Not many professionals decide to take a career hiatus at 24 years old. Then again, Dustin Hazelett isn't your typical pro - and he doesn't have a typical job.
Hazelett, a Kentucky native now living in West Chester Twp., was just 20 years old when he made his debut with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He won five of his first seven fights in the world's best MMA organization, but the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt lost his most recent three and was released from the organization in December.
Hazelett's plight isn't that different from other aspiring fighters.
"I remember talking to my parents when I decided to drop out of college and started fighting professionally," he said. "I told them, 'This may not be an opportunity I get later in life. If I wait to finish college, this opportunity may be not be there.' I don't regret that decision.
"In fact, a lot of good came out of it. It paid well," said Hazelett, who won three of the UFC's lucrative "fight night" bonuses, including one for $60,000. "But I definitely spent a lot of it. I got a house. I got married. I've got a baby on the way. The money was really good, but it was never about the money."
Hazelett (12-7) still plans to fight professionally in the future, and he'll continue competing in jiu-jitsu tournaments. But he's decided to focus on that second career for now. And he made that decision in late 2010 - even before his latest loss.
"I had actually talked to (my manager) Monte (Cox) about taking a break," he said. "He said he thought it was a good idea. I had been fighting so much. ... I was getting burned out. I wasn't in a good place mentally."
So, Hazelett has been attending EMT courses at Scarlet Oaks. He'll finish in June, and then he hopes to find a job with 24-on/48-off hours. Indianapolis firefighter Chris Lytle, for example, has fought 11 years in the UFC because such a schedule leaves plenty of time for training.
Hazelett also is teaching. As a member of Jorge Gurgel's MMA Academy in West Chester Twp., he's one of the school's most accomplished grapplers. And he'll soon begin teaching a class specifically for on-the-rise MMA fighters (call (513) 889-5851 for registration information).
So what about his own return to the cage?
"I wanted to take a break and get hungry again," he said. "When you're fighting all the time, you get a little too relaxed about it. I took the 'another day in the office' mentality a little too far. I want to wait for the hunger to come back.
"But really, I'm not thinking too far ahead. I'm enjoying my time off. It's not really a break if you're always thinking about your next fight."