A future edition of Trivial Pursuit will ask: Who was the last World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) Light Heavyweight champion? The answer: Steve “The Robot” Cantwell. But it should probably have an asterisk next to it that states he was also the first legal cultivator in Pahrump, Nevada.
Since Trivial Pursuit hasn’t yet cemented Steve Cantwell into the annals of pop culture, Google will have to do. When you search his name, there are a lot of threads on websites referring to his fighting career. Some of the comments go back and forth about his potential to be a UFC champion once he moved to middleweight, while other posts discuss how he was too cocky after bragging about breaking a fighter’s arm during “UFC: Fight for the Troops.” Regardless of what side of the debate you are on, his story inspires.
In 2004 Cantwell started training in mixed martial arts after withdrawing from school, quickly going pro in 2005 at the age of ı8. “I was just a troubled kid in school, I kept getting kicked out for fighting, getting suspended and things like that,” explained Cantwell, who moved to Pahrump from California when he was ı0 years old.
He racked up some big wins before the WEC signed him. His first bout in the WEC was against All-American Brian Stann in 2007 which became the first loss of his career. After a couple of wins he fought Stann again in 2008 and won the WEC Light Heavyweight championship. When UFC bought the WEC, Cantwell’s record was an impressive 6-ı. In his UFC debut, Cantwell showed his dominance by submitting his opponent 4 minutes into the first round.
Following Cantwell’s UFC debut he never won another fight but was also never knocked out. All of his fights in the UFC went the distance. But without a win, the UFC dropped him and he retired from MMA in 20ı2. “My body was breaking down. I got started at a really young age and the injuries kept stacking up. They say MMA fighters peak in their early 30s, and I turned pro as soon as I was ı8…so I figured if I was ever going to fight in my prime, I should probably retire so that way I would have the option of coming back when I reach my physical maturity,” said 29-year-old Cantwell.
FROM THE RING TO THE FIELD
The former WEC champion decided to go down a path different than most retired MMA fighters. He decided to try his hand at farming, but never one to follow the typical route, he decided to grow cannabis. Cantwell, who had grown up around a garden and always believed he had a green thumb, was familiar with cannabis because he preferred to medicate with it when he had injuries rather than pain pills prescribed by doctors.
Although Cantwell preferred cannabis to aid in the healing process, he never failed a drug test while he fought professionally. “I didn’t want to fail a drug test,” explained Cantwell of stopping the use of cannabis when training for a fight. “When you are a professional athlete, you say you’re not going to use cannabis because it’s illegal. It wasn’t worth the risk of getting in trouble for it, no matter how much I enjoyed doing it, no matter how much I can benefit from it, it’s not worth it so I would always quit for that reason. Health issues are another reason I would stop smoking it, I would always like to give my lungs a break and just try to get my wind back for fighting.”
Nye County had all the necessities for Cantwell to pursue his new endeavor. “Pahrump was really a small farming town… it was something I really enjoyed and fell hand-in-hand with cannabis.
I remember the first time I saw cannabis growing as a plant, I just found it fascinating, like, ‘Oh my God, it’s just a plant like all of the other ones we grow but everybody likes it much more,’ it was just kind of cool.”
In 20ı0, Cantwell applied for his Nevada medical marijuana card so he could start growing his own plants. He bought a bunch of books about growing cannabis, including some of DJ Short’s, who is considered America’s preeminent breeder, and started to grow. “I have really high standards and found it hard to find quality meds. And then when you did find them, they were ten times more expensive than everything else, so it was hard to find them and expensive to get ahold of them. So I got my card and learned how to grow, I got ı00 percent legal. I started cultivating cannabis the best I could and kept pursuing better styles,” revealed Cantwell.
WHEN A PLAN COMES TOGETHER
Growing cannabis came very naturally to Cantwell and it was something he developed a passion for so he decided, with the passing of legislation in 20ı3 that allowed for the issuance of cultivation, dispensary, production, and laboratory licenses, to pursue something on a larger scale. Cantwell believed obtaining a production license was worth a try so he and his wife, Kouanin Villa, started looking for partners and investors in the Las Vegas area. Cantwell didn’t find that any of the potential partnerships available in Clark County or the city of Las Vegas were the right fit so he decided to return to his roots.
Having grown up in Pahrump, Cantwell decided to seek out a partnership in the tiny town because he had success there when he was looking for sponsors to launch his MMA career. As luck would have it, he ran into Mike Floyd, who was, in fact, his first MMA sponsor.
“The lumber yard where we started Green Life Productions is owned by my first sponsor who helped me move from Pahrump to Las Vegas to pursue my MMA career and it’s where I received my first check from him so it’s kind of cool to go full circle back home,” explained Cantwell.
Fortune continued to smile on Cantwell. Floyd had already been putting together a group and so Cantwell and his wife joined forces with him and his partners to pursue their vision which became Green Life Productions.
All the pieces quickly fell together in a most serendipitous way. Floyd owned a former Ace Hardware facility with a six-foot fence around it which was a perfect spot for a cultivation facility. And Floyd also had a construction company which did the build-out allowing them to keep costs down. Villa focused on getting their cultivation license from the state.
While other potential medicinal marijuana establishments were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on hiring specialists and lawyers to complete the application process, which consisted of several six-inch binders, Villa, who has a background in banking, decided to do it herself.
“I started calling the state and figured out they were there to help. I would call the state five times, sometimes six times a day. I felt very overwhelmed but with Steve’s passion and with everyone saying you could do it that pretty much pushed me to get everything done,” said Villa, who guided Green Life Productions to a ranking of 48th out of more than 500 applications submitted to the state.
DOING THE RIGHT THING (EVEN WHEN NOBODY IS WATCHING)
One of the mottos Cantwell has lived by, in both life and throughout his MMA career, was the dedication to do what is right even when no one is looking. He chose to apply that same philosophy to his growing methods.
“It’s what we put into our plants, it’s really easy, when no one is looking, to pour a fertilizer that makes them more purple and ten times bigger. It is really easy to spray a pesticide, herbicide or an insecticide on there that guarantees me no issues,” Cantwell explained of his decision not to use pesticides during his growing process. “At the same time it’s going to cause problems for the medical marijuana patients. So when no one is looking we still continue to do what’s right.”
Currently Green Life is cultivating and supplying several dispensaries with their products including Inyo Fine Cannabis, Oasis Medical, Las Vegas Releaf, and Sahara Wellness. “We opened up with about 24 different strains but some of them are not around today, a lot of them didn’t make the cut for production…after seeing the demand and keeping our finger on the pulse of what patients wanted and what they need, we have limited our original 24 to about ı2 strains now.”
The growing style Cantwell uses to nurture Green Life’s product is unique. “The way we grow is different from 99 out of ı00 facilities — not just here in Nevada but throughout the industry in general. The cornerstone of our cultivation facility is our no-till living organic soil that utilizes the soil food web. What this means is we don’t feed our plants, we actually grow soil organically…rather than feeding the plant, we feed our soil and our soil, in turn, feeds the plant.”
Speaking with Cantwell you can tell there is something else unique about the way he grows. “We put a lot of hands-on love on our plants, we interact with the plants, everything is done by hand, and we don’t push buttons and walk away. Everything we do, we do intentionally to love on our plants.”