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Mark Hominick's Big Moment

Mark Hominick finally got his breakthrough moment and earned a title shot with one of the greatest UFC fighters ever.

Prior to 2011, Mark Hominick was largely unknown to anyone outside of the hardcore set.

A pro since 2002 and part of the trio of talented fighters based in London, Ontario who came up under the tutelage of renowned striking coach Shawn Tompkins, along with Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki, “The Machine” had starred under the TKO banner in Quebec and made two successful forays into the Octagon earlier in his career, posting three consecutive victories in the WEC prior to the featherweight and bantamweight divisions being absorbed by the UFC at the end of 2010.

Diehard fans knew about his unmatched conditioning, fluid striking, and underrated ground game. To this day, his WEC 49 clash with Yves Jabouin remains the kind of low-key classic that serious fans shout out as a favorite to make the depth of their fandom clear in the same way cinephiles reference obscure indie films as all-time greats and music nerds talk about B-sides and bootlegs the majority of the music-loving population don’t even know exist.

With 27 fights under his belt before his 29th birthday, Hominick was a young veteran who was respected by the critics and his contemporaries, but someone who had never enjoyed a real breakthrough moment. The biggest wins of his career had either taken place before the sport had developed the robust online following it enjoys today or amidst less fanfare against tough outs inside the WEC’s blue cage.

EDMONTON, CANADA - JUNE 20: (R-L) Mark Hominick punches Yves Jabouin at WEC 49 at Rexall Place on June 20, 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
EDMONTON, CANADA - JUNE 20: (R-L) Mark Hominick punches Yves Jabouin at WEC 49 at Rexall Place on June 20, 2010 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

On top of that, mixed martial arts events were rare in Canada and the sport had not yet been sanctioned in his home province of Ontario, so while Hominick had fought in Canada multiple times and was easily one of the country’s top talents, he’d never had the opportunity to truly compete at home.

But all of that was about to change.

On January 22, 2011, Hominick walked into the Octagon for his main card assignment against George Roop at UFC Fight for the Troops 2 at Fort Hood with a featherweight title shot hanging in the balance. It took roughly 90 seconds for the Team Tompkins representative to secure the victory, felling Roop with a right hand less than a minute into the opening stanza before putting him away along the fence and performing his trademark post-fight pushups in the center of the cage.

The victory — his fifth straight triumph — secured him a bout with Jose Aldo, the Brazilian dynamo who went from WEC newcomer to the undisputed top featherweight in the world during a 27-month, eight-fight rampage that included stunning performances against the likes of Cub Swanson, Mike Brown, and Urijah Faber. The bout would serve as the co-main event at UFC 129, a landmark event set to take place on April 30 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

FORT HOOD, TX - JANUARY 22: (R-L) Mark Hominick punches George Roop at the UFC Fight for the Troops event on January 22, 2011 in Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
FORT HOOD, TX - JANUARY 22: (R-L) Mark Hominick punches George Roop at the UFC Fight for the Troops event on January 22, 2011 in Fort Hood, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Nearly a decade after he began his professional mixed martial arts career, Hominick was finally going to fight in his home province as part of the biggest event in UFC history, against the reigning UFC featherweight champion.

“To me, I felt it was a 15-year overnight success; I think that’s a really great way to frame it,” said Hominick, who now owns and runs the Adrenaline Training Center alongside Stout and Horodecki. “I’d been a nine-time Canadian champion, I’d fought in the UFC a few times, I fought in the WEC, all over the world, but no one close to home had known about my career.”

That shifted once the bout with Aldo was announced, as Hominick’s homecoming became the predominant story heading into the event and one the mainstream media that had previously spent little time covering the sport of mixed martial arts quickly descended upon.

In addition to being a “local boy has big opportunity” situation, Hominick and his wife were also pregnant with their first child at the time, with the due date coinciding with the event at the end of April. Mixed together with the fact that he was facing an all-time great who had won 11 straight fights and taken the division by storm, Hominick’s clash with Aldo at UFC 129 started to resemble the script of a Hollywood movie where the stars align for the local hero at exactly the right moment.

“Because it was the first show in Ontario, there were a lot of new eyes,” recalled Hominick, who retired in November 2012 following a loss to Pablo Garza at UFC 154 in Montreal. “I was getting calls from The National Post and media that had never spoken about mixed martial arts.

“It was 55,000 people, the first UFC event in Ontario, it was the biggest UFC event of all-time at that time, so it was a coming out party for not only myself, but every athlete on that card because it was the first time that a lot of new eyes were on the sport.

