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Sand Mountain Street Fighter Becomes UFC Athlete: Trevor Peek’s Story

Photo by Lydia Berglar

News Editor

On June 24th, people slowly trickled into Limon’s Mexican Restaurant in Henager, Ala., but food wasn’t the only attraction. Almost every eye was glued to the restaurant’s television screens, watching two men in an octagon-shaped cage exchange blows.

One competitor, Jose Chepe Mariscal, was new to the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) but a veteran of MMA (mixed martial arts). The other, Trevor Peek, is the reason Sand Mountain intently watched this particular UFC fight.

Photo by Lydia Berglar – Fans at Limon’s Mexican Restaurant watch Peek’s June 24 match against Mariscal.

Born in Pisgah, Ala., Peek’s path to becoming a professional athlete was anything but smooth. After spending his teenage and early adult years trapped in addiction and street fighting, Peek built a relationship with God and has made a name for himself in the UFC.

Peek described his desire to do what was right as a young child, saying, “I was a good kid. I had a super strong conscience. Anytime I did anything wrong, it’d weigh on my mind until I would tell on myself.”

His father left the family when Peek was young and joined the military. “I didn’t see him for about five or six years,” Peek said. “I spent a lot of my childhood questioning where he was at.” Peek has since reconnected with his father, and they’ve rebuilt a relationship.

In early high school, Peek’s life took a turn. He moved to Ider High School and was introduced to drugs and alcohol. He said, “It happened to be maybe the biggest party school in the area. All the surrounding schools and even people down in the valley would come up and we’d have big shindigs. I started partying around age 14. At 15, I tried crystal meth and all kinds of other stuff, and that’s when my legal trouble started.”

Peek stole his mother’s car, flipped it multiple times, and ended up with a DUI. “From there, it was a downward spiral,” he said. What started out as curiosity turned into a habit and coping mechanism. “If I liked the way one thing made me feel, then I figured this other thing over here would probably make me feel good too. I had a wildness in me that surfaced real bad.”

Along with addiction, Peek’s wild side surfaced in fighting. In many ways, his current fighting style was born from street fighting. Peek said he was always looking for a fight, and it came naturally to him.

A friend noticed Peek’s fighting ability and told him at age 14, “If you ever wanted to make a lot of money, you could do it in fighting.” This friend signed Peek up for his first cage fight.

In a press conference after his UFC debut, Peek recalled, “He called me one day and asked if I wanted to go fight. I thought we was going to a parking lot fight. He said something and I asked, ‘Wait, what kind of fight are we talking about?’ He said, ‘A UFC fight, like in a cage.’…I went and beat the guy up real bad…That’s how I got my first taste of what the cage was like.”

He fought in several unsanctioned and sanctioned events before graduating high school all while drugs and alcohol still had a hold of him, but he wouldn’t pursue a UFC career until later. He explained, “I didn’t trust myself. I was messing a lot of folks up out here, even with no training. I needed to get my life together first. I didn’t feel right if I wasn’t high or drunk.”

Eventually, Peek noticed a change in his friend group. “They kind of lost their smiles. We were fighting a lot more, and it started bothering me. I felt like we was all gonna die.”

After one argument with his friends, Peek experienced a moment with God that was the beginning of a life change. He recalled, “On May 24, 2017 at 10:05 p.m., I had an encounter with God. My buddies jumped in the truck after we’d had a big fight and drove away, and I fell to my knees in the driveway, asking God to change me. That was the moment I realized that there is a God, and it gave me hope of building a relationship with Him.”

Peek moved in with his grandfather, Bruce Roden, started going to church, and started working, but more trouble lay ahead. “I slowly drifted off again a couple months later,” he said.

This led to a drunken car accident on July 27, 2017, but this time, other people were hurt. Peek crashed into a woman who ended up with a broken leg and his friend in the passenger seat got a broken jaw. “They could’ve died, and I guess I could’ve died,” he said. “I woke up in jail.” This accident was the final push that Peek needed.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Peek – Peek’s MMA training started in his grandfather’s shed on Sand Mountain. He took this photo in 2018, when a UFC career was still a distant dream.

