At every UFC show, there is one fight designated by matchmaker Joe Silva as a potential show stealer. At UFC 95 this Saturday in London, the match expected to set the night on fire is Rory Markham against hometown star Dan Hardy.
Hardcore fans know all about Markham’s penchant for amazing fights-UFC fans got a taste for the first time with his dynamic knockout of Brodie Farber at UFC Fight Night 14 this past July.
FiveOuncesofPain.com recently had the chance to talk with Markham about his fight with Hardy, keeping his mind right, and stepping into some big shoes in Bettendorf.
Jonathan Snowden: Dan Hardy is on his home turf. How much inspiration does it give you, to know the odds are stacked against you and that the crowd will be solidly against you? How does that affect your mental preparation for the fight?
Rory Markham: It adds a little extra anxiety, a little extra stress. Of course, if you know how to use that as fuel, you can turn it into a positive emotion, which I have learned over the years. I’m using it to get out of bed earlier, make sure I do my miles, my sprints, just making my life training a little easier.
Jonathan Snowden: I’ve talked to other fighters that have gotten offended in your situation, like Zuffa is putting you in to lose to the hometown guy. Do you think that’s the case, or are they just looking for an exciting fight?
Rory Markham: I think they are absolutely looking for an exciting fight. More than anything, I’m very pleased with where the UFC has put me on this card. I think anyone that would think I’d be brought in there to lose wouldn’t be a very educated fan. I think this is a very well matched fight. I see a lot of strengths where I can implement my game plan and I think this is a very good fight for me. I think I was brought in to England because I’m exciting, he’s primarily a standup fighter, and it’s a good recipe to fill a card that needs an exciting bout. That’s why it’s taken the priority it has on the night’s televised card.
Jonathan Snowden: Obviously, like you said, he’s a standup fighter. He’s been over to China to explore the striking arts.How will that play into your game plan, knowing many of the British fighters have a weakness defending the takedown? Will you try to exploit a weakness and take him to the ground?
Rory Markham: I going to try, in every fight not just this one, to go out there and be a better fighter. Be a better version of my former self. I model myself after Georges St. Pierre. Georges is doing the right things. He still goes out there, implements a game plan, but still finds a way to make it very exciting for the fans. Every time we see GSP compete, he’s a better version of himself. That’s something I’m looking for, from the educated MMA fans. I want them to tune in and say ‘Every time I see Rory he just looks better and better.’ That’s something I’m looking forward to in this journey.
Jonathan Snowden: You’ve never fought to a decision before. Win or lose, it’s always been decisively. What does it mean to you? Is that kind of a by-product of trying to be an exciting fighter?
Rory Markham: Yeah, I think it’s directly a by-product of trying to be an exciting fighter. My biggest concern, coming up in the IFL and now trying to reestablish myself in the UFC, is that I want the fans to tune in and know they’re going to get an exciting bout. I don’t want anyone to go ‘Oh God, here’s this kid fighting again. Everybody go make popcorn.’ I want to make sure that they now when they tune in they’re going to get their money’s worth. I don’t want them glued to their seats. I want them standing up when I’m fighting. That’s something I really pride myself in.
The layman can identify with a back and forth standup fight easier than they can a fight on the ground now. I would love for, ten years from now, everyone to understand the ground game. But let’s be honest-more often than not, guys come to a fight and they want to see knockouts. They want to see exciting standup fights. And that was always a very big concern. It’s still an enormous concern for me, but I also want to go out there and prove to my fans that I’m becoming a better mixed martial artist.
Jonathan Snowden: Chris Lytle and others publicly proclaim that they are going to try for fight of the night honors. Is that something that you think about? How important is it, as an up and coming fighter, to get that extra cash bonus? Is that a big motivator for you?
Rory Markham: Absolutely, but that’s something that’s so out of my control. If you focus on that, it’s going to take away from your game. All you can do is hope you have the style to produce the end result- a fight of the night, a knockout of the night, a submission of the night. You’ve just got to let that become a by product of the fight and not focus on that at all.
Definitely against Farber, I didn’t go in there and say ‘Alright, it’s time to get knockout of the night.’ I just went int there to fight how I fight and what’s going to come to me is going to come to me. I just think my style is made to win fight of the night or knockout of the night more often than not.
