From drug dealer, robber to MMA fighter: the incredible story of Walter Pugliesi

By Alfredo Zullino - September 1, 2020

Who are mixed martial artists? A group of men and women punching each other for money. But who are they once they get home, or who were they before?

Walter Pugliesi

They might have been a math teacher, a real estate agent, a model, an office worker. They also might be a drug dealer. That’s the story of Walter Pugliesi.

Pugliesi was born in September 1993, in Milan, Italy, in a struggling family situation. His parents, both very young, in their twenties, were addicted to drugs, and Walter ended up in a foster family for four years, while they were rehabbing.

Eventually, he came back to his parents.

“Coming back home is one of the sweetest memories I have. It was the happiest time of my childhood,” Walter Pugliesi told “It didn’t last, though. Things between them got ugly. They started arguing every day, there constantly were bad vibes, I couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, they divorced when I was 14. That upset me a lot. It was downhill from then on.”

“It began with some weed smoked with my friends, but soon it got worse. I started robbing and stealing from other teenagers. At 15 I was arrested for the first time, along with one of my best friends. He died some years later in Brazil, due to an overdose.”

The Italian fighter, was then brought to Milan’s juvenile detention center, just to be moved three days later into a treatment center.

“I spent two years and three months in rehab. I used to cause a lot of troubles, so they moved me from one center to another. The third [rehabbing center] was hell. There were adults too, there. Junkies and criminals of any kind. I couldn’t trust anyone.”

Once he’d served his time, Pugliesi was angrier, outraged. He moved from weed to synthetic drugs and cocaine and started to sell those too. The Milan-based athlete was then arrested for a second time, with the accusations of drug dealing and possession of an illegal firearm. He spent one and a half months behind bars.

“After my second jail time, I started working in a restaurant and wanted to get clean once for all. The secret is to accept you reached the very bottom and find a reason to climb back up. I remember I locked myself in my room, spending hours, days, staring at the ceiling. I can’t forget the sense of emptiness. I was apathetic, emotionless, I felt like I was a dead person. It was horrible, but I made it.”

Even when he was sober, troubles continued to find a way to reach Walter Pugliesi, though.

“I remember this cokehead. He was completely out of his mind and was trying to smash my head with his buckle,” Walter Pugliesi recalled. “I stabbed him in the chest with a knife. I was already sober, but I had to defend myself. I learned my lesson the hard way, years before, spending ten days in the hospital due to maxillofacial surgery. I had no intention to come back there.”

Mixed martial arts were Pugliesi’s turning point. When he was 20, “Kraken” commenced training every day and stayed away from trouble.

“I think I’ve just replaced drugs with mixed martial arts. A thing strong enough to keep me away from another as strong.”

“I’m a man now. I recently got a house with my girlfriend and her two-year-old boy, Ercole. The kid needed a dad and I was more than happy accepting that role. I love them both very much. My parents are fine now and we’re cool now; we moved on. My grandparents help me a lot chasing my dream since day one; they taught me how to love. I’m now trying to make a name for myself, trying to gain respect not just as the tattooed guy on social media, but as a professional fighter. Thanks to my MMA Atletica Boxe team and my coach, Garcia Amadori, every day I’m one step closer to it. I sure started this game called life with the worst hand, but I chose how to play and now I have better cards.”

The Bellator veteran returns to the cage on September 5 at EMC 5, in Dusseldorf, Germany, against Konrad Dyrschka. It’s going to be Pugliesi’s second time on Teutonic soil, as he competed at NOVA FC’s first event, being TKO’d in round 1.

“I think I was still green, inexperienced. I came from a loss against [Andrea] Fusi in Bellator, from the worst weight cut, which forced me to go up from welterweight to middleweight. [Jan] Zander was way bigger than me, he even missed the middleweight limit by 6 pounds and the fight day was even heavier. The real issues, though, were my insecurities. If you’re not at 100% inside the cage, you end up bad. That loss taught me a lot. I fixed my issues, came back under the 170-pound limit and got my revenge in Bellator against [Andrea] Fusi. I know Zander dropped to welterweight, as well. I’d love to rematch the guy, one day.”

“My next opponent, Konrad Dyrschka, is very young and has good cardio,” Pugliesi explained. “I think he’ll try to use it, thinking he has [better cardio]. We also noticed he’s very aggressive during ground-and-pound and has good grappling skills. I’ll strike hard and clean. I won’t lose any chance to finish him, knockout or submission, it doesn’t matter. I’m ready.”

Walter Pugliesi knows that with an impressive performance he could draw Bellator’s attention once again, since Scott Coker’s promotion is willing to host multiple events in Kraken’s backyard later this fall.

“I heard they are coming back and I vividly hope there’s room for me too. I’ll take the match even if it’s a few days after my EMC fight. Italy or abroad, I don’t care,” Pugliesi concluded.

Walter Pugliesi squares off with Konrad Dyrschka on September 5, in Dusseldorf, Germany at the fifth Elite MMA Championship event. The show also features a welterweight Grand Prix with former UFC fighter Ismail Naurdiev, among the other. Heavyweight behemoths Satoshi Ishii and Stuart Austin will be the headliners.