UFC fighter Andre Fili on venturing into the worlds of fashion and music
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Failure was never an option for UFC fighter Andre Fili. Through the power of manifestation, Fili was able to sustain a career built on hard work, friendship and determination. Fili, who came from a broken home and experienced great adversity during his formative years, channeled his pain into purpose — primarily through mixed martial arts to forge a positive path forward. After joining Team Alpha Male in his late teens and early 20s, Fili hit it big when he joined the UFC nearly 10 years ago and has since racked up an impressive ratio of 22 wins to 9 losses. Fili has now gone on to become one of the most beloved fighters in the franchise and continues to prove his longevity in a sport where it's rare to do so.
At 32 years old, Fili is hungrier than ever for further victories, looking forward to the UFC featherweight title and continuing to inspire the next generation of fighters to believe in themselves, celebrate their uniqueness and persevere no matter the obstacles. Beyond his busy schedule of intensive training and high-profile fights, Fili has ventured into the world of music as the frontman of the hip-hop and punk crossover group Born Breach, as well as starting his clothing company Outcasts & Underdogs.
In an interview with AP, Fili opens up about his entry into MMA fighting and the highs and lows that come with a UFC career, as well as his ventures into the worlds of music and fashion.
What inspired you to pursue mixed martial arts in the first place?
I saw UFC at 13 or 14 years old, and it was an instant click where I knew this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen, and even now at 32 years old, I watch fighting all the time and am just as in love with it as I was nearly two decades ago. I owe a lot to Team Alpha Male and [MMA fighter] Urijah Faber for believing in me and investing in me — it wouldn't have been possible without them to keep me on the straight and narrow enough to get my shit together to compete and win fights. I always knew I was going to be a fighter, and I manifested this when I was very young.
Because you manifested your destiny, would you say that this allows you to never take your career for granted?
There are, of course, days when I think I don’t love it, but in a macro sense, I truly do get to do what I love every day. I remember being 14 years old and having teachers tell me things like, “You need to stop hanging out with these kids and focus on things,” and I would look these teachers in the face and say, “It’s fine, I’m gonna be a famous fighter.” I can see why people would roll their eyes at me and think I was pretentious, but I believed it so deeply to my core. When I got to the age of 20 or 22, I was like, "Damn, I better make this happen or else I’m gonna look stupid to these people.” [Laughs.]
Failure wasn't an option at that point.
Absolutely not. There’s no plan B, and that’s how I’ve always lived.
After your first UFC career win against Jeremy Larsen and subsequent victories, do you feel like your entire world changed overnight?
I’m honestly the same dude I’ve always been — I’m still the same punk-ass kid, and I have had the same friends for the last 15 years. I’m just learning to be a better person. There are ups and downs, but I would say the biggest adjustment beyond the success was finding the balance between the ups and downs. Coming off my debut win, I had a lot of hype behind me, but when I fought Max Holloway next, I ended up losing. All of a sudden, no one cared again overnight, so that was hard for me to deal with for several years. What I have had to learn about myself and what I try to impart to the next generation of fighters is to know your self-worth and love this shit, no matter what.
[Photo by Mike Roach]
What are you most proud of when reflecting on your career?
I would say, overall, it’s my longevity. I’ve basically been able to grow up in the UFC over the course of 10 years, and that’s not common. I’m proud that I have been able to make this a career when there is not a lot of job security to begin with [in the UFC]. I look at it like this: How hard is it to consistently write good hit songs and do it multiple times over and over again after you’ve had hype? It’s similar to fighting, where there are guys who have a quick way to the top and then are gone within three-four years.
Not to mention, you're the lead vocalist for the band Born Breach. Who are your musical influences, and how did this project come to be?
I’m so glad you checked the music out! We have a five-song EP called Bad Vibes on Spotify, and we have two new songs coming out soon that were produced by Will Yip [Title Fight, Turnstile, Turnover]. Born Breach is just a Frankenstein mix of influences, old songs and just for fun with my friends. Myself and the drummer were in a math-rock, Midwest emo group before this, and by the way, anyone that hates on Midwest emo can fight me. I’m unashamedly a twinkle-daddy. [Laughs.] [For Born Breach], we were like, “What if we took Rage Against The Machine and added modern hip-hop and modern metalcore into it?" I also want to do a solo hip-hop project that's a mix between Mac Miller’s "Colors and Shapes" and Title Fight’s Shed. I don’t think I’m on the same level, but that’s what I want to do.
I want to touch on your clothing brand Outcasts & Underdogs because I think the message behind it is so beautiful. Would you say this clothing line is a celebration of uniqueness and standing out from the pack?
100%, the entire identity of the brand is about beating the odds, carving your own path and staying true to your friends. When I look at my friends, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have an arrest record or someone who didn’t come from a broken home. However, now we're all opening our own businesses and breaking these cycles. No one taught us how to be good parents, live healthy lifestyles or own homes — we had to learn it all on our own, but I’m immensely proud that we have been able to do that. Whatever success I’ve had, being able to inspire the next generation is the biggest reward. I want to be the person that I needed when I was kid.
What’s next for you with your career and creative endeavors?
I’ve gotten hyperfocused — I’m doing less and doing it better. Fighting is always the No. 1 focus, and I’m gonna win a fight here in December and January and then start knocking these guys off the top 10 or 15. After that, I'm gonna win a UFC featherweight championship title. Outside of that, I just want to make good music with my friends and make cool T-shirts to give away to kids.