Andre Fili details change in mentality that led to UFC Vegas 60 win: ‘I’m at a place where I actually love myself’

Andre Fili picked up his first win in more than two years over the weekend, and “Touchy” puts it all down to a change in mentality towards fighting.

Fili entered the UFC in 2013 but has struggled to put together the résumé many expected from the then 23-year-old. During his nine-year UFC run, Fili has only managed a 10-8 record with one no contest, but he looked rejuvenated at UFC Vegas 60, scoring a decision win over the highly-touted Bill Algeo in an emotional victory. Speaking Wednesday on The MMA Hour, Fili attributed his performance to an improved outlook on life and fighting.

“I didn’t feel a lot of love growing up, but nobody loves you the way they love you after you win a fight,” Fili said. “You win a fight and it’s thousands of strangers and they want to hug you and raise you up and tell you you’re the man. You get that 30 seconds after you win a fight where you are the most adored person in the entire arena, in the entire room. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 30,000-person arena or a 3,000-person bingo hall in a Native American casino, you are the man and everybody loves you.

“I think I was craving that as a kid. I wanted these external validations, and now, as a real adult, if I can call myself that, I’m at a place where I actually love myself, and I actually find happiness in internal validations and meaningful relationships and good choices. I’ve changed the way I talk to myself, internally, I’ve changed my internal dialogue. I’ve made all these adjustments where I don’t crave that external validation anymore the way I used to. I want to win fights now for reasons that are healthier and more meaningful.

“This is the first time I’m treating myself like a person whose happiness I am responsible for, treating myself like a person who actually deserves to be happy,” Fili continued. “Most of my life I haven’t liked myself much. I actually hated myself most of my life and my internal dialogue has been incredibly hard on myself.

“I have a lot more love for myself [now], and in turn I have a lot more love to give to other people. I’m more compassionate, I’m more empathetic, I operate from this deeper well of kindness that I didn’t have for a long time because it just wasn’t how I operated, and I thought that’s how I had to be, because that’s what served me early in my career and early in my life. Now I’m in a place where there’s more love. I deserve to be happy, I deserve to treat myself with some kindness. I’m still tough on myself, I’m still hard, I don’t believe in over-celebrating small victories, I don’t believe in making excuses. … But I also know that it’s OK to love yourself and to let yourself enjoy things and to be kind to yourself.”

It wasn’t just learning to love himself that Fili says was important for him, though. It was reevaluating his relationship with MMA as well.

Fili believes some of his recent performances were affected by the way he approached fighting — something he adjusted for his bout with Algeo.

“I think this has been a big missing part of it, and I think the other missing part is having fun,” Fili said. “When I was just a vicious little bastard and I was spitting blood, talking s***, fighting at Indian casinos for $1000, having these wars and just being a monster, I was having fun. Then I got to the UFC and everyone gave a s*** about me until I lost to Max, and then the narrative changed. I went up and down, up and down for the past however many years. People sort of wrote me off, and I started treating this like a job, looking at what ‘Mighty Mouse’ [Demetrious Johnson] and what Anderson Silva are doing, and ‘I want to be one of the best ever, I want to cement a legacy and be in the Hall of Fame, and I’ve got to do this, and be this type of way!’ I started trying to force this thing.

“Then I came out this fight and I looked at my coach, Danny Castillo. … I looked at him as I walked out to this fight and said, ‘We’ve done this every other way. Tonight, we’re having some f****** fun.’ And I went out there and I had fun and I performed really well, in my opinion. I’m back to having fun, and that’s what I’m going to do from here on out, and you guys are going to see some special s***.”

The result speaks for itself. Fili looked the best he has in years in defeating Algeo, and still is only 32 years old. “Touchy” believes he has plenty left to give to the world of MMA.

“I f****** love to fight,” Fili said. “I don’t always love the process. I don’t always love fight week, and the media, and the pictures, and the f****** talking, and the stupid, corny build-up that people want. I don’t always love that s***, but I love to fight, I love the fist fight, I love to make my people proud, I love this f****** game so much, and it feels good to be having fun again.

“This is like my marriage, or something. I’ve been on the mat since I was 11, I’ve been doing MMA since I was 14. I’m 32. This is my longest relationship, and it hasn’t always been the healthiest, but it’s like a marriage, and now we’re at a place where we’re good. We’ve worked through all our trauma and now we get to enjoy this s***, and it feels so good. I’m so thankful for it. I love this s***.”