After UFC retirement, Nick (The Ninja of Love) Denis looks to build another dream

TORONTO - Life continues to amuse, amaze and enrage Nick (The Ninja of Love) Denis.

A month after retiring from the UFC due to concussion concerns, the world really is his oyster.

Ask him what his plans are and he may start his answer with "Good question" or "Great question."

"I have the general idea of just enjoying life. Where that takes me, I don't really know yet!" he told a Twitter follower when asked what's next.

In recent weeks, the former MMA bantamweight has used social media to share information on U.S. arms sales, prison labour, Oliver Stone and teenage sexting among an array of issues.

Having achieved his goal of making it to the UFC, the Ottawa native is now looking to fashion another dream.

"I bought a vacant piece of land in the middle of nowhere," he said in an interview after announcing his retirement. "Basically I've been working on building on it next spring and next summer, building like a super-minimalist, hippie-esque, green, eco-friendly house, like an earth shelter house. Try and live a simple life.

"But in terms of what I want to do in terms of a career or what else I want to do, I really don't know. I'm playing with a lot of ideas.

"And it's very strange. Because for the last decade or so, I've known what I wanted to do and now I don't know what I want to do. So it's a very strange feeling, it's something I guess I've never really experienced as an adult."

Denis has an interesting role model in his father who, after retiring from driving a taxi, bought seven alarm clocks and set one for each day for his normal wakeup time to go to work.

"Each morning, after hearing the sound of the alarm clock going off, he would proceed to open his bedroom window, unplug the alarm clock, and throw them out the window, each one — day after day, until all seven had met the same fate,"Denis writes in his blog in a posting titled "Following your heart runs in the family…"

"It was a funny little symbol of his freedom from waking up early to go to work. The funny thing is, he began waking up even EARLIER! He wakes up at 4 a.m. now, eager, not to work, but to follow his heart and his passion … writing!"

The 29-year-old Denis retired with an 11-3 record and a clean bill of health. "As far as I know I'm perfectly healthy," he said.

But he feared for the future after noticing he was not recovering from blows in sparring as he once did.

"In the last couple years, and especially in the last few months leading up to my May 5th fight, while sparring I would notice that when I got hit, it would affect me more and more,'' he wrote in his blog.

"I guess I just changed my point of view," he added in an interview.

Denis, who trained at Montreal's Tristar Gym, says most have been supportive of his decision to retire. The UFC wished him luck, while reminding his manager that the fighter was still under contract to them if he changed his mind.

"They have a whole stable of fighters. I don't think they'll be losing any sleep," Denis said of his retirement.

Today he trains recreationally, once or maybe twice a week.

"Definitely not at the level I was before," he said. "No more sparring. Ever. I don't want any more contact with my head."

Running, fitness training and jiu-jitsu are all still part of his regime.

No ordinary athlete, Denis has bachelor's and master's degrees in biochemistry, and put his PhD studies on hold at the start of 2011 to focus on fighting.

He won his UFC debut last January, stopping Joseph Sandoval just 22 seconds into the fight with a string of elbows. The finish earned him US$45,000 for knockout of the night, some of which he used to take his girlfriend to Cuba for a week and to buy a two-horsepower deluxe blender.

It's believed to be the fastest knockout by a Canadian in the UFC since Gary Goodridge stopped Paul Herrera in 13 seconds at UFC 8 in 1996.

The five-foot-seven Denis lost by first-round submission to fellow Canadian Roland Delorme in May in his last outing.

Denis got into MMA at 20, just looking for something different than lifting weights. He joined a gym and met some fighters.

He tried out unsuccessfully for "The Ultimate Fighter'' reality TV show. But he got the UFC's attention in October 2011 when he finished Nick Mamalis with a suplex slam that knocked his opponent unconscious.

Asked for his advice to any young fighters, he said people have to travel their own path.

"You can give them all the facts and if they feel differently, then they feel differently. They won't learn until they experience something themselves," he said. "Some sort of 'eureka' moment has to happen. And I guess that's what happened to me.

"So if I were to give advice, I'd say 'Don't be foolish. You only have one brain and there's more to life than fighting.' I'd tell it to anyone, there's more to life than whatever your job is."

But he leaves his sport with fond memories.

"I have no regrets. I loved everything about it. There's other downfalls but the biggest downfall is the risk of brain injury.

"If there was a pill invented tomorrow that coated your brain and guaranteed 100 per cent safety, I'd go back in it. But that's not the case."