(There’s no quit in MacGrath, which should make for a barnburner against Aurelio Thursday night – PicProps: TopMMANews)
Matt MacGrath’s biggest weapons might just be his drive and determination.
Much like how he doesn’t let his full time job as a chef and obligations of being a father and husband prevent him from training twice a day, the 31-year-old New Glasgow, Nova Scotia native has never let his status as an underdog prevent him from winning fights he was picked to lose.
A typical day for MacGrath starts at around 4:00 am when he gets up to get ready for work at 5:00 am at the provincial Board of Health in Prince Edward Island. When he gets off at 1:00 pm, he heads home for a brief rest before heading to hone his skills at one of several gyms he trains at to work . Depending on his work schedule the next day, he may make the four-hour trek to his main camp at Titans MMA in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If he has to work the following day he may opt to work out closer to home in the afternoon and evening with family time sandwiched in between training sessions. He says it’s a lot of work balancing work, training and family, but he feels that the sacrifices and perseverance will pay off sooner than later.
“My wife’s pretty understanding. Lots of times I don’t see her or my daughter for days. My job is a government job so I have benefits, tons of vacation and plenty of sick days if I need time off for fights. I can take up to a two-year leave off of work. If I start leapfrogging forward and things start to take off for me, which is what I’m hoping happens,” he explains. “I can take six months, a year, two years off depending on what I need and if I go even further, I have no problem walking away from it for good. As the doors open I’ll make some changes.”
His next attempt at “leapfrogging forward” will come Thursday night when he takes on seasoned PRIDE and UFC veteran and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Marcus “Maximus” Aurelio at MMA Live 1 in London, Ontario, Canada. Despite taking the bout on just two week’s notice, MacGrath says that he’s confident of his chances of beating Aurelio and that the rewards outweigh the costs of having a brief training camp for such a big fight.
“I kind of suspected that someone from one of these Ontario cards was going to fall of, so I was preparing to replace somebody. I was already in top shape from my last fight. Then I heard that it was Cory McDonald that was out and I was asked if I could fight Marcus, and I accepted it right away. I didn’t take it because of who he was, I took the fight because it’s been tough for me to get a fight with anybody in Canada. I want to fight one of the top guys in the country so I can move up in the rankings, but no one would take a fight with me,” MacGrath points out. “There aren’t too many 170s that I wouldn’t take a fight with and Marcus is a natural 155er moving up, so it’s certainly a good opportunity for me and I’m looking forward to it. He’s definitely the biggest name I’ve fought for sure. I certainly think if I can walk away with a win here I can leapfrog up the rankings and maybe get some important phone calls in the near future.”
Although he finds himself once again in the familiar role of underdog, MacGrath says when people bet against him they usually end up wishing they hadn’t, especially if they haven’t done their homework
“I’m used to people picking against me. I kind of thought they brought me in to lose my last fight because I knew that the promoter was British and so was my opponent, Dean Amasinger. I kind of knew that’s what was going on, but I just thought he was such a one-dimensional fighter that he really didn’t hold any advantages over me, so I knew I could prove them wrong,” he says. “I had too many tools to beat him with. I only saw his one opportunity to beat me being by knockout, but I think I even won the stand-up battle against him. I felt good in that fight. Now that I watched it I think I could have pushed the pace a little more and maybe even got the finish.”
A black belt in judo who says he prefers to rely on his wrestling pedigree that goes back to his high school days, MacGrath says that his level of judo is comparable to anyone’s in MMA, but the reason he doesn’t use it much is because of the impracticality of some of its techniques.
“To be honest, my level of judo is probably at the same level as Karo [Parisyan’s]. As I made the transition to MMA I did a lot of wrestling too and I felt that wrestling was a better base overall. A lot of times when you’re doing hip throws and stuff like that you’re giving up your back and I don’t like to do that,” MacGrath says. “I like to stay square and it seems like I’m doing a lot more wrestling. It’s all relative. Judo, wrestling, gi, no-gi – it’s really all the same sport to me. I still practice judo but I’m coaching more judo than competing. When I’m training for fights I mostly train my wrestling. I still do the odd thing from judo, but that’s where my base on the ground originates from.”
It’s funny to MacGrath looking back that he now finds himself on the cusp of making it to the upper echelons of the sport, considering he had no interest in fighting when he first began training in MMA.
“I was going to Titans in Halifax to improve my ground work for judo. I was still competing back then and I had no interest in competing in MMA. I watched a few of these fight cards and they asked me to fight a bunch of times and eventually I just said yes,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I loved the training. I won my first fight in 60 seconds and I never looked back. My first couple fights I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll go and make 500 bucks. I’m training and in shape anyway, so why not?’ I’d go away to a judo or a wrestling tournament in Toronto for the weekend and it would cost me 500 to 700 bucks to compete because they’re amateur sports. Why not train hard, be fit, test your skills against someone and make a couple bucks? I’m really looking forward and I’d love to be able to quit my job and pay my bills and feed my family by fighting.”
Throughout his career, the biggest complaint that MacGrath’s opponents have made about the polite Nova Scotian aren’t about something he has said or done, it’s the fact that his fight footage is about as hard to find as the holy grail. MacGrath says that might change eventually, but until then he’ll take any leg up he can get over the competition.
“Claude Patrick called me “The Ghost” because he couldn’t find any information on me at all. It’s just a matter of time before more clips of my fights end up online, but until that happens I’ll enjoy the advantage I have. When I fought Amasinger I watched every one of his fights half a dozen times. The same with Marcus,” he explains. “I can watch every one of his fights, one here and one there and pick out certain things. His style really hasn’t changed. If I had as many fights as