Jonathan Snowden: I just finished reading the book Blood in the Cage?
Rory Markham: Yeah!
Jonathan Snowden: It features you quite a bit. Are you still living above the gym?
Rory Markham: That’s where I’m at right now.
Jonathan Snowden: Besides having no excuses for missing practice, how does that help you stay focused on the fight game? Is it that healthy to be so tied into that world, even when you try to go home?
Rory Markham: What’s great about it for me, is that I get to come up here to Iowa I get to live above the gym and you’re right. There’s no excuses. There’s no travel. It’s kind of like I’m on a ship. I don’t have to go anywhere. I’m all set. My foods here and I just have to walk downstairs. The gym door is directly next to my front door. This is my Rocky environment. I come down here, the apartment’s not in the best shape, there’s a draft, there’s no T.V. Marvin Hagler (legendary boxer) said it best: ‘How do you get up and run at 4 a.m. when you’re sleeping on silk sheets?’ This is my domain. It puts me in the right state of mind and gets me ready for war.
At the same time, to answer the other part of your question, a big part of my training camp is going back to Chicago on the weekends, going back to my hometown. Every single weekend without fail. I own a house there, stay with my girlfriend and we hang out. We push the reset button, unplug, turn off both of our phones, and focus in. It’s a good time to let the fight world go. My friends know not to try to call me and talk about fighting. So when I come back here, to Iowa, I’m ready to focus and do my work. I couldn’t even tell you how to get to a bar in Iowa.
Jonathan Snowden: That’s a good plan. It sounds like you are keeping your life balanced that way.
Rory Markham: I model it after Matt Hughes. He was the first to do it. I really looked hard at him and figured if he could do it, I could do it. He had such great success with it and that’s what I’m finding.
Jonathan Snowden: What does Pat Miletich provide as a trainer that makes him stand out?
Rory Markham: What’s great about Pat, and under no circumstance am I knocking any other trainer, I really truly believe that when Pat invests himself 100 percent, he is the best trainer in the world. Most trainers out there, in some way, shape, or form, have modeled themselves after Pat. He was the first one to find the successful recipe to make champions. He has more world champions than any trainer in the entire world.
When I get my morning sessions with him, when I get my hour alone with him, it’s just like Yoda teaching me the Force. He just knows all these little nuances. I can do something 110 percent perfect, but he can always find a way to change it and make it just a little bit better. He has so many outs and options for me. He’s just a wealth of knowledge. I know I’ll never be able to tap that well.
Jonathan Snowden: How has the split, even though it’s been friendly, between Pat and Hughes affected you and your training? I know Robbie Lawler has been a particularly inspirational voice in your corner in the past?
Rory Markham: It’s a little different. For me, I just always look for the positives. I get a little bit more of Pat’s time now. Now I’m one of the premiere leaders in the gym. I’m one of the two or three guys who help lead the gym. Most importantly I get more of Pat’s time. I know that Pat was the one who made Matt and Rob the fighters they are today. That’s just the reality of it. Having more of his time is only going to benefit my career.
Matt and Rob, they helped me out immensely. They’re very, very missed. I still stay in touch with them. We’re still great friends. Rob especially, in my corner and as such a great friend. And Matt, in that he showed me the ropes. I wasn’t as nervous at my first UFC, because I’d been to a couple with Matt. I’ve gotten a lot from them and I welcome my new position as a leader in the gym.
Jonathan Snowden: How much pressure is it to step into a leadership roll in a gym that’s seen Jeremy Horn, Jens Pulver, Hughes, and Tim Sylvia. You’re kind of filling that roll now. How much pressure is that on you?
Rory Markham: None at all. It’s very welcome. I’m a little more apt to tell guys what to do. In a very nice way of course, in a learning environment. I get to show them how to do certain techniques. Guys are looking to me now wondering ‘How does he do it? Okay, I’ll do it like that too.’ It gives me great introspection into my own technique. If I’m going to reiterate it and try to teach it, I’m going to make sure I’m doing it properly and saying it correctly. I think it’s making me a better fighter. I welcome the responsibility.
Jonathan Snowden: You guys still have plenty of great fighters, but in the overall scheme of things it seems to be a down period in the history of Miletich Fighting Systems. How does that affect the training and attitude in the gym? Does it make you hungrier to try to regain that status?
