By Elias Cepeda
From the cage to the battlefield, some forms of bravery are easy to recognize. Then there are the daily acts of minor heroism, the kind that never get publicized. While everything Caros Fodor has accomplished in his career has made him worthy of respect, it’s his lifetime commitment to another fellow human being that makes him truly stand out as an unsung hero. Caros represents the heart and soul of MMA, and his story deserves to be heard.
It had already been one of the more interesting work conversations I’d gotten to have with a fighter this year when I asked a last question as sort of an afterthought.
Seattle-based lightweight Caros Fodor was open in discussing his former life as a Marine with me. A Strikeforce/UFC vet who currently competes for OneFC, Fodor always wanted to be in the military, enlisted right out of high school and found himself in boot camp at just 17 years of age on September 11, 2001. From there, he was sent to Kuwait, and eventually Baghdad in the spring of 2003 as a part of the United States’ invasion of Iraq.
The realities of war — civilian casualties, cruelty to and destruction of the host nation, and bureaucratic banalities — changed Caros’ mind about wanting a career in the military. The carnage he’d taken part of also left him angry and suffering from PTSD when he returned home.
He had nightmares. He drank. The nightmares wouldn’t stop so he drank more. Caros and his friends went out most nights and started brawls.
Ironically, perhaps, MMA helped save Fodor. He walked into Matt Hume’s AMC Pankration gym hoping to become a better street fighter, only to leave street fighting behind forever and pick up a new career in professional MMA.
It’s an inspiring story. A disillusioned warrior losing his way, then finding it again after learning to fight the right way and for the right reasons.
So, with all due respect to his opponent at OneFC 13: Moment of Truth, Vuyisile Colassa (who deserves respect just for having a name as cool as that), it was no fun watching Fodor lose a unanimous decision early this morning. You can’t help but want a guy to do well after he’s come so far.
Losses can be lethal to a young fighter’s career. You never know how many chances you’ll get to rise through the ranks.
Whenever Fodor retires from MMA, you wonder the same thing you wonder for all these guys and girls — what will they do and will they be alright doing it?
A little of that was in my mind when I asked Caros during our conversation a month ago about his future plans. He mentioned that his mother had only signed the waiver to allow him to enlist in the Marines after he promised her he’d stay a reservist and only go active duty after he completed his college degree.
The attacks on the U.S. of September 11, 2001 took that decision out of his hands for a few years. I asked Caros if he thought he’d go back to school and get a college degree after he stopped fighting professionally.
He likely would not, he said. Though, Fodor did mention, as an aside, that he did have a central part of the rest of his life already planned out.
“I probably won’t go back to school,” he said.
“I have the rest of my life kind of planned out already, though.”
He left it at that, but I couldn’t. I prodded Caros for further explanation.
“I run a companion home,” he explained.
That was the first time I’d ever heard of the term or concept.
“I live with an autistic friend of mine. A companion home is where you have a life-long agreement to be someone’s companion. I pretty much have him with me until I can’t do it anymore. I mean, I could always choose to change my mind but it’s pretty much for the rest of our lives. Autistic foster children age out of that system and then they still need a place to live.”
I was astounded to learn that people good enough to give this kind of commitment to another human being who was not even of blood or romantic relation existed. I guess I’d never thought about autistic foster children much at all, to say nothing of where they live after they age out of the foster system.
And, if such companions existed to care for these individuals, certainly they would be older, grandmotherly types. What kind of young man in his twenties makes that kind of commitment with the rest of his yet-to-be-realized life?
Whatever kind of man Caros Fodor is, I suppose.
Caros and his companion are no strangers and the fighter has been exposed to these issues for most of his life.
“My adopted mom ran a foster home for autistic kids,” he explained.
“So, ever since I was 16 I went there and did odd jobs. I met this guy 11 years ago when he was a little kid. Once he turned 21 in May, he moved in with me. It’s just me and him until he doesn’t need me or until one of us passes away.”
To the ears of someone who thinks one-year apartment leases are too onerous, the simple words Caros was saying left me dumfounded.
“He’s like a little brother to me. He’s cool with me,” Fodor said plainly, as if it were no big deal.
To him, perhaps, it isn’t. I asked Caros about logistical things — like what he would do if he ever wanted a serious partner, or if he wanted to get married? Wouldn’t that other dude that lives with him kinda cramp his style?
“I’m free to do whatever. Currently, I’m not married,” Caros said.
“It would be a subject that I’d discuss with them, for sure. I really wouldn’t be interested in someone who was not cool with Garth. He’s a great guy and super innocent.”
Caros Fodor once wanted to be a good soldier and protect the innocent from a rough world. Once war showed him that things don’t always work out that cleanly, it left him nearly broken.
Nearly. Caros rebuilt himself and found a profession for his fighting spirit after all.
More importantly, the warrior found a gentle path by which he could indeed protect the innocent. It may not be the grand scale of a war, but Fodor has learned it is still possible to be a hero, to one person, one life at a time.
I got the feeling from talking with Caros that he’d scoff at that type of description — his being a hero — or even take offense to it. That’s fine. I stand by it.
Fodor has come a long way from being an angry, street fighting rough neck. He’s already taken his MMA career further than most ever will.
So, while you feel bad for him after a loss like the one he suffered on Friday morning, you get the sense that Caros Fodor won something much more important a long time ago. And that, no matter where else his MMA career goes and however much longer it lasts, he’ll be just fine.