Andre Fili Rocks!


By Chuck Mindenhall 
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC 

Luckily, Andre Fili’s early estimations were off. As a rebellious youth who was flying too close to the sun, he thought he’d be dead by the age of 27, joining that special club of rock stars… you know, Janis, Jim, Jimi, Amy and Kurt. Yet a month after he turned 27, back in 2018, he was already a veteran in the UFC, fighting featherweight contender Calvin Kattar. And now, nearly five years later, at 32 years old, he’s still alive and literally kicking.

Andre “Touchy” Fili found purpose—and, as it turns out, longevity—trading kicks and punches in the Octagon. He’s fascinated that his career took the path it did, and that he’s around to acknowledge it. In some ways, he’s playing with house money.

“You look at guys like Mike Tyson who was a world champion at 19, it’s like, how do you even deal with all that that young?” he says. “I mean, I’m in such a good place now, but dude, my plan was to go out like a fucking rockstar. I was going to be in the UFC at 18 and 19. I was going to be UFC champion in my early 20s, and I was going to be out of here by 27, rockstar-style.

“What’s that old saying? Better to burn out…”

Fili laughs thinking about it.

“But I never pictured myself being this age,” he continues. “I almost romanticized going out that way, burning out fast, burning the candle at both ends, going out Morrison-style, and having people remember you. And now I’m 32 and I’m like, ‘Dude, life is awesome. I want more of this.’”

Not that he’s not a rockstar. Fili has competed in the UFC for a decade and faced the full gamut of monsters over the course of 19 UFC bouts. His next one will be his 20th UFC fight, which puts him in rarified company. Not many fighters can hack it that long in the UFC. Not many have that kind of drive or perseverance.

Fili has the look of a rockstar, too, with the wild hair, the tattoos, the wiry frame and the sinews that strain like screaming vocal cords. As for those vocal cords? He puts them to use in the Sacramento-based band he fronts, Born Breach, which he describes as “Rage Against the Machine, only a little less political and a little more extreme.” He is the rebel who, at some point—after those early days of outbursts, inciting street fights and getting in trouble—found a clue.

It pours into the fighting. Translates on any stage. Informs his music.

Fili’s band gained traction over the last couple of years, playing more and more live shows and building a fan base in Northern California. Fili calls his gigs a form of “orchestrated chaos,” as he controls mosh pits that turn into a wild contortion of bodies. When he’s not fighting or belting out lyrics, he’s running his own clothing line, Outcasts and Underdogs, a name that draws from his own experience. Sometimes not fitting in is the perfect fit.

Oh, and sometimes he performs stand-up comedy sets just for the hell of it. In fact, Fili performed a semi-impromptu 11-minute set in front of hundreds of people a couple of months back, at the urging of a fellow comedian, Adam Hunter.

“The truth is, I just love to perform,” he says. “I love being on stage. I love being out in front of people, I love feeding off other people’s energy. And I really don’t get stage fright. You could put me in front of a thousand people and say, ‘Talk about something you have no idea about,’ and I could BS my way through it. I could name you a hundred things I’m not good at, but performing? If you put me on a stage, I’m going to perform.”

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC 

Lately he’s been performing well in the Octagon. Fili, who trains with an all-star cast at Team Alpha Male, including owner Urijah Faber, won his last fight against Bill Algeo this past fall. He thinks it’s the beginning of a momentous turn. The updated mission is to win a title in his wiser 30s, and either way, he has learned to savor the process. For Fili, the journey itself is where life’s at its sweetest. Over the course of the years, he’s been getting tattoos to mark the passage of time in his own life. To capture the wildest whims. To express himself. And, ultimately, to bet on himself.

“I first saw the UFC at around 13 or 14 years old, and was like, ‘That’s what I’m doing for the rest of my life,’” he says. “I had that belief from eighth grade, that I was going to be in the UFC. I just believed it. There was no doubt.

“So—and as a disclaimer, I wouldn’t advise this to anyone—the first tattoo I got was on my head,” he continues. “I shaved the sides of my head into a mohawk, and I got ‘pray for peace, prepare for war’ tattoos down the sides of my head. One side it says, ‘pray for peace.’ The other says ‘prepare for war.’ I just figured if I do this at 19, I’ll never have a real job ever again. I have to make it as a fighter.”

From there, it was on. It was all or nothing, do or die. Since he was pot committed, he went all in on his next tattoo. Not because he didn’t have a Plan B if fighting failed him, but because he didn’t want a Plan B.

“I wrote a lot of checks I had to be able to cash,” he says. “After I shaved my head and got the sides of my head tattooed, someone was like, ‘Well, you could always just grow your hair.’ So, I said, ‘Fuck it!’ And I went out and tattooed my hand next.”

The hand tattoo is the cover of P.D. Eastman’s “Go Dog. Go!,” a favorite book of his. It was only the beginning. He went to work on a sleeve using “real tattoo artists,” and then moved to his back—with a tattoo of the goddess Kali—his neck and stomach, his legs and knees. He has lots of Hindu deities and a wolf in sheep’s clothing (or actually, “a wolf with a bloody sheep’s head,” he corrects himself). There’s a sad hobo clown, in the spirit of the old-time circus performer Emmett Kelly, as well as the freak show star, the Great Omi (a.k.a. the “Zebra Man”). One of his favorites is a tattoo of the Grinch, the one who stole Christmas.

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Fili is recognized in fight circles in part because of all that ink. It’s his look, but the look tells you a lot about the man himself. He wants to be fully body-suited when it’s all said and done, to cover every square inch of real estate, and become a walking piece of art. Why not? Every day that passes is a day he didn’t think he’d see, yet here he is.

Andre “Touchy” Fili: The frontman of a band. The stand-up comic. The performer who is right at home bearing it all, the fighter who has never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve in the UFC’s Octagon.

“All the other stuff is great, but nothing’s better than winning a fight,” he says. “There is nothing better. When you kill it on stage during a band performance and a crowd is stoked, that’s an incredible feeling. But nothing’s better than winning a fight because the stakes are higher. If I fuck up a lyric or I miss a beat or I do something wrong on stage, I just jump around and make it work. If you fuck up at fighting, you get embarrassed on TV, you wake up in an ambulance.

“The stakes are just so much higher. After fighting everything else is… what’s that saying from “Fight Club?” ‘After fighting everything else gets the volume turned down?’ That’s what it’s like.”

And that’s what it’s like to bet on yourself.

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