Unbeaten welterweight prospect David Mitchell makes his UFC debut on Wednesday against fellow newcomer TJ Waldburger on the UFC Fight Night card in Austin, Texas. Meet one of the UFC's newest signees below.
“I want to be a fighter.”
With that sentence, uttered by David Mitchell as he stepped into David Terrell’s Nor Cal Fighting Alliance gym in Santa Rosa, California for the first time in 2005, we could just say “and the rest is history,” considering that “Daudi” is making his UFC debut on Wednesday in Austin, Texas.
But nothing is ever that cut and dried, and from the time of those first fighting words, Mitchell has gone through a lifetime’s worth of experiences to prepare him not only to become a fighter, but a UFC fighter. And as far as the 30-year old Berkeley native is concerned, his Octagon debut is coming right on time.
“I feel like it’s just right,” he said. “There were times early in my career when I thought I was ready to go, but I think having more experience is better and I’m not getting any younger, so later wouldn’t be an advantage either. I feel like this is the perfect time.”
Getting here wasn't going to be easy though, and Mitchell, who was first inspired by Chuck Liddell’s knockout of Tito Ortiz in 2004, found that out the hard way. And what better teacher could he have than Terrell, a grappling wizard who was seen as one of the best middleweights in the world midway through the first decade of the new millennium? Terrell, who had seen more than his share of wannabe fighters, was about to give a dose of tough love to his newest student. If Mitchell made it through the training gauntlet and still showed up at practice the next day, maybe he had what it took.
Mitchell made it, banged up and bruised, but still standing. In fact, standing was pretty much all he could do after those early training sessions.
“I had a very strong spirit about it,” said Mitchell. “I would take the most unreal beating to the point to where I couldn’t sit down on the couch. I had to have someone help me take my shirt off. It was a really fun time for me.”
When Mitchell talks about it being a fun time for him, he isn’t being facetious. He enjoyed this new way of life and the idea of learning new things every day. Learning mixed martial arts saved him from going down the wrong path and gave him new goals that, oddly enough, clashed with his upbringing on the Hog Farm, which Wikipedia describes as “America’s longest running hippie commune.”
Needless to say, there was no peace and love in Terrell’s gym, and Mitchell’s parents weren’t exactly thrilled about his new “hobby.”
“I think they weren’t very happy about what I was doing, but as I progressed in the game, and now that I’m going to the UFC, it’s like ‘mom, you want to go to Austin, Texas? I don’t think you really want to go.’ ‘Oh yeah, I want to go, I want to be there,’” he laughs. “Everybody wants to be there, and everybody wants to see the fights. Every single person out there is just one hundred percent behind me. There are a couple people that are doctors and nurses who are like ‘oh God, be careful,’ but that’s understandable, and that’s just out of love. But there’s huge support.”
That’s not surprising, considering a spotless 11-0 pro MMA record that includes nine wins by submission. But before he earned his purple belt in jiu-jitsu under Terrell and signed a UFC contract, he had to prove himself in the gym, and there weren’t always victories there.
“When I have tough days, he (Terrell) says ‘everybody’s been here,’” said Mitchell. “And I know when he says something, I listen, because he’s been there. Some days you don’t have a good day and you just want to give up or you think you’re doing something wrong, but it’s just the peaks and valleys of the training and of the game, and sometimes your game is up and sometimes it’s not. All that really matters is that when you come into the cage, you can perform.”
In July of 2006, Mitchell made his pro debut with a first round submission win over John Corstorphine. Before the bout, Terrell calmed his nerves by telling him, “Imagine it just being another day in the academy. Be that relaxed, it’s just another sparring day.”
The advice worked, and eventually all the former middleweight title challenger has told him has come to fruition, but it was far from an instant thing. Just ask him how long it took him to implement his teacher’s advice, and he chuckles.
“It’s taken the five full years we’ve been training together to be able to implement it and step into the big leagues here, and it’s still difficult to do,” admits Mitchell. “Every day is a challenge, especially when you’re training with such tough guys. It can get discouraging, but at the same time you’ve got to think, I’m training with the best guys in the world, so keep training hard and I’ll eventually get to where I want to go.”
The first step was winning his first fight. The next was building up an impressive enough resume on the local circuit to get a call to the UFC, and with his 11 wins, including victories over UFC vets Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver and Tim McKenzie, that mission is accomplished. Now it’s time to get that first UFC win, and hoping to keep him from that goal is fellow debutant TJ Waldburger.
“He fights a lot like I do,” said Mitchell of his foe. “He’s got a good jiu-jitsu game, but he’s willing to fight anywhere the fight goes, and he doesn’t have any gaping holes in his game. He’s a solid, well-rounded fighter, and he looks to be tough as nails. I’ve seen him get caught a couple times in videos, but other than that, he looks to be pretty tough and very similar to my game, so it’s gonna be pretty interesting.”
It’s also going to be interesting to see the reception Mitchell gets in Austin, considering that Waldburger is a native of the Lone Star State. But the Californian is far from worried, as he’s bringing his own army to Texas.
“The support behind me now and the way people feel about it is enormous,” he said. “It’s this huge push, I’ve got all these people behind me, and when I go into the cage, they’ll all be there with me. TJ Waldburger’s gonna be fighting a hundred thousand people, not just me – that’s how I feel about it.”
And when that bell rings, Mitchell expects to show the world that he’s made good on the words he spoke the first time he set foot in the gym.
“I hope I leave a strong impression as a finisher,” said Mitchell. “I want to finish this fight in the first round, I’m coming to fight like it’s a war, and I want to win this war as fast as possible and go home to my family. Hopefully people will respect that. I’m gonna get in there, I’m gonna get the W, and don’t blink because you might miss something.”