During this summer, Peek disconnected from many of his old friends and their habits in order to get clean. “It was lonely in the beginning. I felt like I didn’t have anybody except for my grandpa. Even though I was trying to build a relationship with God, it was hard to let go of all these people that I loved and cared about. I was worried about them and wanted them to get out of addiction. Eventually, God started putting people in my life who were beneficial to my career and the direction I was trying to head in. He’s blessed me and put wonderful people in my life.”

As 2017 ended and 2018 began, Peek spent his days in construction work, and he began training on his own. He trained in his grandfather’s shed with a hodgepodge of collected and homemade equipment.

The manual labor helped him gain strength. He recalled, “I remember I was wearing a white t-shirt one day and looking in my grandpa’s mirror, thinking, ‘Dang, I got a little bit of muscle.’ It helped motivate me because I thought, ‘I’ve spent years doing stuff to harm my body. Now I wanna give it a good go and see how muscled up I can get.’ I really started busting my tail when I got home from work, and the physical transformation was exciting.”

Peek then trained with friends in backyard match-ups before they found space at Black Lion Studios, a karate dojo in Henager, Ala. “We were training ourselves, really,” he said.

It wasn’t until he connected with Jeff Powell, a martial arts instructor and owner of a jiu-jitsu gym in Kimball, Tenn., that Peek began working with a striking coach. “I kept telling Jeff, ‘We got a good group of guys up there in Henager if you ever wanna come up there and work with us.’ Finally, I talked him into it and he started coming to Henager one day a week.”

This was the beginning of Peek’s official training, but to this day, his fighting style shows all of the intensity and chaos of street fighting.

Peek fought for his first title in Rainsville, Ala. at the first Alabama Fighting Championship event. “That’s kind of where my career was born.” He defeated Greg Hopkins, a three-time state champion with an undefeated record of 5-0.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Peek – Working construction jobs during the day, Peek used his free time to train and workout with makeshift equipment.

Next came more regional fights, a professional debut, and a spot in Dana White’s Contender Series. White, president of the UFC, offered Peek a UFC contract for his second-round knockout of Malik Lewis in September 2022.

Throughout this season, Peek worked several jobs and spent the rest of his time training. He began his days with a 3 a.m. yoga routine, 4 a.m. warm-up workout, and 5 a.m. workout with Powell before a full work day. After work, he had two-hour training sessions and ended his days with a core workout.

Peek says, “I’ve turned down some good job opportunities to fight. You gotta make a sacrifice: either earn money now but miss out on your dream or suffer now and chase your dream, and you either get it or you don’t.”

These sacrifices have paid off. Peek won his UFC debut fight on February 25, 2023 against Erik Gonzalez by first-round knockout. A Performance of the Night $50,000 bonus meant Peek could now train full-time for his next fight.

For Peek, the most important part of fighting is not winning; it’s the opportunity to tell others about God’s work in his life. After the win against Gonzalez, Peek told the crowd, “I was a wild kid. I didn’t have no vision for my life. MMA saved my life, but God gave me a hope…I’m so glad I don’t have to wonder what my purpose is anymore. I don’t have to wonder what my identity is anymore. If you’re wondering what your purpose is and what your identity is, you gotta come to know Jesus Christ. He’s the only thing that ever gave me purpose.”

Peek told the Sentinel that the UFC gives fighters freedom to express their beliefs, but if they took that away, he would find something else to do. He added, “A lot of athletes say the short, ‘I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ,’ and that’s fine and dandy, but I’d like to try and share a little more than that. I promised God I’d talk about Him.”

While some people may think fighting is at odds with Christian faith, Peek says, “I don’t know that it is the most godly thing in the world, but God instills warrior spirits in people. I don’t feel like I got this warrior spirit inside of me to just sit around. I get to go and talk about God in a place where it isn’t very common.”

Peek now trains at Agoge Combatives in Rossville, Ga. He shares his testimony at churches and schools. A prison ministry group called God Behind Bars has also been working with him to create a documentary that will be shared with incarcerated men and women.

Peek trains for many hours every day, only taking a day off when his body is completely drained. This past week, following the June 24 fight, was one of the rare times he took a break. He told the Sentinel, “I’m just zapped. I felt good the day after the fight, but it caught up to me.”

