A 13-year roller coaster ride for Kevin Croom led to one of the most memorable moments of 2020.
On a little over a day’s notice, Croom stepped in for the injured Matt Frevola to take on Roosevelt Roberts at UFC Vegas 10 this past weekend. After landing a clean overhand left that dropped his opponent, Croom picked up a 31-second submission win via standing guillotine to earn his first UFC win, and his first performance bonus to boot.
After an incredible debut, Croom took to Twitter Sunday afternoon to reveal that he only had $64 in his bank account less than a week before.
“Unfortunately, I’m pretty used to that,” Croom told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “For my job, I work construction, so at the beginning of the summer I had a nice little chunk of change but I fought in August so I took a lot of time off from work and just lived off of my savings to get ready for that fight. I did well in that fight so I knew the UFC would be coming. I didn’t want to work because I wanted to stay in the gym.
“I lived off of my savings and it dwindled down. So I woke up on Wednesday and thought I would have to build a fence on Saturday and Sunday so I could get a full week of training in. It turns out that I didn’t have to.”
It took 34 fights, ups and downs, and a 4-7 run over an 11-fight span between May 2014 to March 2019 for Croom to garner the confidence in himself to make a run towards the UFC. While many doubted his dream, “The Hard Hitting Hillbilly” kept at it, winning three straight fights—including a first-round submission win over Charles Bennett—to set up an unforgettable moment inside the hallowed octagon.
“It’s starting to sink in,” Croom said. “I’m starting to get paid a little bit so that makes it a little more real. It’s still just amazing. I’m on cloud 22.”
Originally, Croom was slotted in to replace Giga Chikadze at UFC Vegas 8 to face Alex Caceres. After arriving in Las Vegas, the 33-year-old was suddenly out of the fight and on a plane back home and announced he had been released from the promotion.
As disappointing as that revelation was, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Glory MMA standout.
“I tested for the ‘rona,” Croom said. “Apparently I had COVID but I had no symptoms. I felt amazing so I don’t know what happened but it was a minor setback. It was a roller coaster of emotions but I used it to my advantage. I had already experienced a lot of emotions with it. It’s been 13 years so I had been waiting forever for this.
“I felt like I was able to get those emotions out of the way with the first experience and enjoy the moment and soak it all in.”
On the Thursday before the fight, Croom was still hopeful another call would come. As he was preparing to get medicals done in order to be cleared to compete should that happen, the call came. As excited as he was, Croom wasn’t sure he would actually compete until the 11th hour.
“I rushed home and barely had five minutes to grab my mouthpiece and what not,” Croom explained. “I rushed to the airport and got to the plane 30 minutes before boarding, sat down next to (head coach) James (Krause) and was like, ‘Who am I fighting?’ I didn’t even know. It didn’t even matter.
“I still had to do medicals after I weighed in. I left the APEX after that and immediately did medicals so I still didn’t technically know if I was fighting. Weighing in, I was pretty sure I was a UFC fighter but I still wasn’t sure until I started throwing hands.”
In the earliest stages of his career, Croom dropped his first two pro fights before running off four straight. With momentum in his favor, Croom would take on a young fighter making his pro debut in Justin Gaethje in 2011 and suffered a first-round knockout loss due to a violent slam from the now interim UFC lightweight champion.
He lose two of three before going on an impressive nine-fight winning streak before things began to go the wrong way. Croom jumped on every opportunity presented to him and ended up getting finished in five of seven fights all over the globe.
In March 2019, Croom signed on for a short-notice fight against John Teixeira at Bellator 218. Despite dropping a unanimous decision, Croom believes those 15 minutes were the turning point in his career.
“I started out young in this game with a lot more balls than brains,” Croom explained. “I took on all comers, didn’t listen to anybody, thought I was the baddest man ever. I flew overseas and fought savages that no one’s ever heard of and after you get beat down a couple of times, that can mess up your psyche. I just had a lot of self doubt, fighting with a lot of self doubt. The losing streaks don’t help that.
“I moved from Albuquerque to Kansas City after the Matt Bessette fight. I took four months off from training and I had never done that in the 10 years I had been fighting to evaluate my situation and figure out the route. I started training at Glory. It was a long road, still. I had to get my confidence and figure out how to do this whole f*ckin fight game again. When I lost that ‘Macapa’ fight, I felt like I learned some things.
“I realized after that loss that I had to be in the gym every day, no matter what. My opportunity was going to come like that, and that’s what happened.”
Since the loss to Teixeira, Croom hasn’t tasted defeat since. After he submitted “Krazy Horse,” Croom got a decision win over Adil Benjilany at Bellator 239 before capturing the featherweight title in regional promotion Fighting Alliance Championship following a 25-minute battle with Anderson Hutchinson in August.
While he only had a day to prepare for Roberts in the most important fight of his life, Croom says he was fully prepared to go another 14-plus minutes if he needed to and owes his preparation to head coach James Krause, and fellow UFC featherweight Grant Dawson.
“I had a lot more kill left in the tank,” Croom said of his quick finish. “I just mean mugged James like there was nobody else in the room. It was just the killers f*ckin mean mugging. I get done and, oh man, it was just amazing.
“But 100 percent, I’m here because of Grant. The last year, working solely with Grant, I’ve gotten so much better. Going with him gave me the confidence that I can keep this up. That kid is definitely going to be a champion and I’m so happy to be on his ride, and that he’s on mine.”
From $64 in his bank account to—once the bonus check clears—likely over $70,000, Croom is grateful that the road less traveled brought him to where he is at. As hungry to succeed as he is, Croom admits he’s ready to have a bit of fun with his newfound earnings.
“I woke up [Tuesday] morning with more money than I made last year so that’s pretty f*ckin’ dope,” Croom said. “My sister sent me a message today that if I don’t cash that out of the bank and make it rain one time, she doesn’t know who I am any more. I told her that was a really good point so I think I’m gonna have to do that with at least $20,000.
“I’ll wait on that bonus check and make it rain for sure.”