The next time you do one of those little things in life, like open your refrigerator when youre hungry, sit down and put your feet up to watch some television, or just walk outside to grab some fresh air, you may want to think about what freedom means to you.

UFC lightweight Tim Means forgot what all those things meant several years ago, but he never will again.

I couldnt open my own refrigerator when I was locked up, he said. I couldnt get up in the middle of the night and get me some orange juice or a bowl of cereal. Its just small details like that that made me realize that things can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

A series of misdemeanor drug charges stemming from cocaine and methamphetamine use and a four year prison sentence explain the gap from 2005 to 2009 in his professional MMA career, and also his disappearance from the world. But he isnt looking for sympathy or trying to excuse his actions. What he does say is that being sent away did change his life forever, and its something he wont forget or shy away from.

I ran into an older dude that had been locked up since he was 16, Means recalled. Hes 87 now, and the man told me if you forget this place, youll return. And every day I wake up, I think of a state prison, I take a deep breath, and Im thankful to be where Im at. And Ill never forget what that older gentleman had told me. I just wont forget it.

Today, Means is a success in every sense of the word. Hes drug-free, engaged to be married, part of a respected MMA team, and making noise in the premier organization in the sport. He even made number five in UFC.coms unofficial half-year awards for 2012 thanks to his two Octagon victories over Bernardo Magalhaes and Justin Salas.

I like that word newcomer, because I still think Im learning, and Im still trying to catch up to everybody, but I think its starting to pay off, said the 28-year-old Means, and while its been a good start for a young man with ambitions to one day challenge for the lightweight title, whether that happens or not, its safe to say that hes already won in life. That fact hasnt dulled him ambition for more though.

I want to be a champion, said Means, who returns to action this Saturday to face Abel Trujillo in Seattle. Ive had those King of the Cage world titles around my waist and it was an awesome feeling, so to get a UFC world title is everything to me right now. Im gonna keep pushing, and I think I have another solid five years in the fight game before I might want to step out, but right now Im shooting for gold. Ive gotta get this guy Abel Trujillo out of the way first, and there are a lot of tough guys in this weight class, so I take everybody serious, and its motivating to me.

And as the New Mexico product gets motivated by the challenges ahead, he has also taken on the responsibility of motivating young people before they get tempted by the path he once walked.

Meths a big problem in our county, so I go to the schools and talk to elementary school and middle school kids about meth, and Im not so much drilling them on what they dont need to do, I just tell them what it did to me and where it took my life immediately, said Means. I dont go talk to children or youngsters saying hey, you gotta straighten this up or you need to do this. I just tell them about my life and where messing with meth took me immediately. Within a year of messing with that stuff, I was in prison. I wasnt a thief or nothing like that; I just had a bad temper and I made people afraid of me, including the judge, and I was a nuisance and they made an example out of me, and Im very thankful for that.

Once he was released in 2009, rehabilitated and focused on picking up a mixed martial arts career that had only produced a 3-2 pro record to that point (albeit with losses to UFC vets Spencer Fisher and Luke Caudillo), Means went right back to the people who he had trained with since he started at the age of 17, Tom and Arlene Vaughn.

I came back in 2009, hit it hard with them, and I felt like I started where I left off, he said. Ive just been building on that ever since and its just taken off.

It has, to the point where hes been 15-1-1 in his subsequent 17 fights. Means is the first to admit that Tom Vaughn is a key reason for his resurrection.

Hes not like a father figure to me; hes like a cool uncle, said Means of Vaughn, the man who led Carlos Condit to a WEC title and who now heads up the Power MMA team that is home to the likes of Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, Seth Baczynski, and CB Dollaway. Hes just real with stuff. Hes been through ups and downs in his life, he understands the fight game a hundred percent, he was a competitor himself, and hes a good friend of mine. Tom brings everything he brings the energy, he brings the passion, and he helps pull it out of me. Without Tom, I wouldnt be here, so Im real happy to have that guy around.

These days, Tim Means is real happy about a lot of things, not the least of which being that at 2-0 in the UFC and with a nine fight winning streak under his belt, hes starting to get noticed not for his past, but for his present.

I belong here for sure, but I dont think Im settled by any means because my belt is around somebody elses waist at the moment, so Im still establishing myself, he said. But I believe people are taking notice a little more than they were.

And rightfully so. But as good as things get, dont expect him to ever forget how bad they used to be.

Sometimes when I wake up night I dont need to open that refrigerator because I have a fight coming up (Laughs), but every day I get up or I get home from practice and I put on my DirecTV and put my feet up and pet my Rottweiler I think about it (the past). But I have an awesome girlfriend, an awesome supportive family, an awesome team, and Im just grateful, man.




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