WINNIPEG – Mitch Clarke and John Maguire might be backed into a corner, and only one of them is getting out after Saturday.
Each with two straight losses, they’re in what can only be described these days as critical territory going into UFC 161, which takes place at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
But for Clarke (9-2 MMA, 0-2 UFC), tell him he’s backed in a corner all you want. He’s not about to walk into his fight with Maguire (18-5 MMA, 2-2 UFC) with a bad attitude.
“You can’t go in thinking negative, in my opinion,” Clarke on Wednesday told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) after a short workout for fans in Winnipeg. “But at the same time, they could’ve cut me after that last one – it was two in a row. But the UFC sees something in me to keep me around, and they obviously see something in him to keep him around after two losses. I think that’s what makes it an exciting fight.”
Clarke started his career 9-0 with seven stoppages. But his UFC run has been back-to-back disappointments.
First, he was stopped by John Cholish in his debut at UFC 140 in Toronto for the first loss of his career. And as a way of rebounding from that, at UFC 149 in July 2012, he got hurt early against Anton Kuivanen and kept fighting – but lost a split decision.
The knee injury put him out for along stretch – till now. And he had some stuff going on outside competition, as well, that made him do some internal investigation.
“The knee injury, I kind of hit rock bottom after that last fight,” Clarke said. “Everything that could’ve went wrong in my personal life kind of did. I think it made me a better person and a stronger person. So it’s really all about how you look at things – half empty or half full. Yeah, I’m backed in a corner, but you have to win fights now, anyway – and you have to win them well.
“They have no use for boring fighters. They want guys that come to fight. John Maguire comes to fight, I come to fight – and that’s why they keep us around.”
So Clarke fixed up the physical, since he couldn’t wrestle while rehabbing the knee. And he says he fixed up the emotional, too.
“I had to change up how I train, but I think it made me a better fighter,” he said. “It made me put my priorities in the right order. You have to jump in with two feet in this sport if you want to compete at the highest level. I got my knee surgery, I got eye surgery, I got rid of some dead weight in people I didn’t need in my life that were kind of negative. So I’m looking forward to redemption.”
Maguire’s back-to-back losses could have him on the potential chopping block, as well, with a loss. After decision losses to John Hathaway and Matt Riddle, Maguire chose to drop down from welterweight to lightweight.
And that choice, Clarke thinks, might actually play to his advantage – even though Maguire might have a size advantage when the fight rolls around.
“He does have a lot of weakness I think I can exploit,” Clarke said. “I think coming down to ’55 isn’t going to be as easy as he thinks it is. I train with some of the best guys in Canada and some of the best guys in the States at MMA Lab – all great 155ers. I’m going to be ready for anything he throws at me, and it’s not going to be anything I haven’t seen before. He’s going to be good at some things, but I’m wondering how the weight cut is going to effect him.”
A fuller camp for Maguire at MMA Lab in Arizona, including training with UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson and contender Jamie Varner, has Clarke feeling confident and ready that his two UFC losses are in the past.
“This is the best I’ve felt,” he said. “No excuses – this is the best camp I’ve had. No major injuries. I’m really looking forward to this – I’m looking forward to fighting for once. It’s been a long time.”
UFC 161's main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FX and Facebook. The Clarke-Maguire lightweight fight is part of the Facebook prelims.
For the latest on UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.