Mike Pyle’s passport has seen plenty of action throughout his career, reflecting his eagerness to battle time zone changes and hostile crowds that came to see the out-of-towner get his you-know-what kicked.
The 36-year-old welterweight, a native of Tennessee, travels to Rio de Janeiro this week to face Ricardo Funch on the UFC 142 undercard. Brazil will mark the eighth different country Pyle has competed in, joining a list comprised of the U.S., Canada, England, Japan, Russia, Lithuania and Denmark.
“I cannot wait to get there,” said the 12-year pro. “I’m actually looking forward to the crowd booing me and all of that.”
Pyle gained a strong sense of what he can expect when he cornered Forrest Griffin at UFC 134 in August of last year (Griffin fought Mauricio “Shogun” Rua). The event was held in Rio and attended by roughly 14,000 frenzied Brazilians, who transformed HSBC Arena into a surreal five-hour party that some media pundits deemed to be the greatest arena atmosphere in UFC history.
“They are very educated on the sport. I’d put it up there in the Top Three UFC crowds I’ve ever seen,” Pyle said. “England was a good one, for UFC 120. I heard a lot of things about Montreal and Ireland, they had chants. The chanting is what makes it so great, how the crowd chimes in together. The Brazil crowd was very educated and stoked, and that was great to see. It was an awesome atmosphere.”
Griffin, the former UFC light heavyweight kingpin, succumbed to Mauricio “Shogun” Rua that night by knockout. Pyle, however, plans to disappoint the hometown folk.
“Right now I’m coming off a (TKO) loss to Rory MacDonald. I am very pissed off at myself and I’m going to make damn sure that a performance like that never happens again,” said Pyle (21-8-1). “It damn sure ain’t happening that night against Ricardo. I’ve got new coaches. I’m going to put on a great show and finish Ricardo – end of story. It’s not going to a decision. I will not be beaten in Brazil. I will die in that cage before I lose. I will not lose.”
Pyle had fashioned a three-fight win streak in the UFC before running into MacDonald, and he came away impressed with the 22-year-old Canadian.
“I think Rory MacDonald is a great fighter and I knew going in that despite his age he has what it takes to be a champion,” Pyle said. “He’s got a lot of talent and he was the better fighter that night. It was such a quick finish and no one likes to go out like that but it happens in this sport. It wasn’t a lucky punch – he meant to land his punches and that’s what he did. I’ve got a lot of respect for him but hopefully he and I get to meet again. It was a crappy performance on my behalf and a great one for him. That’s hard because sometimes you’re only as good as your last fight.”
Swallowing the bitter pill of defeat prompted Pyle, who still trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, to enlist a new head trainer in the form of Nate Pettit. And who exactly is Nate Pettit?
“Nate Pettit is an old school Pat Miletich guy from Boise, Idaho,” Pyle said. “He’s done some kickboxing and is a great MMA coach. I met him here in Vegas and he was training Nik Fekete.”
As he grew nearer to hopping a plane for Brazil, Pyle spoke of how his travelling ways have expanded his sense of self and shaped his view of the world. But it’s been five years he last fought in the South (in Mississippi) and, like crooner Paul Simon, he often yearns to be “Homeward Bound.”
“I wanted to get on the Nashville card (UFC on FX: Melvin Guillard vs. Jim Miller). I came up in the South, so I grew up hunting and fishing. Country boys also like to fight,” Pyle said. “I’m a big fly fisherman and that’s always been a big part of my life. You can learn a lot from those older country boys, a lot about humor. They just had a lot of funny things to say about life and what to do and what not to do. They’re just funny. You learn about being a gentleman but learning to be tough and not take s—t off anybody.
“You have to learn how to be a good storyteller; they can tell some good stories and have you wrapped up in it. So that’s probably something I took away from living in the south. Everybody’s friendly and there’s a lot of hospitality. And there’s some damn good food, too. You know, collard greens and fried chicken, fried green tomatoes … you can’t just beat some of the old-timers around there that won’t hesitate to educate you on something, whether you care to hear it or not (chuckles).”
Pyle Punches Passport...So He Can Punch Funch
"I’m going to put on a great show and finish Ricardo – end of story. It’s not going to a decision." - Mike Pyle