chokes are harder to accomplish as well. Less stale mates than the gi game. That being said, I enjoy executing chokes more than locks. Any advice on pulling off the darce or taking the back consistently for the rear naked?

"The only thing I know is that I know nothing, and i am no quite sure that i know that." Socrates

12/5/17

100% no gi for me. When I first started training BJJ at Renzo's, they made me put on the gi and it was so unnatural for me as a wrestler. I had trained wrestling my whole life so no-gi is a natural fit. But that being said, I think it is great for beginners (especially wrestlers) to train in the gi because it forces you to work on positions you wouldn't otherwise. And it took away a lot of my natural advantages of athleticism. So I'm glad I trained it for a little bit, but when I was down in Peru fighting we trained almost exclusively no-gi. It's hard to give technical advice through writing so sorry I can't really help you there.

12/5/17

I just bought your book and has been super inspirational so far!

12/5/17

Thanks! Always awesome to hear feedback from people! Hope you like the rest of it!

12/7/17

Scared to read your book because it will make me question everything I'm doing with my life.

12/7/17

I think my problem was always that I read too much Kerouac and Hemingway. So I feel the struggle.

12/7/17

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12/18/17
12/9/17

alpha currency trader wanna-be