When Johnny “Pipewrench” DiPatri steps into the XCC cage this Saturday at the Philadelphia National Guard Armory, it will mark his return to MMA competition since his last fight in June 2013—a hiatus of just over four years. While many fighters have breaks in their fighting records, few have journeyed through such hardship and lows before returning. The 1,538 days since DiPatri’s last fight have been a roller coaster of life experiences for “Pipewrench,” including addiction, mental health struggles, and—most significantly—recovery. Fighting Stance Media got a firsthand account from DiPetri on his spiral into self-defeating behaviors, the recovery journey, and his imminent return to the cage.

MMA fighter Johnny DiPatri

Your last MMA fight was a submission win in June 2013; what has kept you away from fighting for the past four years?

I didn’t really keep myself away from fighting—honestly, I went into a different type of fight. To answer this I have to take you back to my first fight in Lancaster against Chris Tier. I won the fight and everything was great that night, but the next day my face started blowing up with a staph infection. After seeing my doctor, he set me up in a bed in the hospital; I was there for a week. The whole time I was in tremendous pain. The doctors gave me pain medicine every four hours while I was there. I came out of the hospital and found myself physically addicted to pain medicine…This started a long hard fight for my life. For the next four to five years I supported an opiate pill addiction. It progressed into other drugs and I continued to have my other four fights during this time. Eventually things went different ways and I found myself running around with a gang in Camden, NJ. This is where everything started to get really crazy, and shortly after it got really depressing and I starting injecting hard drugs. That’s when I completely fell off from MMA—or anything, for that matter. Depressed and stuck, I was completely hopeless and didn’t think there was a way out. After a little while living like this, I wrote a suicide note and was ready to leave everything behind. I never would have made it out of there if it wasn’t for the people closest to me. I moved over to Philly on January 4th, 2016, and that was the last day I ever put any type of foreign chemical in my body. I had a lot to learn about myself; I really had to do some inner work. I’ve been sober for over 19 months now, and I’m excited about my return to the cage under new personal management.

Where do you currently train? Is there a specific game plan for this fight?

I train at the Widow Maker Fight Club/Power MMA (in the same building). My coaches are Paul Lopresti and Dan Holmes. I’ve put a lot of focus on having a game plan; my coaches are very good with strategy. I believe knowing your opponent is a lot of the game. I put a lot of time into training for this fight—with the addition of a new coach, I’ve been training with some high-level guys.

Johnny "Pipewrench" DiPatri MMA

What is motivating you to get back into MMA now?

Probably just me being me is motivation to get back in there. I’ve been fighting my entire life: from bullies in middle school to mosh pits and street wars, I’ve kind of become accustomed to fighting. It’s fun to me; I love it and I’m going to continue to do it as long as I can.

How did you get the nickname “Pipewrench”?

I get asked this every now and then it’s somewhat surprising to them, yet it makes sense: I’m a plumber. My dad is a plumber, and I was kind of born into this trade—it’s in my blood. If I ever start my own plumbing company, that’s exactly what it will be called. It’s been my nickname since I started working full time when I was 18.

What are you looking forward to most in this fight?

I’m just really excited to come back. Like I said, I do this for fun, I do this because I love it. I can’t wait to get back in there. I’ve overcome so many things just to be able to walk in there and compete. From everything I’ve been through in the past four to five years, up to training camp for this fight has been incredibly difficult. When I started, my weight was at 192 (about a month ago). I just weighed 175 waking up today [Tuesday]. I could go on about all the obstacles I had to get through for this fight, but I’m absolutely blessed just to be alive today. To have the chance to put all of this training into action is going to be amazing. I’m not going into this fight with anything less than 100%.

To keep up with Johnny DiPatri’s training and upcoming fights, follow him on social media. For XCC 29 ticket information, check out Xtreme Caged Combat’s website.

Addiction Recovery Resources:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Narcotics Anonymous helpline: 1-800-974-0062, and meetings