Gun drawn, with two notorious criminals sitting in the back seat of a parked car, Kelvin Gastelum slowly walked towards the threat.
Well before he became a household name in the UFC, Gastelum — who fights Australian Rob Whittaker for the middleweight championship in Melbourne next Sunday — was working all manner of jobs to put food on the table for his single mother and sister.
They grew up living meal to meal, sharing a bed in their one room apartment in Arizona, while mother Patricia worked up to five different jobs to make ends meet.
He developed the same appetite for the grind.
“I had my first job at 15 as a dishwasher,” Gastelum said.
“I kept working odd jobs during the years; construction, landscaping, I worked at a retail store pushing shopping carts, I worked at a bakery.
“My last nine to five job was being a bail bondsman.
“I arrested and booked around a dozen people. I never used a lot of force, nothing crazy.
“There was one time though where it felt like a big drug bust, these two brothers, we let them out as a high-risk bond, it was like a $50,000 bond for both of them, so there was a lot of money on the line.
“And they didn’t go to court. They had warrants issued for them, so now we needed to catch them, these two guys are on the run now.
“Somehow, some way, my boss was able to get in touch with one of the guy’s girlfriends. She came to the office, she basically ratted them out and we devised a plan on how we’re going to arrest them.
“What we had planned with the girlfriend was that she was going to drive to a gas station, she was going to go inside and pay while the brothers are in the car, and as soon as she did that, I was one of the drivers, we had our bulletproof vests on, had our guns drawn.
“As soon as the girlfriend went inside the gasoline station, I bucked it, there was three or four cars, agents, everyone’s got their guns out, ‘Get on the floor, you’re under arrest’.
“It just felt like a big drug bust, but it wasn’t.
“There was real adrenaline there, because these guys are dangerous, they’re on the run, and you never know what could happen.”
So when he enters the Octagon against Whittaker (20-4), a man who has not been defeated in five years, Gastelum (15-3, one no contest) will do so with the knowledge he has entered far more dangerous conflict.
He moved from the bail bonds industry into full-time fighting, having developed an outstanding junior wrestling career, by winning the Ultimate Fighter series in 2013, the youngest in history at 21.
“The joy of competition is something that always pushes me,” he said.
“Having something to compete for, reaching for greatness, I’ve always had it in me, whether it was wrestling, boxing, MMA, I’ve always had this hunger to compete and be the best at whatever I was doing.”
Now 27, the American – who has knocked out Michael Bisping and won a split decision against Ronaldo Souza in his past two fights – believes he was destined to wear the championship belt.
“When I was born, I was supposed to die,” Gastelum said.
“I was born with meningitis on my brain. At the time, in the 90s, what they told me was that the majority of babies born with that were dying.
“The story my mum tells me is that the doctors didn’t know what to do, I wasn’t getting any better, they had needles all the way in my head.
“All of a sudden I got better, it went away, and here I am. So in a way, I’ve been fighting my whole life.
“I think about how much I’ve had to overcome to get to where I’m at, not a lot of people get there, let alone win a world championship.
“It’s a testament to who I am as a person, an overcomer.
“That’s what that belt represents; overcoming.”