(Eliot Marshall lands a shot on Jason Brilz – photo courtesty Hedges/Zuffa)
Ask any new father about having a child and inevitably they’ll tell you about the irrevocable changes to their lifestyle made by the little bundle of joy. With a three-month old son at home, Eliot Marshall is no exception.On December 4, Eliot’s wife Renee gave birth to Kannen Henry Marshall, the couple’s first child.Instead of the typical stress that accompanies a new addition to a family, Marshall has found his son and the rigors of caring for him to be a calming influence, one that Marshall hopes will benefit his career.
“It’s been great for my career so far. When I go train, I don’t think about my family; I focus on my training. When I come home, I don’t think about the training that just happened. There are two Eliot Marshalls: the one that goes and trains and fights, and the one that comes home and is dad. It’s been nice. Sometimes when you’re just sitting at home by yourself, you sit there and [obsess] about the fight 24/7. Now, I don’t really do that. I come home and I play with my baby. I change his diapers, I feed him and do all the stuff that parents do.”
It was shortly after the birth of his son that Marshall received a call from Joe Silva, the matchmaker for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The unpredictable nature of the fight business collided with the inevitable changes resulting from the birth of a child and left Marshall with the unenviable task of choosing between supporting his family financially or spending time with his newborn son.
“Joe Silva called me about a week after my baby was born to see if I could fight on short notice,” explained Marshall. “I told him ‘I just had a baby, no way.'”
For any fighter, there’s always a risk associated with turning down a fight, but it was a risk he was happy to take. Though there was no guarantee of when Marshall would next have the chance to fight, by refusing a fight on the UFC 108 event on January 2, Marshall was able to relish his time as a new father and, along with his wife Renee, set a strong foundation for their family. If that alone didn’t justify Marshall’s decision, the fact that it led to a fight on the first UFC event on the Versus network, to take place in Marshall’s backyard, seemed to be proof that he had made the correct decision.
“So I [told Silva] ‘no,’ but I was like ‘man, I can totally be ready and I’d love to fight on either one of the cards in my hometowns, either New Jersey or Denver. He gave me Denver.”
Though Marshall has lived in Colorado since 1998, he grew up in New Jersey. It was there, when he was a young boy, that the seeds of a career in the Martial Arts were originally sewn.
“I wanted to own my own Karate school when I was a kid. I’ve been doing Martial Arts my whole life. I saw Karate Kid when I was six years old and I started doing Karate. I did Karate from the time I was six until I moved away to college when I was 18.”
It was then that Marshall matriculated to the University of Colorado. Still with aspirations of opening his own school of Martial Arts, Marshall’s focus shifted slightly as he was about to leave home.
“Right before I moved away to college, some of the guys I had been doing Karate with my whole life started doing this stuff called Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and this was 1998 so it was still very rare in the States. So I moved away to Colorado and I found Amal Easton, who was getting ready to open a school, and I just started training Jiu-Jitsu in 1999. I was going to college, and I was broke, I didn’t have any money, but I didn’t really care; I just really wanted to train Jiu-Jitsu.”
The hold Jiu-Jitsu had on Marshall was already tight, but he did not immediately submit. As a student at the University of Colorado, Marshall studied and ultimately earned his degree in Mathematics. If all else failed, Marshall would have something on which to fall back.
“From the end of my Freshman year to the beginning of my Sophomore year, I was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be an actuary,'” Marshall explained. “Then I just really fell in love with Jiu-Jitsu at the beginning of my Sophomore year and I just kept doing it and I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Marshall’s passion for Jiu-Jitsu continued to blossom. He went on to compete in and win dozens of grappling tournaments and eventually began teaching at Easton BJJ. Marshall had realized his boyhood dream. Unfortunately for Marshall, his boyhood dream failed to account for the cost of sustaining a family. He had seen UFC events and, with his backgrounds in both Karate and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, felt that he could give the sport a try. With little money coming in, Marshall’s wife gave him an ultimatum.
“I always said I wanted to [compete in Mixed Martial Arts],” Marshall recalled. “I was always going ‘I’m gonna fight, I’m gonna fight, I’m gonna fight,’ and [my wife] got sick of hearing ‘I’m going to.’ She told me, ‘either do it or don’t do it.’ One day, I was taking a shower. I was just doing Jiu-Jitsu then and my wife said ‘let’s either fight or not fight. Fight or move on. You’ve got to do something with your life. You’ve got to have a job.’ So I called the local promoter the next day.”
Marshall won his first fight and continued his winning ways through his first five contests. For his sixth fight, Marshall was set to face off against former UFC fighter Rob MacDonald. Marshall and those closest to him knew the opportunity with which the fight presented him. All that was left was for Marshall to win the fight. The problem was, the fight had become an afterthought.
Almost bemused by what happened, Marshall explained that, “the one time I really got my ass kicked was when I fought Rob MacDonald. Everyone was like ‘oh man, you’re going to beat Rob MacDonald and you’re going to be 6-0 and you’re going to go to the UFC,’ and I was like ‘aw hell yeah!’ Next thing I know, I get my ass kicked because I wasn’t thinking about Rob MacDonald.”
Heading into the biggest fight of his career, it would be very easy for Marshall to once again look ahead. Instead, having learned his lesson, Marshall has narrowed his scope to what he describes as “200 feet ahead.” Until March 21, Marshall’s sights will be set on former IFL Light Heavyweight champion and former UFC Light Heavyweight challenger Vladimir Matyushenko, a two-time National Junior College wrestling champion who has three times as many fights as Marshall and only one loss since 2003. Marshall admits that wrestling is the aspect of his game that he is most trying to improve, but any concerns caused by Matyushenko’s credentials remain well hidden. All that matters to Marshall are the fifteen minutes he’ll have in the cage with his opponent.
“[Matyushenko] might be better than me today and he might be better than me on March 22nd,” Marshall admitted. “I don’t really care because I’m going to be the best on March 21st.”
If Marshall proves that he is the superior fighter on March 21st, he’ll certainly move up in the UFC’s Light Heavyweight division. Though Marshall welcomes any challenger that the UFC wishes to put in front of him, there is one fighter in particular with whom Marshall would like to settle the score.
“[Ryan] Bader is a contender, so for sure I want to fight him again. I honestly believe that if we’re going to scrap, if we’re both going to try to finish the fight, I think I’m going to be the winner.”
Against the undefeated Bader, Marshall would likely find himself to be the underdog. It’s not a situation with which Marshall is either unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
“I was supposed to lose to Vinny [Magalhaes],” Marshall recalled. “Vinny and I had the same strength and his [Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu] was better. I was supposed to lose to [Jason] Brilz. I didn’t lose to either one of them. I’m sure I’m supposed to lose to Matyushenko. I can’t fathom that I’m the favorite. He deserves to be the favorite. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to win. You’ve got to go in there and you’ve got to fight. We’ll see what happens.”