Ryan Cowette, like any great mixed martial artist, is a self-made fighter. As he tells it, he wasn’t born an athlete and he didn’t dream of becoming a fighter from a young age. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his mid-20’s that Cowette started taking his health seriously and began actively pursuing his dream of becoming a fighter.
At the time, Cowette owned and operated a large roofing company in Maine. During the early days of the business, Cowette was handling many of the labor-intensive responsibilities that are attached to roofing work. However, as the business grew, Cowette found himself doing less of the heavy lifting on a day-to-day business and spending more time traveling, bidding jobs, and eating whatever he wanted. The softness that can come with success had snuck-up on him and before he knew it, he had gained a significant amount of weight.
“I was sort-of a skinny kid,” Cowette stated on a recent episode of the NEF MMA podcast. “But I woke up and one day I was kind-of fat. I was bowling, actually, and my brother-in-law was picking on me for being fat. I was like ‘Man, I’ve never been fat.’ I thought about it, it bothered me. So I woke up at like 3 in the morning and I told my wife ‘I’m going to start working out tomorrow.’ She told me to be quiet and go back to bed, but I got up that morning and I started working out.”
Early on, Cowette attended a traditional martial arts (TMA) school and participated in karate tournaments, but was constantly being docked points in the restrictive tournament format for “excessive contact” or because he “hit people too hard.” It was soon after that Cowette was introduced to the sports of mixed martial arts (MMA) and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and started studying under well-known Maine jiu-jitsu artist Aaron Blake, who awarded Cowette his purple belt.
Around this time, Cowette’s roofing business crashed when the recession hit. “I ended up going bankrupt,” he stated. “So, I packed up my kids, everything I owned in a little Astro van, moved to Florida, stayed in one little bedroom and joined a team called Combat Athletix, which was a division of American Top Team at the time.”
At Combat Athletix, Cowette connected immediately with the owner and head coach, James Smiley. Smiley awarded Cowette his brown belt in BJJ and remains his instructor to this day. While in Florida, Cowette also started competing in amateur kickboxing and MMA contests and excelled in both sports.
Cowette eventually returned to Maine and opened up his own school, MMA Athletix currently located in Bath. He also continued competing in amateur MMA fights. Quickly, Cowette became the number one ranked amateur middleweight MMA fighter in the Northeast.
In June 2012 at “NEF III”, Cowette made his professional debut against Josh Bellows. In shocking fashion, Bellows, unknown at the time, knocked Cowette out in just 46 seconds. The surprising finish shocked Cowette and fans alike.
“I was surprised after being in however many kickboxing matches and all of that—to be knocked out—I was really stunned by that,” stated Cowette. “I sort-of had the mindset that that couldn’t happen to me… Being knocked out in the first pro fight was definitely a surprise and shook my confidence a little bit.”
Despite the brutal loss, Cowette remains reflective about the lessons he gained from the experience.
“It taught me a lot,” he stated. It taught me, I’m not invincible. It taught me that even when I’m physically and mentally prepared, that I really need that spiritual component. I need to be right—I need to step in there right in all areas, and maybe I underestimated that a little bit at that time.”
Contemplative about the loss at the time, Cowette took some time off from the cage to focus on his school and family. After making some adjustments to his training, he returned to the cage recently at “NEF X” when he faced Team Triumph BJJ fighter Mike Hurlburt. An action-packed fight from the start, Cowette’s return against Hurlburt was stopped prematurely in the first round when referee Jimmy Bickford halted the bout when he believed he saw Cowette tap to a standing guillotine choke. Subsequent video footage that has been released of the fight shows no tap from Cowette.
“I was never in any danger of getting hurt in that guillotine, so I’m not sure why he stopped it,” stated Cowette.
Immediately after his fight was stopped short at “NEF X”, Cowette was petitioning NEF MMA for an immediate return fight. Cowette’s request was answered when he was offered to face Central Maine Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s (CMBJJ) Jesse Erickson at a catchweight of 160 pounds. The two coaches are scheduled to scrap at “NEF XI” on Saturday, November 9th at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, Maine.
“I like this fight because he’s a good fighter,” stated Cowette when asked about his upcoming bout with Erickson. “He does his work—he doesn’t talk a lot of crap, as far as I see. I think this will be a good fight for both of us… It’s a win-win for both of us.”
With his school doing well and his family firmly planted behind him, Cowette has his sights set on securing the first win of his professional career on November 9th. After being the top ranked amateur in the Northeast, Cowette never would have predicted that his pro career would start off at 0-2. However, adversity is nothing new to this former roofer. Cowette, now 36, reflects on his journey with the wisdom that he gained from it.
“At night, I had everything I needed, but I really wanted that shot—I really wanted to become a mixed martial artist,” Cowette recalled of the spark that got him started. “God works in mysterious ways. I didn’t see how this would all come around, but had I not lost my business, had things not gone a certain way, I would have never been able to go to that school, and go to Florida, and meet the people that I met and hone my skills.
“It took me having nothing here to pursue a new dream. In hindsight, it was sort of a painful road, but I’m happy that I did it because I always would have wondered what could have happened if I did that, and now I don’t have to wonder—and that’s good.”
You can listen to the full NEF MMA Podcast interview with Ryan Cowette by visiting www.NewEnglandFights.com/Podcasts/.