Outside the Octagon, Tom Watson likes to joke around. Not that he would tell you that he’s joking, his deadpan wit unleashed with the granddaddy of all poker faces. So when he wrote in his UFC bio that in the lead-up to his UFC 169 fight with Nick Catone “Magic is about the only thing that has kept me sane in getting ready for this fight,” you had to laugh.
But then for the second consecutive fight, the tape of my pre-fight interview with the Brit mysteriously hit the skids. The first time, before his bout with Thales Leites last August, the tape turned into a garbled mess that was only remedied by the use of a program to speed up the resulting .wav file to an understandable level. This time, the tape simply snapped. I could blame it on the cold in New York or simply one of those things, but maybe it’s Watson’s magic.
Since he’s currently on a plane to New Jersey to get ready for his Saturday bout with Catone, I can’t ask Watson about such matters, but odds are, he would just shake his head and say “I told you so.”
That’s kind of the answer I got when I queried him about his training with the Taiwanese bobsled team or the preparation for fights that he said involved watching camel wrestling. He said it was all true, not giving away a thing. And frankly, if you’ve been commenting on things from the other side of the Octagon for long enough, you light candles in church on Sunday hoping for Tom Watsons to come around and take you away from the clichés and same ol’ same ol’ that can be part of covering professional sports for a living.
And whether he’s laughing with you or just taking you along for a ride, the bottom line is that you are compelled to keep following the story either way. It’s the same way for his fighting career, though that is no laughing matter, not back when he started, not now, and not ever.
The fight is why he does this, why he makes the sacrifices that all fighters make. It’s not for the trappings of being a fighter, but for putting on the gloves and getting after it on the night. If you talk to him about one of his favorites, former boxing champion Nigel Benn, it’s clear where he gets his mentality from. “The Dark Destroyer” was beloved for the way he fought and his willingness to take on all comers. You may not remember his won-loss record or the titles he won, but you remember him.
That’s apparently what Watson is chasing. Yes, he’s lost two of his three bouts since arriving in the UFC in 2012, but if you asked someone for a quick answer with their thoughts on the Southampton native, odds are they won’t recite the results of his bouts with Brad Tavares, Stanislav Nedkov, and Thales Leites. Instead, they’ll probably say: Tavares ‘good fight,’ Nedkov ‘great fight and great finish,’ and Leites ‘if Watson didn’t get taken down, he probably would have scored a knockout.’
See, it’s about the performances, not always the wins and losses. And it’s always been like that for someone who said, when asked his reason for fighting, “I realized that by living a few years of my life like most won't, I could live the rest of my life like most can't.”
Watson’s no fool though. He knows that you can’t feel too secure in the UFC with a 1-2 record heading into your next fight. He’s well aware that a win over Catone this weekend opens a lot more doors for him, while a loss, well, that could close some. When we spoke about the fight, Watson said he was going to make his comments poetic, declaring that while you have a better chance of getting hit by a car than winning the lottery, he was going to New Jersey to win the lottery. I told him that wasn’t too poetic since it didn’t rhyme.
“Another misconception,” he said.
There are few, if any, misconceptions about Watson on fight night though. He won’t change his style or his fighting philosophy to secure a victory. That’s not in his makeup. He will fight the way he has for the nearly eight years he’s done so as a professional mixed martial artist. As famed boxing trainer Cus D’Amato once said “People who are born round don’t die square.”
Tom Watson is Tom Watson, and when you see him in the Octagon, his objective is to fight and win, in that order. No frills, no fancy stuff, and no tricks. So maybe the magic of “Kong” is that there is no magic. It’s all real, not an illusion.