Undefeated American Troy “Pretty Boy” Worthen has worked tirelessly for most of his life to make it as a professional athlete, and now he has his golden opportunity.
On 12 July, the former wrestler will finally make it to the global stage for martial arts as he takes on “The Ghost” Chen Rui at ONE: MASTERS OF DESTINY inside the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Ahead of his ONE Championship debut, “Pretty Boy” explains how he emerged from a difficult childhood in a small town to achieve his dream.
A Broken Home
The 26-year-old grew up in Lakeland, Florida, where trouble could come easily to kids without a strong support network around them.
Unfortunately, a shocking accident meant that his mother was not capable of guiding him through his early years.
“My mom was in a car accident when I was about 1 or 2 years old,” he explains.
“It caused her to have a stroke, and she lost function of, I think, 35 percent of her brain. She had to re-learn how to speak, eat, walk, talk, and a lot of stuff throughout my younger childhood.”
After a couple of years, Worthen’s mother recovered physically, but she was an alcoholic, and she was not the same person.
Her disease took a toll on the family, and before long, she was separated from “Pretty Boy’s” father, who took custody of his son.
“There was a lot of arguing and fighting every night, so my dad dealt with it as best as he could in trying to keep the family together for me,” he says.
“But I think after a while, he just couldn’t take it anymore, as he was constantly coming home from work and cops were over at my house, so he thought it would be a better situation for them to be separated.”
Father And Son
Worthen left his mother and step-brother behind to live with his dad. However, he spent most of his time at work in the construction industry to make ends meet, which meant he was not around as much as he would have liked.
“He had to work long hours so that he could provide for me. He would work 12 hours a day and come home and cook dinner for me real quick, and go to bed so he could get back to work the next day,” Worthen recalls.
It was far from a ‘regular’ upbringing as Worthen was often left with his friends’ parents, but his father made sure to take the time out to be there for his son when he really mattered.
He clocked out to cheer at every sporting event and kept him on the right path in life.
“My dad always led by example, and he was always there for me. He did the job of a father and a mother – he was there for everything,” the 26-year-old explains.
“He never made me miss out on anything, and he never neglected me. Being raised the way that I was by my father – and finding martial arts – kept me on the right path. When he wasn’t around, I had wrestling and martial arts to keep me busy.”
Discovering A Passion
Worthen flirted with taekwondo as a child, and then wanted to play football more than anything, but he was too small to succeed among the giant gridiron athletes. Luckily, when he was reunited with his older brother, Eric, he was introduced to high school wrestling.
He tagged along to practices to watch, and even jumped onto the mats to wrestle with some of the smaller students – even though they were six years older.
When Worthen was of age, the coach had no hesitation in recruiting him to the team, and trained him toward a college scholarship. However, when he did not get into one of the country’s best wrestling programs, he was so disappointed that he almost gave up on his dream for good.
Instead of focusing on wrestling, he chose to train as a firefighter and took up mixed martial arts to compete as an amateur, but it was not long until a twist of fate took him back to the wrestling mats.
“Life has a funny way of bringing you back,” he says.
“I broke my jaw when I started training for a fight, and I couldn’t go back to trade school at the time, but I could start studying at college, so I was like, why not take a couple of classes while my jaw was broken?”
“I got back into college, and the next thing I knew, I was going to college to wrestle.”
He earned his degree in Sports and Exercise Science at the University of Central Florida, and honed his grappling skills to become an NCWA All-American and a Southeastern Conference Champion.
All-In On His Dream
Worthen’s grappling ability gave him the perfect foundation for mixed martial arts, but he struggled to get his career off the ground because he found it hard to compete. At one point, he endured nine months where he was booked for 16 bouts that were all canceled.
Despite his misfortune, “Pretty Boy” had his mind made up, and decided to do everything he could to make it as a professional athlete.
“I put enough money in the bank to where I could dedicate one year at least to fighting full-time and getting as good as I could,” he says.
“As luck happens, six months into that dedication, the Evolve global tryouts happened. It made my dream come true.”
In 2018, Worthen was recruited to train alongside some of the world’s best martial artists at the Singapore gym, and he moved halfway around the world to join the team.
Though he had to leave his family behind, he is finally fulfilling his dream – training every day and on the cusp of showcasing his talents to a global audience.
His first assignment on the global stage comes against Chen in less than a week, but he is already thinking big. He hopes a win will give him the platform to go on and prove he is one of the best in the world.
“I think ambition is your best friend as a fighter. I’m thinking I want to win three or four fights this year and challenge for the belt early next year,” he explains.
“In fighting, you can’t predict what’s going to happen. You can win or lose, you can get injured – there are a million things that could happen – but right now, I’m aiming for the stars.”