Rory Markham: The great thing about it is that it’s made Pat hungrier. He’s reinvested himself. Everybody goes through hills and valleys. There’s time when you need to invest yourself in your gym and there’s times when you need to invest yourself in other things. With Pat reinvested in us, every morning we’re back to team practices, he’s teaching us things. Just from this six to eight week camp alone, I’ve learned a ton. Enough to go over for a year and work on. Having him back, you’re going to see a lot more champions. Not only that, but after a changing of the guard, it takes everyone a year or two to catch their stride again. We had all those champions and now it’s young guys. Myself, Ryan McGivern, Ben Rothwell, L.C. Davis, Jesse Lennox. It’s a changing of the guard. Those guys are going to come forward and we’re going to show the world a new Miletich team.
Jonathan Snowden: How has fighting in the UFC been different than fighting in the IFL or Adrenaline MMA?
Rory Markham: Me and Mike C. (Mike Ciesnolevicz) were talking about this last night. We were sitting next to each other and Mike C said ‘I could fight all over the world, any country, any continent, any show, and if I didn’t make it to the UFC, I wouldn’t have accomplished what I set out to do.’ I felt the same way. AS a fighter, we all aspire to be there. It’s the pinnacle of the sport. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to convince themselves of something that’s not true. It’s the pinnacle of the sport. We all know it. It’s where the best talent is, the best competition. In all reality, it’s the big leagues. When you make it, you can say you’ve been to the end of the earth in this sport. I really don’t think if I’d gone on to have a very successful career elsewhere in other organizations, I don’t think I’d feel 100 percent satisfied. I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Jonathan Snowden: All that said, I was a big fan of the IFL. Why do you think the IFL didn’t make it? Everyone associated with it seemed to love it? What are your thoughts about coming up in the IFL as a young fighter?
Rory Markham: What a great experience for me. It was the perfect opportunity. It groomed me for these moments in the UFC. What an excellent idea, especially for fighters. We had five other guys fighting next to us. We had our coaches with us. That was the best part of it, that team camaraderie, busting chops and joking around with one another.
I fought some pretty tough guys in the IFL and it gave me a great sense of security in these upcoming fights. I’m not really that nervous about going to London to fight a guy in his hometown. I’ve been there and done that against guys from the hometown teams in the IFL. It’s nothing new to us.
Jonathan Snowden: How concerned are you about the referee in a fight. I know you’ve been knocked down several times and then come back to win. How much do you worry about an early stoppage? How much do you think about how the referee will respond in the cage?
Rory Markham: You think about it for a second or two when you get hurt. That’s when I tell myself, ‘You better get moving because I’m not going to have this guy stop it on a phony call.’ I try to give the referee the look, an eyeball, to let him know, ‘I’m okay man.’ I hope to God he’s watched some tape on me, because I can take a beating.
Jonathan Snowden: That’s for certain. One thing we’ve learned, watching you fight, is that you have a lot of heart and determination. How much of your success is skill and technique, how much is athleticism, and how much of it is that warrior spirit?
Rory Markham: I’d say 50 percent technique, zero percent athleticism, and 100 percent heart and warrior spirit.
Jonathan Snowden: There are so many great fighters in the UFC in your weight class. You talked about GSP being one of your role models. Are you ready to compete with the likes of GSP?
Rory Markham: I think this fight will definitely give us a barometer for where I am. That’s why I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s the perfect opponent for me-he has one win in the UFC and I have one win in the UFC. He has roughly 20 fights, I have 20 fights. We will see where I’m at. It’s the perfect test for me.
Jonathan Snowden: How much did training with an elite 170 pounder like Hughes help? Does it give you confidence that you can compete with a guy like that?
Rory Markham: Rolling with Matt, getting my butt kicked by Matt, was always great for me. Him and Pat, the two most dominating welterweights to ever grace the UFC, going with them full out always gave me great confidence.
Jonathan Snowden: What should fans expect from your fight on Saturday
Rory Markham: Obviously, excitement. If anyone knows me as a fighter, they know I fight with my heart. It’s no secret that I can take a punch and I go out there and immerse myself in the fight. I try to have fun with it. That’s the biggest thing for me. I hope to get hit less, have an exciting battle, and hope I win a lot of fans. Especially the ones in England, because my ultimate goal is to be an internationally recognized fighter.