TUF 6 winner prepared for UFC 145 bout with TUF 8 winner Escudero
The career of a mixed martial artist doesn’t come with directions or instructions. For a fighter to find his way through the fray, there comes a time when he has to be able to break from the avenues others have traveled and discover his own personal route to success.
Sometimes this winds up being the path of greatest resistance, and for Mac Danzig, going far off the beaten path suits him perfectly.
Danzig won the sixth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and immediately jumped into the competitive fires of the UFC. While he has faced setbacks in and out of the Octagon, Danzig has continued to push forward despite circumstance and adversity. At UFC 145 he will face Efrain Escudero, a fighter who understands the stark reality of how difficult the path to success in the UFC can be.
“I think it’s a good matchup for me,” Danzig told HeavyMMA. “He’s a tough guy who is well rounded. His strengths are his wrestling, especially his top game, and that poses problems for me. I’ve always had trouble with wrestlers in the past, but the ones I’ve had problems with have used a more relentless style. They are guys who are high level, like Clay Guida and Jim Miller, who know how to get a takedown and keep top position.
“Efrain is more of a scrapper, and he’s not the type of guy who is going to get the top and not do anything. When he gets the top, he wants to work – and that leaves opportunities for a scramble, and that makes for a better fight. I think my standup is better than his, but he is always improving. Stylistically, I believe this is a fight where the fans win, and it could be a Fight of the Night candidate if he brings it like I think he will.”
Danzig and Escudero experienced similar results following the reality program. After finding victory immediately out of the gates, they came up short in their next time out. While Danzig would go on to lose three consecutive fights, there wasn’t an uninspired performance to be found. Escudero, at times, appeared to lack focus and was released by the UFC after missing weight and being submitted in his UFC Fight Night 22 bout with Charles Oliveira. Danzig believes he has the edge in the matchup when it comes to mental toughness, but believes recent additions to Escudero’s training should bring “Hecho en Mexico” assistance in that department.
“I definitely see mental toughness playing a factor in this fight,” Danzig said. “I have to make sure I’m in the right frame of mind, do the right thing and fight smart. I have to stay mentally strong. At the same time, I have noticed in his past fights the mental side has been a weakness for him. By that, I mean in some of his past fights he’s allowed himself to be sucked into his opponent’s style. If you watch him when he fought Oliveria, he started mimicking Oliveira’s style trying to match him and was sucked into that game.
“I’ve recognized that, but I’m not going to bank on him being mentally weak for this fight. He’s changed up his training camp and is training with Ben Henderson. Being around Ben Henderson is going to be good for his mental game because Ben is a guy who works very hard, is extremely focused and has brought himself up to where he is a world champion. Having a guy like that in your corner and training with a guy who is that positive is going to rub off. I expect him to be much improved in that area and whether he is or isn’t, I’m ready for him.”
With both fighters coming off recent losses, the motivation for their matchup isn’t difficult to find. Danzig dropped a unanimous decision in his rematch with Matt Wiman and Escudero, who fought his way back into the organization, came out on the business end of his return against Jacob Volkmann. These circumstances would seem to carry an immense amount of pressure, but Danzig believes he has reached a point of his career where there isn’t anything he hasn’t already learned to deal with.
“Every single fight in the UFC carries pressure,” Danzig said. “If you have seven wins in a row, then you are possibly looking at a title shot and there is going to be pressure to keep winning. If it’s your first fight ever in the UFC, there is a ton of pressure on your shoulders. If you have two or three losses in a row, it’s there as well. I feel now I’ve been through it all. I’ve had wins, losses and everything in between. I’ve dealt with it all in the UFC and the pressure is always going to be there. If you care about your career and you are serious about it, you are always going to feel it. I’ve learned how to deal with it and now I’m not so worried about it.
“If you look at the hypothetical and it’s not a great fight, one of us has a bad performance and loses, it may be a contract release type of situation – but you can’t think that way. You have to stay headstrong and worry about that when and if the time comes. Personally, I’m not thinking about it. I’m thinking about winning this fight and performing well.
“I’m lucky to be in an organization that recognizes when a fighter puts it on the line and fights hard. When you fight the toughest guys and you perform well, win or lose, they will keep you on. They’ve shown that to me. I’ve never fought a chump, first-timer or a scrub. There aren’t many of those guys in the UFC and the few that are I’ve never been matched up against. I’ve never looked for easy fights just to pad my record. Win or lose, I’ve always put it all on the line.
“We are in a situation where it’s potentially do or die, and I’m not even worried about it anymore. I have a lot of experience and it’s about constantly evolving. There is no way you could ever really master this sport. No one will ever know everything there is to know about mixed martial arts. The day you stop learning is the day you stop evolving. I’m back to learning again and being a student of the game. I’m in it for the long haul. If there ever came a day where I was released from my contract with the UFC, it wouldn’t be over for me. I would fight my way back here just like Efrain has done. I’m in it to win it.”
One of the methods Danzig uses to alleviate the stresses and rigors of his career is photography. A gifted artist behind the lens, Danzig is well known throughout the MMA community for his talents. In his photography, Danzig infuses his love for nature and self-expression into the medium and while time has recently been difficult to come by, it is a passion he will continue to pursue.
“It is the one thing that keeps me in balance,” Danzig said. “What is funny about the whole thing is that I wasn’t able to really get into doing my photography until I started making a living in this sport. Now it’s become my release and it’s what I do to get my mind off of things. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I normally do with my photography because I’ve taken on the responsibility of being a full-time parent in addition to my training. I’m taking my daughter with me to my evening training sessions and I have a very limited amount of help from anyone. She is in pre-school but I’m pretty much raising her 95% of the time on my own as a single parent. In that situation, it is very difficult to skip out for a week to shoot photos like I would after my fights like I used to. I would go to these remote places and take pictures.
“I will continue to try to do it as much as I can because I need that balance. I train and work so hard in the gym and I don’t want to even see the inside of a gym following a fight. Nature is always something that has been very important and special to me. A lot of people don’t get to experience it. They think gathering with family at a generic campground is experiencing nature and they never get to go out to these remote places and see how beautiful it is. There are places so far off the beaten path which are truly amazing. Whether it’s a rain forest in the Pacific Northwest or an incredible rock formation in the middle of the southwest desert that are miles from the closest road, those are the places where you can find the most beautiful aspects of nature.”
While a return to nature is in the back of his mind, Danzig’s main focus is on what is directly in front of him in Escudero. Throughout his career, he has seen both the upside and the downside of the sport and this has allowed him to learn valuable lessons along the way. Over the years, his priorities may have shifted – but that hasn’t stopped his pursuit of becoming the best father and fighter he can possibly be.
“I have a lot of responsibility, hardly any time outside of training, and the time I do get is spent with my daughter,” Danzig said. “I’m living directly through her and the things I do in between training sessions are all for her. It’s a good way to be because I’m watching her grow and experiencing life. I’m able to give her some of the things I didn’t have as a kid, and that feels really good. We are bonding in that way, and even though it’s hectic and at times stressful, it is definitely worth it.
“I’m a fighter who is continuing to learn and evolve. I’m going to surprise some people with a few new techniques, but at the same time fans are going to see the same hard-nosed fighter with a lot of heart that I always have been. I’m never going to change that. I’m never going to be the type of guy that is in there to go in and lay on someone or throw a few punches and run. I’m not that type of guy. I try to be a smart fighter, but at the same time I’m a fan of the sport. I try to be entertaining. I’m the same old Mac Danzig, but I’m always going to be looking to improve myself and climb the ladder of higher technique.”