A hundred years from now, if someone wanted to tell the world who Mike Pyle was, the best place to look would be the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis, Tennessee on the night of November 13, 1999, when the 170-pound jiu-jitsu fighter made his mixed martial arts debut against a hometown favorite named Quinton Jackson.
Yeah, the same guy who went on to win the UFC light heavyweight title.
“The guy I was supposed to fight – that was actually in my weight class - got hurt at a jiu-jitsu tournament,” recalled Pyle, who was 24 at the time. “So they called me and asked me if I was down to fight Rampage. I was like ‘yeah, let’s do it.’”
Just like that?
“I was happy to be there,” he said, almost shocked that he would be asked such a question. “It was what I wanted; I wanted a fight, so I got one, that’s for sure.”
Pyle lost a decision to Jackson that night, a feat in itself considering that he was giving up more than 30 pounds to his opponent, and from then on he continued to epitomize the adage, ‘have gloves, will travel,’ as he fought everywhere from Biloxi to Aarhus, Las Vegas to Copenhagen. Pyle, if you didn’t know already, is a fighter. And as he awaits this Saturday’s assignment in London against unbeaten John Hathaway, nothing has changed much for the Dresden, Tennessee native.
Have gloves, will travel.
“It doesn’t matter where it’s at – it could be here, it could be over there – I’m going in to do my job and that’s to go in there and beat him,” said Pyle. “That’s what I’m training for, and that’s what I’ve been eating, sleeping and breathing – going in there and competing at my best on that day against John Hathaway. So that’s what I’m gonna do. I feel good about it, I kinda like being the underdog, I like being the guy who’s gonna get booed and who nobody’s gonna like there, but I think I’ll capture some fans after it’s all said and done.”
He usually does, because win or lose, he’s coming to fight. And more often than not, he’s had his hand raised at the end of the night, 19 times in 27 fights, with 17 of those wins coming by way of submission. Among the names on his victims’ list? Jon Fitch, Shonie Carter, Brian Gassaway, Chris Wilson, and most recently, Jesse Lennox, who he finished off with a triangle choke with 16 seconds left in their UFC 115 bout.
It was Pyle’s second UFC win in four tries, evening his slate at .500 and allowing him to come in as a replacement for the injured Dong Hyun Kim against Hathaway. It’s the type of opportunity some would take a moment or two to ponder, but for Pyle, taking the fight was a no brainer, and as far as being the veteran underdog against the highly touted rising star, the 35-year old Pyle doesn’t care being in the position he’s in.
“That’s expected and that’s how this sport is gonna grow and I’m a part of this sport,” he said. “Whether I like it or not, which I do, there are gonna be younger, stronger, faster guys coming in with more talent. That’s all there is to it, and why not pit yourself against them and just keep going until you just can’t anymore? It’s all good fun and I’m a fighter – whether you’re younger or older, I’m gonna fight you anyway and put myself to the test.”
And in the 23-year old Hathaway, he sees a talented young fighter who is just that – a young fighter who may not have the miles on his experience odometer to deal with an opponent with over a decade in the fight game.
“He’s a young guy coming in who’s eager, who’s trying to make a name for himself, and he is making a name for himself coming off a good performance against (Diego) Sanchez and he looked good doing it,” said Pyle of Brighton’s Hathaway. “But a lot of the fighters he’s faced have always been shorter and he’s never really had to deal with someone who was almost his length, so I look forward to the challenge. I think that I’m gonna have the edge on him. I’ve got him on experience and just sheer guts and toughness, and I think I’m an all-around more skillful guy than him when it comes down to it.”
Pyle also comes into the O2 Arena with few expectations on his shoulders. Hathaway must deal with fighting at home and with the idea of being the UK’s Next Big Thing. Pyle? He’s been through the ups and downs of the game, he’s emerged unscathed, and now it’s time for him to have a little fun with this after a long training camp.
“There’s a big mental game,” he said. “You’ve got to learn about yourself and how to deal with the pressures that come with fighting. We’re some of the hardest working athletes out there, hands down, probably the hardest working when it comes to preparing for our job. We’ve got to do tons of things to be ready for this, and not just boxing or grappling. It’s hard, and to put it all together, you learn techniques for that too, and the more you learn, the easier it gets for you and the more fun you get to have. At the end of the day, it’s you and that guy in the cage, and you gotta go out and have some fun because you work so hard and training’s not fun. So there’s gotta be something fun coming from it, and the fight is where you should have your fun and try the things you’ve been working on and really try to put on a good show and hope that the UFC will have you back again.”
If Pyle wins on Saturday night, he will not only be back, he’ll probably propel himself up a few rungs on the crowded welterweight ladder. If he loses, expect to see him again too because as mentioned earlier, he comes to fight when the bell sounds. But as far as his own look into the future, he left his crystal ball back home in his adopted city of Las Vegas.
“I want to work my ass off in the gym, go out and put on a good show, and if those performances and actions put me in line for a belt, then that’s what’s gonna happen,” he said. “But until that day comes and until I climb those ranks, I’m gonna put it on the line and have some fun with it. I’ve had some ups and downs in UFC, I’m shaking out the cobwebs from my losses, holding my head high, and coming in guns blazing.”
And if Hathaway’s not careful, he may just get caught in some quicksand.
“That’s the way that I like to fight and why I got the nickname “Quicksand” given to me,” he said. “The harder you’re fighting in the quicksand, the worse it’s gonna get and you’re gonna keep sinking. I always try to set things up and I don’t try to bully my way into submissions because then they know it’s coming. And there’s no better way to get a nice, fast, and clean sub then to go with the flow and try to keep my technique sound where I know that if I pressure a guy into one certain way, he’s gonna go another way to get out, and that’s what I’m looking for. It’s like going fishing. I’m trying to outsmart him and hopefully I’ll hook him.”