"If he thinks that I just need to desperately get the fight to the ground he’s got another thing coming." - Kyle Watson
At 31 years old, he doesn’t have time to bounce around from promotion to promotion. He’s been there and done that. He is also aware that being a lightweight in the UFC, one of the most stacked and deepest divisions since the WEC merger back in December, means every fight is a must win situation.
“I feel like we’re all in the position where we’re all fighting for a job every time we step inside the Octagon,” says Watson, who faces undefeated Canadian John Makdessi (8-0) April 29th at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada.
“There’s so much talent and so many people waiting for their chance to prove themselves, if you slip up, just like Dana (White) says in a lot of interviews, ‘It’s like any other organization. If you’re not playing your best you’re going to be sidelined.’ Obviously I’m not happy with it,” says Watson. “I’d like to know I could get multiple chances, but it’s the name of the game; you just have to go in knowing that and give it your best shot.”
Watson has given mixed martial arts his best shot, and he’s done pretty well.
A full-time jiu-jitsu and Jeet Kune Do instructor, Watson has been fighting professionally since 2003, and he’s faced guys like Spencer Fisher and Bart Palaszweski long before The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV put him on the MMA map.
“I want to prove to myself, my friends and family and any critics out there that I’m not just a reality show guy,” says Watson, who lost to season 12 winner Jonathan Brookins before winning a unanimous decision against a tough Sako Chivitchian on The Team GSP vs Team Koscheck Finale card.
“I don’t want people thinking that I just got lucky and got on The Ultimate Fighter and got in the UFC that way,” said Watson. “I’ve had a lot of experience before the show, I put a lot of years of hard work in, I’ve had a lot of fights and I’m just ready for the challenge now and I deserve to be here.”
As if the pressure of being in a must-win situation on a card that has already sold a record 55,000 tickets -mostly to his opponent’s fellow countrymen - isn’t enough, Watson is set to be married April 9, just twenty days before the fight.
He laughs out loud when I ask him if he still plans to get married.
“Yeah of course I am,” he says. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but I’m a pretty organized person. It has been a challenge trying to balance what is one of the crowning moments of my life, my marriage, and training for my fight. I’m trying not to short-change my wedding, but at the same time I have to focus on my job. I don’t want the UFC bosses thinking I don’t know where my priorities are.”
Watson will spend his honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort in The Dominican Republic, but he and fiancée Laura will wait until May to celebrate their nuptials.
“She’s going to be in school until then anyway so it works out better for both of us,” he said.
In Makdessi, Watson faces a tough striker who trains daily with the number two-ranked pound for pound fighter in the world and reigning welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. The two trained together when Watson visited Tristar Gym in Montreal while he was part of Team GSP and training for the TUF Finale.
“The only training we did together was sparring and we didn’t really ever go to the ground and do any wrestling,” he said. “And honestly I came away feeling like I had the better end of it. I feel like I match up well. I don’t by any means think it’s an easy fight or am I thinking I’m going to get a quick submission or anything like that. He’s undefeated for a reason and he looked really sharp in his last UFC fight so I’m definitely expecting to have a tough battle.”
Stylewise, on paper, Makdessi is the better striker. He’s knocked out six of his eight opponents in impressive fashion, and he handled Team Bombsquad’s Pat “Awesomely Awesome” Audinwood fairly easily on the way to a unanimous decision win at UFC 124 in his Octagon debut last December.
“It’s going to be one of those classic matchups of striker versus grappler,” said Watson. “But if he thinks that I just need to desperately get the fight to the ground he’s got another thing coming. I’m not a one-dimensional fighter. I’m not saying I’m going to walk in there and try to beat him at his own game, but if he thinks the ground game is all I got he’s going to be surprised.”
Watson enters tough company in the 155lb division. As champion Frankie Edgar prepares for his rematch with Gray Maynard and former WEC champ Anthony Pettis gets ready to make his UFC debut against Clay Guida, guys like Jim Miller, Melvin Guillard, Ben Henderson, George Sotiropoulos and Sam Stout are chomping at the bit to get their turn for the strap.
Watson has no illusions as to his place in the pecking order.
“I think it’s one of the toughest and deepest divisions,” he says. “Not only is it the biggest division with how many guys the UFC has on contract, but every single fight you get is going to be a tough match up. For example, John Makdessi – a lot of people have never heard of him but he’s been with GSP’s camp for a long time and he’s really tough. So it’s going to be really tough for me to climb the ladder but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could climb that ladder. I love to challenge myself and prove to people that I belong in there.”
“I just want to prove to myself that I can be a contender in the division, win some matches and if at some point it puts me into title contention, then that’ll be my goal.”