Mitch Clarke had his back against the wall a week ago, and he knew it.
The Canadian had two straight losses, and they happened to come in his only two UFC fights. Going 0-2 in the UFC these days usually gets you a pink slip. Going 0-3 is pretty much a certainty.
So that had Clarke (10-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) plenty motivated for his UFC 161 fight in Winnipeg a week ago against John Maguire (18-6 MMA, 2-3 UFC).
The lightweight had some stuff going on in the background in his personal life eating at him. And he had a knee injury after his second UFC loss that took rehab and a comeback to return from.
After his unanimous decision win over Maguire on the preliminary card at MTS Centre, he dropped to his knees in tears.
“This is a very emotional night for me,” Clarke said after the fight. “It doesn’t seem real – like a dream come true. I’m sorry to use a cliché. I wanted to fight in the UFC since 2006, when I was a lazy judo player who was drinking and doing other things that weren’t good for me. Having a goal to get to the UFC changed me. It made me a better person – I got rid of so many negative forces in my life.”
Clarke also was pretty realistic about things going into the fight. Beforehand, he told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) that he refused to bring a negative attitude into his fight with Maguire. Where would that get him? The positive, as he said, was that the UFC liked him enough to give him one more chance after losses to John Cholish (a TKO at UFC 140) and Anton Kuivanen (a split decision at UFC 149 in which he hurt his knee early and never could get started).
“I spent 20 hours a week, every week, since then working toward this night,” Clarke said. “I was crushed in the octagon once I got here. I lost two in a row. But obviously the UFC saw something in me and gave me a chance. … No one gave me a chance. On Twitter, on the forums, there was no one who thought I could beat Maguire.”
Prior to the fight, Clarke said that if he came out on top against Maguire, he would give credit to the team at the MMA Lab just outside Phoenix. That camp, led by head coach John Crouch and buoyed by UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, is where Clarke worked for a few weeks before his fight with Kuivanen.
But for the Maguire fight, things really seemed to turn a corner with that team, which features some of the world’s best lightweights – fighters he can match up with to have him more than prepared for fighters like Maguire and whoever comes next.
“I did my last camp there, but it was kind of short – only four and a half weeks,” he told MMAjunkie.com a couple days before he took a decision from Maguire. “I was supposed to go somewhere else and it kind of fell through in terms of accommodations. My manager had met Mr. Crouch, and we hooked up and I’m happy that we did. John’s a great human being, and I don’t think he gets the credit as a coach that he deserves. He knows his stuff. He’s very, very intelligent.
“I rank him up there with the Greg Jacksons and all the people up there as the best coaches.”
With equal praise being lobbed at Henderson, Clarke believed even before the fight in Winnipeg that he may have found a perfect home at the MMA Lab. The impressive win over Maguire no doubt served as the affirmation.
Alongside Henderson, the camp features fighters like Jamie Varner, Efrain Escudero, Jon Tuck and Scott Holtzman.
“It’s a great 155 and lower (camp),” Clarke said. “Varner, Jon Tuck, Effy – Effy doesn’t get the credit, but he’s an awesome fighter and he’ll give anyone in the gym a run for their money. We’ve got other guys, up-and-comers, Tim Welch, Frank Ramsey, Scott Holtzman is fighting for the XFC belt on Friday. He’s a very talented fighter and I think you’re going to see big things from him, as well.”
And now, with Clarke being so good at throwing out superlatives for Crouch and his MMA Lab teammates, he put himself in position to start having some be thrown his way, too.
“There was one poll I saw where I was given a 94 percent chance of losing,” he said. “But I believed in myself and finally I have a ‘W’ in the UFC.”
For complete coverage of UFC 161, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.