“I didn’t listen to those people,” he said. “I was either gonna be an alcoholic construction worker for the rest of my life or chase my dream. I didn’t come from a lot, I never had a lot, but I put everything in this game, and I knew it was investing in myself. So if I gave up, I literally put all of my investments in this. The only thing I could do is work with my hands. I like to work with my hands, and I do enjoy it, however, that’s not the life for me. I was made for this. I was made to knock motherf**kers out and look good for the camera.”

Following a 2019 loss to John Teixeira, Croom finally put it together, winning three in a row, his longest win streak since 2014. But as Fight Week for the September 12 UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas commenced, Croom was wondering how he was going to pay his bills. He got his answer a couple days later when he was brought in to replace Matt Frevola against Roberts. It was a roll of the dice, but he won big.

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When it was over, all Croom could do was smile. It was one of the feel-good stories in the sport last year, and while even the doubters had to agree, they still don’t fully fathom what it took him to get here.

“I don’t think a lot of people can get it unless you’ve experienced it,” said Croom. “Even the people who’ve known me my whole life, they kinda get it, but I’m only an inspiration because I made it, finally. Otherwise, I was just some guy that nobody knows. ‘Yeah man, he’s still doing that crazy s**t.’ Now that I made it, they’re like, ‘I know you had it in you.’ (Laughs) I don’t know if they did. It’s nice to hear that, but until just a little while ago, I was the crazy guy who’s still doing it. Obviously, there are some people who do get it, but those are the people who have been around and seen the blood, sweat and tears. I’ve lost relationships because of this s**t, I’ve literally given everything for it. It’s like the iceberg. People only see a little bit; they only see the success now. But they don’t understand all the broken hearts and all the nights of wondering and fighting with myself.”