These days, between signings and media obligations, you'll find Kyle Noke at Jackson / Winkeljohn MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There, he trains with some of the best fighters in the world under the guidance of coaches Mike Winklejohn and Greg Jackson, a pair with a reputation for being among the most cerebral in the game. But there was once a simpler time in the fighting life of Noke, who takes on Andrew Craig at UFC on FX 2 this Friday night (US time).
"When I first started out it was just something I was doing, I didn't even think about it," said Noke. "Then a few years after I started fighting and I got the opportunity to meet Greg Jackson and started coming to the States, that's when I realized that's what I wanted to do, and I pursued it from there."
The training was certainly less intense back in the pre-New Mexico days.
"I think about four weeks before I had my first fight and about two weeks after I first started training the guy asked me to have a fight and then two weeks after that I had my first fight; the whole process was about 4 weeks," Noke said. "But when I started fighting that was the fight I was least nervous for; it was fun for me and I wasn't nervous and I just got in there and had a go and then after each fight I got more and more nervous before the fight."
Fighting may not be a carefree whim anymore, but Australia's Noke, who introduced himself to UFC fans through season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, has embraced the higher stakes and stress.
"Everyone gets nervous; if they say they're not nervous they're lying, but it's not bad, you know," said Noke, who was once Steve Irwin's bodyguard. "I've learned to deal with nerves now and it's just part of the competition. Once you're in there, the nerves completely go anyway and once that cage door shuts there's no issue at all."
With Noke's original opponent, Jared Hamman, out with an injury, the Aussie has had to make some adjustments for the fight in Sydney.
"I changed up a bit,” said Noke. “Jared Hamman was a different fighter; he was taller, he was the kind of guy that was gonna be in my face the whole time no matter what I did because he can take a big shot, so we had to change up a little bit. He (Craig) is about the same height as me, so he's got different skill levels; I wouldn't say he's better or worse, but it's just a different opponent for me and different skills, so we had to change up a little bit."
It's the second time in as many fights that his original opponent has been replaced, but Noke maintains that it hasn't stopped him from being ready.
"In my last fight I was supposed to fight Tom Lawlor and then it switched around to Ed Herman, but lucky enough both times there's been enough time to prepare for a new opponent so it's not too bad."
Noke enters this fight after a loss that ended an impressive five fight win streak. Submitted via heel hook by Herman, he says he knows exactly where he went wrong.
"I didn't really think he had it on and I didn't think it was that tight and I tried to spin the wrong way out of it," said Noke. "Again, if I thought it was tight I would have taken it more seriously, but he had a really good hold of it and I just spun the wrong way."
The loss serves as more than a footnote on escaping ankle locks. It's motivation.
"I think every loss motivates you more so I take it as motivation for the next fight. I don't wanna lose again, so it makes me train harder and try and get better for the next fight."
A single loss seems insignificant when compared with what Noke had to overcome to make it to the Octagon in the first place. There's no easy journey to the UFC, but the road from Dubbo was particularly long, making Noke’s desire to stay here and represent his home country well even stronger.
"That's why I've gotta make sure I don't lose this one and go out there and put on a good show,” said Noke. “Especially coming from Australia I think a lot of people don't take us as serious. They think Brazil are big contenders for the UFC and they rank other countries over us so the guys that are in the UFC from Australia, we have to really put on a good show and fight hard to prove we're capable of competing with everyone else."
And this week in Sydney, Australia, he'll be fighting in front of thousands who support that mission.
"Any opportunity to come back home and then fight in Australia for the UFC is just phenomenal; I can't wait to get back there."
Noke Fighting For Himself and Australia
"I think every loss motivates you more so I take it as motivation for the next fight. I don't wanna lose again, so it makes me train harder and try and get better for the next fight." - Kyle Noke