Photo Credit: Legacy Fighting Alliance x Mike Jackson

Contender Series’s J.R. Coughran: Forever inspired by the innate fighting spirit of mentor Matt Grice

In 2013, then-UFC featherweight Matt Grice was preparing for a bout against Jeremy Larson at UFC 166 in Houston. Coming off of a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate performance loss to Bermudez, Grice was looking to get back on track. It was around this time that a young J.R. Coughran (6-0) first stepped into Grice’s gym, The Forge MMA.

“To start that off just in general, that dude has changed my life,” said Coughran in an interview with MMA Today. “I showed up to his gym and it was sparring day. I sparred with Matt and like I said, I saw him fight before. He was getting ready to fight a guy named Jeremy Larson, at the time. That was in 2013. I sparred with him and I had never sparred before. I went in there with him and just started trying to take his head off. Man, he beat from post to post in that gym, and I just loved it. Every day that I didn’t show up after then, Matt would text somebody and be like, ‘hey do you know where J.R. is at?’ Then it all happened.”

The “it” Coughran referred to was Grice’s toughest fight of his life — one that took place outside of the cage. In September of 2013, Grice, a police officer in Oklahoma, was rear-ended while his vehicle was stopped at a traffic light. Grice was rushed to the hospital where he was immediately taken into surgery. Following brain surgery, Grice was placed in the intensive care unit at Oklahoma University Presbyterian Hospital in Oklahoma City.

Taught some wrestling and then got a great workout with these two goons!

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For approximately a month, Grice was in a medically-induced coma. Doctors didn’t know what Grice’s life would be like after his brain’s swelling decreased. There was a solid possibility he would never talk or walk again. Grice proved any such notion wrong. After an extensive and difficult recovery period, Grice returned to every day life. He now is back teaching at The Forge MMA, coaching the next generation of fighters like Coughran.

“He got in that car accident and he pushed through that,” said Coughran. “Now he’s totally back to normal and everything. I stuck with him the entire time and that dude is a testament to what God can do for a person if they have a purpose. That guy’s purpose is to help people and be a good mentor. He’s been that to me, big time. Seeing him do all of that has been very, very inspiring. That dude is totally normal now. He still works on the streets as a police officer. He gets in the gym and rolls with us, and sometimes spars with us. That dude is still hell on wheels if you lock up with Grice.”

Walking in the footsteps of his mentor, Coughran is making his own push towards UFC greatness. On Tuesday night, the 24-year-old will compete on the final episode of season 2 of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. With UFC President Dana White sitting cageside, Coughran will have the opportunity to secure a promotional contract if he wins impressively.

The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory. #LetsGoChamp #MyDestiny

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Coughran was recovering from a broken neck when he received the call to be on the UFC’s original series. The decision to accept the offer took all of 0.1 seconds.

“Right when I started getting healthy, that’s when the call caught me off guard,” recalled the Oklahoman. “Without hesitation, without knowing my opponent, I just said yes.”

Coughran could only celebrate for a few moments, however. After that, he zoned in on the task at hand — looking at his true goal: to make it to the UFC. This Tuesday, Coughran will clash with Wisconsinite Alex Gilpin (11-1) on UFC Fight Pass. Coughran knows Gilpin is a formidable opponent who is just as hungry as he is.

“Alex is an extremely, extremely tough and seasoned opponent,” said Coughran. “He’s seen a lot. He’s competed a lot. He’s competed across the world. He’s a very tough opponent. As far as I match up with him, I think I match up really well. I don’t think he’s been matched up with a guy who can wrestle and stop takedowns like I can. He hasn’t fought anybody who hits as hard as I do, I don’t think. I’m going to for sure test his chin, and I think I match up very, very well.”

One more day until #Showtime

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When asked, Coughran struggled to even put into words what it would mean to him to finally make it to the big show. So much hard work and dedication has been put into his pursuit of UFC notoriety.

“It would mean everything,” laughed Coughran. “All of the long days working at the gym, working my regular job — it’s all paid off. That’s my life’s dream right there: to make it to the UFC. Not only to make it to the UFC, but to do well, win and keep winning, and make all the money that I can. To make all of these sacrifices and the shitty pay I’ve had to go through my entire career — I don’t have to worry about it any more. I’m finally going to get what I’m worth.”

Like fight fans, UFC President Dana White loves finishes. Coughran believes the UFC don is in luck, because he plans on taking out Gilpin early.

“I think it’s going to be a hard fight, and I think it’s going to be a tough fight,” elaborated Coughran. “I see it going one of two ways. I see it being a slug fest on the feet, or me knocking him out really quick. He’s never been hit like I’m going to hit him. I think I’m going to knock him out in the first round.”

“First off, I’d like to thank God for giving me the talent and allowing me to be here doing what I’m doing. Without him, I couldn’t do this. I’d also like to thank my team at The Forge MMA, my coach Matt Grice, and my work at Physical Therapy Central. Those guys support me so much and are so flexible with my schedule when I have fights coming up. I couldn’t work and fight without them. Then I’d just like to thank a few of my sponsors: Herman’s Plumbing, Advent Heat and Air, Reach Advantage MMA, and High Tech Tactical. One last thank you to my manager Danny Rubenstein.” – J.R.


To learn more about JR Coughran, follow him on social media:

Twitter: JR_Coughran_145
Instagram: jr_coughran_145
Facebook: J.R. “Bam Bam” Coughran


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Nolan King is a MMA Today senior columnist, writer and renowned MMA insider. Nolan's other freelance work can also be found on FloCombat, Tapology, and MMA Brasil.