"I’m not that guy that gets an adrenaline rush before his fight, and is mean-mugging everybody. I’m the guy that’s smiling, having a good time, and cracking jokes in the back." - Daron Cruickshank
As the days drop off the calendar, and fight night draws closer, some fighters retreat into themselves and shut out the world around them. They steal themselves away, intensely focused on their upcoming fight, their hotel room in the host city transforming into “The Land Where Jokes Go to Die.”
Fighting is serious business, and the task at hand is treated accordingly.
Daron Cruickshank lives down at the other end of the spectrum.
If you’re one of the more than 12,000 people who follow the 27-year-old Wayne, Michigan native on Twitter (@Cruickshank155), you know this to be true. From training camp photos after the latest “Funk Fitness” class to far too many “Here’s me in the bathroom” pictures than any one person should take, the former Ultimate Fighter contestant keeps it light and easy every day of the week, even during fight week.
“I have fun with every part of the sport: getting ready for the fight, interacting with everybody on Facebook and Twitter, and the fans in general; not being so serious all the time,” explained the fast-talking lightweight who returns to the Octagon next Saturday night opposite John Makdessi in a dark horse Fight of the Night contender.
“I’m not that guy that gets an adrenaline rush before his fight, and is mean-mugging everybody. I’m the guy that’s smiling, having a good time, and cracking jokes in the back. The thing is that you’ve got to be comfortable and you’ve got to be relaxed, and the way I do that is I have fun with it.”
Don’t let his laid back, “let’s have some fun” approach give you the wrong impression though: Cruickshank is no joke when he steps into the cage.
After amassing a 10-2 record on the regional circuit and winning his way onto the cast of The Ultimate Fighter Live, Cruickshank worked through a gritty grappling match with Team Cruz antagonist Chris Tickle on the show’s finale, adding his first UFC win to his resume. While the bout with Tickle was a grind, Cruickshank put his striking skills on full display in his sophomore appearance in the UFC cage last December in Seattle, and put everyone in the division on notice in the process.
Squaring off with hard-nosed Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter Henry Martinez on 2012’s final UFC on FOX card in “The Emerald City,” the tae kwon do black belt showed off his standup game, including a wide array of quick and powerful kicks. He seasoned up Martinez with heavy shots to the legs and body in the opening round, and after more of the same early in the second, Cruickshank went upstarts, planting his shin on the side of Martinez’ head with a thud that was audible on press row at the KeyArena.
As his opponent dropped, Cruickshank raised his hands – his showing in Seattle netting him a second consecutive UFC win, while pushing his overall winning streak to six and raising his profile within the division and the MMA community.
“Yeah – it was a great fight for my career, and the performance kind of skyrocketed me a little bit,” he said of the victory over Martinez, proud of the performance, but clearly focused on the future.
The future arrives a week from today in the form of Makdessi, a Nova Scotia native now based out of the renowned Tristar Gym in Montreal. Through his first five appearances in the UFC, “The Bull” has garnered three wins, including a unanimous decision victory over fellow Canadian Sam Stout when the UFC returned to the Bell Centre last November.
Like Cruickshank, Makdessi is a black belt in tae kwon do, and a sharp, technical striker who will look to work angles and keep his opponents off balance with an assortment of attacks.
“I’ve never met the guy – I’ve never even seen him fight – but when (the UFC) sent me his name, at the bottom of the text message it said, `This could possibly be Fight of the Night,’ and I basically agreed right there before I even looked him up,” Cruickshank admitted about how the bout came together. “That’s what I want, that’s what I’m looking for, so let’s go ahead and do it.
“Obviously I’ve been working on some of his strengths and the way he fights - he’s very lead leg, lead foot dominant, so I’ve been doing a lot of counters for that, but the ultimate goal is to put on a good show, and to go out there, give it everything I got. The best feeling in the world is knocking someone out, so that’s what I plan on doing.”
The energetic and engaging Michigan native also anticipates playing the “bad guy” role next weekend. UFC 158 will be Cruickshank’s second trip to the Bell Centre, and his second time fighting a “local boy” under the bright lights, having defeated fellow UFC 158 competitor – and Makdessi’s Tristar teammate – Mike Ricci inside the home of Les Habitants back in October 2011.
“Silence is bad,” laughed Cruickshank. “I love going out there, and really, being booed when you go to another place is almost like being cheered; you’ve just got to flip it around. There’s always a good guy, there’s always a bad guy, and I like playing that bad guy role.”
Truthfully, there are very true “bad guys” in this sport, and Cruickshank is certainly not one of them. After all, it’s hard not to like a fighter who manages to find the silver lining in a recent bout of gastro-intestinal issues.
“This is the best weight cut I’ve ever had, but that’s probably because I got food poisoning a couple weeks ago, and I dropped all the weight I could,” he deadpanned. “It’s a blessing in disguise. You go through a lot of toilet paper, but it’s all good.”
Just as he’s settled into his light-hearted routine around training camp and fight week, Cruickshank is also starting to get comfortable with the rigors of fight week. After having gone through the longest season in Ultimate Fighter history and having to prepare for his official promotional debut at a neutral site in Las Vegas, prepping for UFC 158 in familiar confines has “The Detroit Superstar” ready to put on a show next Saturday night.
“Being on The Ultimate Fighter, that was way different than normal, way different than getting ready with your own camp, your own support system, and things like that,” admitted Cruickshank in closing. “That was a little difficult, but I got through it, and now I’m at home. I’m doing everything that I want to do, I have all my people backing me up, and it’s just going to produce even better results.
“It keeps the stress level down. Everything is falling into place, and the more fights I get, the more experience I get, the easier this job becomes.
“(As for UFC 158), it all depends on who shows up, and I’m looking to show up for this fight. I want to go out there, put on a good show, and hopefully I perform.”