By Riley Manning
TUPELO – In early 2002, Hatley native Grady Hurley was on top of the world, having established himself as a talented mixed martial arts fighter with a professional record of six wins and only one loss.
“I fought everywhere from Denver to New Orleans, and I looked for the best opponents I could find,” he said. “I even gave one guy his first loss, Brad Blackburn, who went on to become pretty well-known.”
Everything changed with a near-fatal car wreck later that year, when Hurley fell asleep at the wheel and struck an oncoming vehicle. The crash resulted in a crushed jaw, dislocated hip and damage to his stomach. Doctors told him he would never fight again.
Once he was back on his feet, Hurley said he focused on going back to school and coaching at Ultimate Fitness and MMA in Tupelo. Three years ago, he took on the role of head boxing coach with the Tupelo Police Athletic League.
“I don’t sit and dwell, but I was never at peace with it,” he said. “I replaced competing with coaching, which I really enjoy, but what could have been has always stuck in the back of my head.”
While judging a card of MMA matches in Oxford earlier this year, the 33-year-old Hurley said he sat looking at the fighters and realized he wasn’t getting any younger.
“I’ve been through the ups and downs of life, job changes, relationships, and it’s allowed me to have a different outlook,” he said. “Life really is but a vapor. It goes by quick, and I want to at least say I tried.”
Now, 12 years after his last fight, Hurley will step into the cage again to give it another go next Saturday at Fitzgerald’s Casino and Hotel in Tunica. He will face opponent Jeff Wiley, a 6-foot 4-inch fighter with 17 wins and seven losses to his name. Hurley, at 6 feet, 1 inch, said no matter how tough the fight against the 185-pounders might be, it won’t be tougher than the three months of hard training he has endured in preparation for it.
“Fight camp has been a living hell but an unbelievable experience,” he said. “It’s tough mentally and physically, knowing that you don’t just have to get through today’s practice. You have to get through six days of training every week.”
In addition, Hurley said he knew he had to set an example for his own students. His wife, April Hurley, said she’s completely in her husband’s corner.
“Since we’ve been together he’s always wondered if he’s still got it. When the opportunity arose for him to fight again, I said, ‘Go for it,’” she said. “I’m so excited for him. He’s going to do even better than he did back in his day.”
Hurley said he couldn’t have done it without her support.
“She never got to see me fight, and we don’t have any tapes from then,” he said. “The sport has changed so much. Used to be everyone was a striker or a grappler or a wrestler. Now everyone is everything. There are no holes in a pro’s game. I’m ready. I’m in shape. I want to give it an honest shot.”
Also taking a match at Fitzgerald’s will be one of Hurley’s students, 17-year-old Daniel Hankins. The Nettleton High School junior said training alongside Hurley had been a long road, but with the fights only a week away, he said it’s been worth it.
“You go home too tired to sleep just to go get beat up again the next day,” he said. “But I told myself if I kept going, it will be the best night of my life. I’ve wanted this a long time.”
Hurley hoped a strong crowd of Tupeloans could make it to Tunica as well as his next bout, already scheduled for Aug. 2, here in Tupelo at the Tupelo Furniture Market.
“You’d be surprised at the impact a crowd can have,” Hurley said. “They can give you that second wind, that oomph to get back up again.”