While Peek was in Jacksonville, Fla. facing Mariscal, friends and fans at Limon’s watched with bated breath, hoping to see one of Peek’s signature knockouts. However, Mariscal won the fight by unanimous decision after three intense rounds. This brought an end to Peek’s 8-0 undefeated pro career, but MMA fans are more captivated than ever by Peek’s gritty style.

Comments online praised Peek’s ability to take a hit, his never-back-down attitude, and his hammer fists. Some believed that both competitors deserved bonuses for the performance.

Five days after the fight, Peek told the Sentinel, “I got to go in deep waters I ain’t been in in a long time and see some things in this fight that I hadn’t really seen in a long time. Physically, I felt good but had a lot of emotion going in there, and quite a bit of nerves. The crowd was a real cool experience. I had a bunch of people there. About five or six times, the entire arena chanted my name.”

He continued, “I stayed so tense and amped up the whole time, and that’s part of the reason I gassed out. Instead of relaxing and finding a flow state, I just wanted to get the finish.”

Photo by Lydia Berglar – Fans watch as Mariscal is declared the winner by unanimous decision.

While his intense fighting style has served him well, Peek hopes to dial it back. The street fighter in him can be helpful, but it can also cause him to burn out. He explained, “I would say most people have a problem with turning the switch on, but I’m having trouble dialing it down. I’d rather have that problem than the opposite. I’ve got a lot more technique than the world knows, but I’ve had trouble not being so chaotic and animalistic in there at times.”

Leading up to this fight, Peek was unable to train fully due to injury. “I couldn’t spar until the last two weeks because of injuries. My wrist, elbow, and neck were bothering me. All I could do was run and swim.”

On top of that, his opponent changed two weeks before the fight. Victor Martinez dropped out due to injury, and Mariscal took his place. Peek said, “I knew Mariscal was a veteran of the sport, but I didn’t realize the level of opponent I was facing. He’s sparred the best in the world for a very long time. He’s trained with Justin Gaethje, and mine and Gaethje’s styles are similar. I kept going for uppercuts, but Justin’s notorious for throwing uppercuts.”

He continued, “Seeing how effective his little strikes were and how they disrupted my game plan, I think it’ll help me in the long run as far as dialing it back. I try to swing with everything I’ve got every punch, and it’s showing.”

For Peek, being a man goes far beyond physical prowess or his success as a UFC fighter. He said, “I don’t feel like you can be a man without knowing God. I feel like you’ve gotta be a follower of God to be a true leader.”

He continued, “Being a man is about learning to respect everybody and being selfless. The best men I’ve ever known are selfless. My grandpa’s one of them. Developing compassion for others and putting yourself in others’ shoes goes a long ways.”

This carries into Peek’s career as he respects his fellow athletes. He explains, “For the most part, we’re just getting in there and competing. A lot of fighters build this fake persona and fake hate for an individual, but most of that’s for promotion. I don’t feel like I have to run my mouth to get views. My style carries itself. People will tune in to see what kind of madness I do next.”

Before the fight with Mariscal, Peek shook his hand and thanked him for accepting the fight, and afterward, he congratulated him on the win. Peek said, “I had a blast at times, and I’m sure he had a blast too. I don’t know how he wasn’t already in the UFC. So many people were saying they were excited for our fight and he was so deserving of this.”

When asked who he would like to face again, Peek promptly named Mariscal. Like any good competitor, he wants a chance to come out on top, and he feels confident in his abilities. “I’ve rewatched the fight, and I think there are a lot of things I could fix right now and win. Me and him fighting like we did, I believe one of these days they’ll let us fight again.”

Peek had hoped to fight in Nashville, Tenn. in August (near enough for many of his local fans to attend) if he won, but for now, he’s recuperating and talking with his manager and team. He has two more fights left on his current UFC contract, and fans remain eager to hear about upcoming matches.

As his fighting career progresses, Peek seeks to remain connected with his Lord and Savior. “With so much going on in life, it don’t take much to get disconnected from God, I’ve learned that. That’s when self-doubt comes in, and it can turn into a downward spiral.”

Just as battling addiction and finding his purpose took time, Peek believes that God’s work isn’t instantaneous. He said, “I don’t feel like God’s ever done working on you. He still works on me every single day.”

Peek concluded, “Chase God. The most important thing I could say to anyone is chase after God.”

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