A gut-wrenching 2011 is over for Sam (Hands of Stone) Stout. Now it's time to get back to work.
The lightweight from London, Ont., returns to the cage Saturday night at UFC 142 in Brazil for the first time since coach, brother-in-law and friend Shawn Tompkins died unexpectedly in August of a heart attack during a training trip to Hamilton.
Tompkins was just 37.
Stout, who had a highlight-reel win at UFC 131 in June, called 2011 "a big roller-coaster ride."
"There's been some really high highs and some really low lows and that's a bit of an understatement even," he said. "It's been a very difficult year for me and a very great year for me."
Stout (18-6-1) takes on Brazilian Thiago Tavares (20-4-1) at UFC Rio at HSBC Arena on the undercard of the featherweight title fight between champion Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes.
Stout was due to meet Dennis Siver on Oct. 29 at UFC 137, but withdrew because mentally he wasn't ready. Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone stepped in for him, stopping the German in dominant fashion.
"It was a little too soon for me," said the 27-year-old Stout.
Tompkins's death came two months after a career high for Stout, who stopped veteran Yves Edwards in the first round at UFC 131 in Vancouver with what UFC president Dana White called "one of the most vicious knockouts in UFC history. If not the most vicious."
Stout, crediting a pre-fight tip from Tompkins, knocked Edwards him senseless with a looping left hook to the jaw. Edwards (40-17-1) toppled backwards and didn't move. Stout closed for the kill, but held back from punching when he saw Edwards was out.
The sudden, savage end earned Stout a $70,000 bonus for knockout of the night.
But all the good times were swallowed up when Tompkins passed away. Stout looked to find his balance and says Dale Hunter, a friend and former coach of the London Knights who is now behind the Washington Capitals' bench, helped him get there.
"One time he said to me, 'No matter what happens, don't let your peaks get too high and don't let your valleys get too low.' So that's what I've been trying to think about."
Still, he acknowledges it has been one day at a time.
"It took me a while to really start to think about how I'm going to deal with fighting without Shawn, because he's been in my corner for every fight I've ever had. That's dating back to my first amateur kickboxing fight. I've never once trained for a fight without him, I've never fought without him being there.
"It's definitely going to be on my mind the day of the fight but I'm going to make him proud. I know he's still here in spirit and he wouldn't want me to let his passing affect my career and slow me down. He would want me to keep moving on and keep doing what he trained me to do."
The bond between the two was easy to see. Tompkins would yell out instructions and Stout, without thinking, would immediately put them into effect.
Stout will have fellow fighter Mark (The Machine) Hominick and jiu-jitsu coach Keebo Robinson with him in Brazil.
Stout has also won four UFC fight of the night bonuses — money that helped him pay for his Dad's driveway, buy his car outright, put a down payment on a house and open a gym.
This time he landscaped his backyard, made some investments and "had a pretty fun summer" travelling. That included a trip to New York to visit Brandon Prust, a close friend who plays for the Rangers.
He shared the wealth prior to UFC 131, joining Tompkins to take part in an event to raise money and awareness for anti-bullying and abuse against women.
Stout, who spent part of his training camp in Las Vegas where he used to stay and train with Tompkins, says he is ready physically and mentally for Brazil.
"I've had a lot of obstacles to deal with but for some reason I've got a really good feeling about this one."
Tavares is a talented if hot-and-cold fighter who has alternated wins and losses recently. He is coming off a second-round TKO over Spencer (The King) Fisher at UFC 137 in Rio in August.
A muscular lightweight, Tavares has three fight of the night bonuses of his own. But it's hard to know which Tavares will show up.
"I've seen him come out and look like he's unstoppable, like he's going to run through everybody in the division," said Stout. "Then I've also seen him come out and not be as impressive. He's been knocked out twice — once by a guy I beat, Matt Wiman ... I feel like I have better striking than him (Wiman) so if he can knock him out, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to."
Assuming he gets through Tavares, Stout can see a Cerrone fight on the horizon. Cerrone's title aspirations were dented somewhat when he was beaten comprehensively by Nate Diaz last time out.
Stout, who is 6-5 in the UFC but 4-1 in his last five fights, is also looking forward to competing in Brazil.
"I think it's going to pose some interesting challenges but also I think it's going to be a great experience. Going to Brazil has always been on my bucket list."
"I like to experience as much as I can in martial arts," he added. "I've fought in Japan, I've fought in the U.K. a couple of times. Brazil's just another conquest for me.'
Going from winter in Canada to summer in Brazil will be one of the challenges, as will the late start time of the card although he reckons the Brazilians may feel that more than the visitors.
Stout plans to stay on Eastern time this week.