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UFC middleweight Andy Enz reached a crossroads early in his MMA career when the intensity of his training intersected with the desire to be a normal 18-year-old – and also to be an exceptional one.

Enz was about to be called up to the Marines when he heard of auditions for “The Ultimate Fighter 17.” He figured it might be his last shot at being successful in MMA. So instead of enlisting, he made the trip to Las Vegas.

Although Enz had the unfortunate luck of meeting eventual finalist Uriah Hall in the elimination round, he still won a UFC contract. But another reckoning was in store when the hard-slugging Clint Hester outpointed him at this past February’s UFC 169.

The 22-year-old Alaska native was faced with another choice: Stay on home turf, where reputable coaches and sparring partners were in short supply, or strike out into mainland U.S., where supercamps are dotted across 48 states.

He chose the latter and made inroads with Arizona’s MMA Lab, where the recently victorious ex-champ Benson Henderson trains full-time alongside a healthy group of pros and UFC vets.

It was not a smooth transition for the young fighter, however.

“It took some warming up,” Enz told MMAjunkie Radio. “They train hard, and it was an eye-opener for me to step in here and spar in your four-ounce gloves, going live with a fresh guy every round.

“I was scared to go to practice every day. Halfway through my first training camp, I started making a lot of friends and started getting adapted to the ridiculously hot weather; it’s not like that in Alaska. Two months in, I felt this is where I need to be.”

With much of the hard work done for his second UFC fight, a meeting with Marcelo Guimares (8-1-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 44, Enz (7-1 MMA, 0-1 UFC) feels he’s in the right place, both mentally and physically.

“So far, I love it (at MMA Lab),” he said. “The strength and conditioning is insane. (Coach) John Crouch is a wizard. He knows a lot of technique, and he’s been around the game for a long time.

“I go to complain, but then I see all these guys that are doing the exact same thing, and I’m like, ‘OK. That’s reassuring.’ I’ve got my foot in the door. I just want to train hard and get better.”

Enz vs. Guimares serves on the FOX Sports 10-televised preliminary-card in advance of main-card bouts on the same channel. Guimares is coming off a knockout loss to Hyun Gyu Lim in March 2013 at UFC on FUEL TV 8.

Although Enz initially was shocked at the intensity of training at his new home in the Southwest, he now defends it.

“If you wobble a guy, you might back off or take him down and let him work. But Saturday is sparring day, and it’s on; it’s a live flight,” he said. “It’s actually awesome. I feel like I’ve stepped into the cage 100 times before my fight, so it’s just another thing.

“John is a very intelligent individual, and I trust him 100 percent. I feel like they just want you to get comfortable. They want you to know, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be like.’

“You can do so many things in sparring; people are throwing spinning back-kicks because they’re not worried about getting hit by their partner, but when you get in that cage, you’re limited, because you don’t want to try certain things and get caught. So it lets you see what you can do and what you can’t do, and it gets you prepared. And nobody has an ego here, so if you see somebody looking wobbly, you’re going to back off.”

Enz values his aggression and plans to knock Guimares out, but he said another byproduct of working with a bigger camp is an emphasis on downtime preparation. Once hesitant to watch tape on opponents, he said he and Crouch are keyed into Guimares’ tendencies.

“When I’m done with practice, I want to go home and escape; be somewhere else,” Enz said. “But I’m starting there’s a lot to be done outside the gym –getting my mind right.”

A hard-nosed mindset might have come for Enz through the rigors of Marine bootcamp. But he found it instead by moving out of his comfort zone in the sport he’s done since his teens.

With more support in the gym, he doesn’t think he’ll fall short in the octagon on Saturday.

“I believe I have the better wrestling, and I want to keep it up,” Enz said. “Look for a knockout, probably in the second.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 44, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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