(‘I’m here to eat some hummus and kick some ass. I am all out of hummus.’)
Mac Danzig may be one of the most accomplished fighters yet to win Spike TV’s The Ultimate Fighter, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling the same pressure to live up to the hype that other winners have labored under. His submission victory over Mark Bocek on his first UFC pay-per-view this past Saturday was a good start to his UFC career, but Danzig is hoping that it’s just the beginning.
In this exclusive Cage Potato interview Danzig talks about the price of celebrity, about his future in the UFC’s lightweight division, and about his hard-fought victory in Montreal.
CagePotato.com: First of all, congratulations on your victory. Looking at this matchup beforehand, it seemed like you were a pretty heavy favorite, 5-1 according to some of the betting lines. Were you expecting Mark Bocek to be as tough as he was?
Yeah, I knew it would be a really tough fight. I thought it had potential to be tougher than it was. The betting lines don’t really mean anything to me and I try not to look at them. I was kind of pissed when I did see them, actually, because I thought to myself, ‘Man, they’re not giving this guy enough credit.’
It’s kind of a tough situation for me because everyone’s just expecting me to steamroll this guy. He didn’t have a big name and so people didn’t realize how tough he was. It’s really a no-win situation because people just expect me to win and if I don’t it really messes up my status in the sport. If I do win, it’s like, hey, no big deal. But I knew how tough he was. He and I have a common opponent, this guy named John Mahlow, and he took me to a decision while Mark Bocek submitted him in the first round. So I knew what he was capable of and I knew it was going to be a tough fight.
Toward the end of the fight when he was cut and his eye was swelling up pretty badly it looked like you were able to land the straight right at will, like he couldn’t see it coming at all. Was that something you noticed right away and did you try and exploit that?
When I first cut him with that knee and I saw how bad it was I thought there was a chance they might stop it because of the cut. But I wasn’t going to wait around for that to happen. I wanted to finish him. It was a pretty nasty cut, though. The blood was squirting about two feet out at one point, so I was thinking to circle to my right and stay on his left side where he might have trouble seeing.
When the doctors checked him out he got a little breather and he came back in there with a sense of desperation, trying to swing for the fences and get a knockout. I felt like I was on my way to setting up a pretty good knockout before they stopped it to look at the cut, but who knows.
Going into this fight – your first since winning The Ultimate Fighter – what was the pressure like? Were you feeling that burden of being a TUF winner?
The way I look at it, I’m always just trying my best to win every fight. I did feel that pressure. I felt like maybe people weren’t taking me seriously, but when it comes down to it, the way I look at it is people are going to talk badly and be negative as much as they want anyway. Unfortunately, it seems like that’s the way a lot of MMA fans are. They’re very fickle and always want to look at the negative and talk about what a guy hasn’t done. I feel like there will probably never be a point in my career where I’ll be able to silence all the nay-sayers, so I can’t worry about it too much.
At the same time, this fight was really important for my career. Most guys who come off The Ultimate Fighter get an easy fight their first fight back. You know, Forrest Griffin fought Bill Mahood. Kendall Grove fought that Chris Price guy. Those guys are not even UFC level, really. No fight is easy, but those are fairly easy fights for the UFC.
This guy they threw me, he was a tough guy and at the same time he didn’t have a big name, so most people wrote him off. I did feel some pressure, but I’ll tell you what, it was nothing like the pressure going into The Ultimate Fighter finale. There you had all those people with their opinions and all the drama from the show – you can just feel it. There’s an energy in that situation that’s very, very stressful.
Now, I feel like no matter how much pressure I have on me I’ll never have that situation with that much drama and stress again. I’m just happy to be doing regular fights like a regular fighter and be done with The Ultimate Fighter stigma as much as I can.
You mention the TUF stigma. The UFC has been accused of protecting TUF winners in the past in the hopes of getting the most out of that investment. Nate Diaz has complained about not getting enough fights because of it. What are your thoughts on that? Do you know what they have planned for you next?
My conversations with [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva have been brief, but when I have talked to him he was basically telling me that he’s glad he has someone coming out of The Ultimate Fighter who he doesn’t have to baby, who he can send in there against high-level guys. I think it’s just going to have to get to the point where the UFC feels like they can market a match with me and a Roger Huerta or a Kenny Florian. I don’t necessarily mean those guys specifically, I just mean someone with a name like that in a marquee matchup.
