Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Brennan Ward returns to the cage next week.
He is looking forward to the welterweight bout against Kassius Kayne at Bellator 282. The MMA lifestyle, full of structure and discipline, is much preferred to the constant battle Ward fights against addiction.
"It's my everyday fight," Ward says. "Stay sober. Don't get high. On good days, on bad ones. It's always there, ready to hit."
Oxycodone, fentanyl, Percocet – or, for a time, whatever else he could find – were the pills of choice for Ward. But he has worked incredibly hard to get clean and stay that way, which reopened doors for him with his family, as well as his job as a union carpenter and with Bellator.
"I'm lucky to even be alive," Ward says. "I didn't lose my family. And I have my job? And I'm fighting again? I'm extremely lucky.
"I'm lucky I still get to see my kid. I'm lucky I didn't get kicked out of the union. I'm lucky I still get to fight in Bellator. There were a lot of people fighting this who aren't here anymore. I'm lucky to still be here, and I'm aware of that."
His recovery, Ward explained, is ongoing.
"I've slipped up here and there," Ward says. "I won't lie about it. But it's the same as when I get smoked with a right hand. I keep fighting.
"There are days when my back hurts and a couple percs would feel great. And I tell myself, ‘Maybe I could just do that once? It would make me feel, right?' But I know I shouldn't. I know I can't. Like I said, this is an everyday f-cking fight."
After nearly five years away, Ward (15-6 MMA, 10-6 BMMA) made his return to the cage this past February. He pummeled Brandon Bell, finishing the fight by TKO under a minute into the second round. That was a catchweight bout, and next up is the welterweight fight against Kayne (12-7).
Still working full-time as a union carpenter, Ward is realistic with his current place in MMA. His training schedule is limited, which he does not think will hurt him in this fight – but certainly will be a detriment in the future.
"I'm not chasing a title right now, I'm looking to get f-cking paid," says Ward, who turns 34 later this month. "Everyone expects this huge, massive, dominance performance from me, but I'm looking to get in and out of there in a round. That's my plan until I'm in a position where I can train more and fight higher-level opponents. People ask me about fight camp. I'm training two, maybe three days a week. That's it. I haven't even trained that much, but I know I can still do this. If I felt like I couldn't compete, I wouldn't still fight."
Ward expects this to be his final bout at welterweight, as he's planning to move to middleweight.
"After this, I'd like to get some good fights at 185," Ward says. "I walk around at 190, but I'm really lean all the time. Working full-time, it's tough to cut weight. But I can beat some of the dudes ranked top five. That's just training two or three days a week. My manager begs me to train full-time. Maybe I'll do that and put my union job on hold for a year. We'll see what happens. If I want to go to the next level, I'm going to have to take time off from work."
Before Ward looks too closely into his future, he knows his priority is the present.
"I'll win this fight, I'm not worried about that," Ward says. "That comes first. And, every day, I'll keep fighting."
Josh Emmett seeking career-defining fight on Saturday
"This is exactly what I've been working for," Emmett (17-2 MMA, 8-2 UFC) says. "I'm grateful to Kattar for taking the fight against someone behind him. It's going to be a phenomenal fight."
Kattar (23-5 MMA, 7-3 UFC) is the fourth-ranked featherweight, and he is coming off a convincing, one-sided victory against Giga Chikadze. Emmett is seventh in the division, and the 37-year-old believes he matches up well against Kattar.
"I don't know Calvin personally, but I see his work ethic, his preparation, and the way he's always coming forward with great striking," Emmett says. "I've fought a lot of people that are similar in height – everyone is taller than me – and reach, so it's somewhat of a blueprint I can use on Saturday.
"On paper, this is going to be the toughest fight of my life. Once he starts throwing at me, I want to see how fast he is, and I want to feel how strong he is. I've been doing this for so long. I've fought so many guys with long reach that are great strikers, and I've fought up-and-comers who were the next big thing, and I've derailed their paths. And the timing couldn't be better. I thought I was going to fight in March, so I've been training for a long time. I'm prepared for Saturday."
Wrestling could be a separating factor, and perhaps an advantage for Emmett, though Kattar did not lack in that area against Chikadze.
"If Kattar comes out and shoots, I'll be ready," says Emmett, who comes from a wrestling background. "I never really have a game plan going in. We'll start on our feet, feel things out, and see where it goes."
Ultimately, this fight should be determined by striking. Will it be the vicious slashing elbows of Kattar? Or the fists of Emmett?
"I guarantee people will be entertained by this fight," Emmett says. "I wouldn't be in the position I am today if I wasn't going out there and throwing big bombs, trying to finish the fight with every single strike I throw.
"This is everything I've been working for. It's a huge opportunity on ESPN. I'm going to be the most dominant version of myself, and I can't wait to get my hand raised."
The Pick ‘Em Section:
UFC on ESPN main event: Calvin Kattar vs. Josh Emmett
- Pick: Calvin Kattar
UFC lightweight title bout: Donald Cerrone vs. Joe Lauzon
- Pick: Joe Lauzon
UFC welterweight bout: Kevin Holland vs. Tim MeansPick: Kevin Holland
- Pick: Kevin Holland
UFC middleweight bout: Joaquin Buckley vs. Albert Duraev
- Pick: Joaquin Buckley
UFC bantamweight bout: Eddie Wineland vs. Cody Stamann
- Pick: Eddie Wineland
Last week: 2-2
2022 record: 67-36
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.