It makes me feel good that they have that confidence in me, but at the same time I don’t really care. If they give me someone who people would call a sub-par opponent, I don’t mind as long as I’m moving forward with my career and as long as it will help me get a fight against a bigger name opponent later on.
I’m sure I’ll fight someone tough my next time out, but I have no idea what they’ll do. After Nate Diaz fought Junior Assuncao, who wasn’t really a high-level fighter, they threw him in against some tough guys and he proved that he belongs there. Hopefully they’ll do the same thing with me and throw me some bigger names so I can prove to people where I belong.
The last time we talked was before the TUF finale. How has your life changed since then? What’s been the most surprising part for you?
Just the fact that I’m recognized so much is a big change. I have people literally coming up to me on the street. It’s sort of a cliché, but it’s true. People come right up to me on the street, people recognize me in traffic, people talk to me in stores, wherever I go. Sometimes it’s a pain in the ass because I just want to do normal things. I guess I’ve entered into what you might call small-time celebrity status or underground celebrity status. It’s kind of weird.
Especially with the 18-30 year-old male group, those people see me quite often and point me out in public, which is strange. Other than that, I’d like to think that I haven’t changed personally too much. The only other thing is that financially my life has changed for the better.
I’m nowhere near being a wealthy person, but I’m happy with money for the first time in my life. I’m making a living fighting and I don’t have to go bounce at a club on the weekends or hustle people for private lessons and teach a bunch of classes. I’m living comfortably as far as I’m concerned and that means everything to me. For so many years I’ve struggled to get to this point and I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen and I’m really happy about it now. I’ll be damned if I’m going to screw it up now and let it slip away. I’m going to stay focused and keep winning fights, keep training hard.
I read that you’re training full-time now at Xtreme Couture. How did that happen, and what’s the atmosphere like there?
I’ve come out to Vegas to train with that same group of guys before every fight for about two years now. I’d come out and stay with Gray [Maynard] and train at Xtreme Couture, and even before it opened up when Forrest Griffin and Jay Hieron and all those guys were at [the] Xyience [Training Center], I’d come out and train with them. It got to the point with the training situation in L.A. where I couldn’t afford to stay and train there. There’s no professionals in L.A. I used to have to make six or seven phone calls every day before practice just to make sure I’d have enough guys to train with.
In Vegas it’s not like that. I didn’t want to leave Los Angeles. I love California, but I couldn’t afford not to be in Vegas. These guys aren’t just in there when they’ve got a fight coming up. On a consistent basis you’ve got Gray Maynard, Tyson Griffin, John Alessio, Sam Stout, Chris Horodecki, Mike Pyle, Jay Hieron, Frank Trigg, Phil Baroni, Wanderlei Silva, the list just goes on. You can step in and see them in there every day. I couldn’t afford not to be a part of that.
I made the move the first of March, I moved out there and rented a house, and that’s where I’m going to be for the next few years at least. It’s important not only to train hard with good guys but also to get better technically. That’s what I’ve got to do if I’m going to make a run at a title in my career. I’ve got to get better. I’m treating it like a profession, like it should be treated.
Training with so many of the high-profile guys in your weight class, do you ever get concerned that you guys might have to fight each other some day? How many guys can really train together before that becomes inevitable?
That question gets brought up pretty often, but I don’t think any of us are too worried about it right now. The talent pool is so deep at 155 that there’s just so many good guys to go around. Chris Horodecki is in with the IFL. Me, Gray Maynard, Sam Stout and Tyson Griffin, none of us would be fighting each other any time soon. The only way any combination of us would ever fight is if a) the money was really good, and b) there’s a real reason for it. In order for that to happen, it would have to be for a title and that would require a situation where two of us have totally cleaned out the weight class. There are so many good guys right now, that seems unlikely.
Thanks for talking with me, Mac. Any last thoughts you want to share?
No, I’m just trying to recover from all the hard training and looking to take some time off and maybe get back in the gym in another week and work on the things I need to work on, and just start improving. That’s what I need to do, and I’m going to do it.