“It was crazy because I was training to fight for the world title, my wife was nine months pregnant, and I was fighting an hour-and-a-half from my house,” he added. “I would train two hours in the morning, do two or three hours of media, be with my wife for doctor’s appointments, go back and train again for another two hours at night, and then do another three hours of media because there was so much (attention on this event).”

Throughout his career, Hominick focused on preparation, both inside and outside of the cage. He never wanted to leave anything up to chance or allow himself to be caught off-guard, either by the moment or something an opponent did during a fight.

With nearly 30 professional fights under his belt and countless more during his amateur days, the ultra-professional featherweight had always made his way through Fight Week with ease, fully prepared for what was in store and ready to do whatever was required.

But UFC 129 was something different.

“That event was so big that I had to just go with the flow,” said the 37-year-old father of two. “That was something where you can’t say, ‘I’m going to be ready for this; I’ve done this before,’ because it was times a thousand on everything — pressure, media, size, magnitude.

“I just wanted to take it all in and give the best representation of who I was, inside and outside of the ring, and that’s all I did,” he added. “It’s hard to prepare for something you’ve never experienced before and that’s the way I treated it.”

While the days leading up to the fight brought greater attention and more obligations than Hominick had ever previously encountered, his routine on the day of the fight followed the same pattern as always to start.

He did a little shake out in the morning with Tompkins and got his hair cut in the afternoon, adding in a quick nap to ensure he was rested and ready for the battle ahead. Once he arrived at the venue, Hominick would normally head out into the arena to watch the first fight of the night. He’d stand in the shadows, taking in the atmosphere, getting charged up on the energy within the arena.

That night, however, he had to cut his normal routine short because there were no shadows.

He was no longer the anonymous fighter standing to the side, watching the action. He was the hometown favorite set to fight for the featherweight title and all eyes were on him.

“I remember walking out and it was larger than life,” Hominick said of entering the arena for the first time and being hit by full scope of the event. “People started yelling my name and I was looking in every direction. It was almost too big and I walked right back into the change room.”

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 30: Mark Hominick punches Jose Aldo (bottom) during their Featherweight Championship bout at UFC 129 in the Rogers Centre on April 30, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 30: Mark Hominick punches Jose Aldo (bottom) during their Featherweight Championship bout at UFC 129 in the Rogers Centre on April 30, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

As the evening progressed, Hominick settled in, and by the time it was his turn to make the longer than normal trek to the Octagon, the challenger had tunnel vision.

While the record number of fans in attendance sat enthralled by cinematics appearing on the four massive screens positioned above the Octagon and the giant scoreboard in centerfield, producing a deafening roar as Diddy’s “Coming Home” began to play throughout Rogers Centre, signaling the Canadian’s trek to the cage, Hominick jogged in from the back — a black Hamilton Tiger-Cats cap on his head, eyes looking straight ahead, completely detached from the raucousness taking place around him.

“The entrance and the impact of all that to my friends and family, that’s something they bring up, but to me in the moment, it wasn’t a big thing,” he said of his UFC 129 walkout, which remains one of the single best entrances in UFC history. “I didn’t realize it until I looked back and as people told me their memories about how much of an impact the walkout had and what that moment was like.

“Once I got to the tunnel to walk out, Shawn said, ‘Shock the world!’ and that’s the first thing he said to me when I fought Yves Edwards at UFC 58 — ‘Shock the world!’ — and then everything just sunk in and it was tunnel vision. Walking to the ring, I didn’t look left or right — I just looked center — and I got to the ring, did my normal lap, and I remember standing in the ring when Aldo came in the ring and I thought, ‘I’ve been here before.’

“After that, everything was normal,” he added. “I’m looking at my opponent, I’m inside the cage; I’ve been here before. I don’t look out into the crowd or hear or feel the crowd ever, so that was when I was like, ‘Okay — we’re here. I’ve done this before.’ I didn’t realize how big of an impact it was until afterwards.”

With the walkouts and introductions done, the fight got underway and it was quickly apparent that Aldo was the better man that night and there was nothing Hominick could do about it. As quick as the challenger was, the champion was quicker. All the things Hominick had long prided himself on — technique, speed, precision, fundamentals — were the same things Aldo brought to the table and the 25-year-old Brazilian was just that much sharper than the sentimental favorite that night in Toronto.

At that time, and for another handful of years following the bout, it didn’t really matter who was standing opposite Aldo — he was always the better man and often made outstanding fighters and deserving challengers look completely out of place inside the Octagon.

Despite being outgunned, Hominick never relented. He came out ready to engage at the start of each new round with the same enthusiasm he showed at the beginning of the fight, but as the fight progressed, the damage began to accumulate, and by the time he walked to his corner at the close of the fourth round, the 29-year-old challenger was bruised, bleeding, and sporting a gigantic hematoma.

“I thought when they were checking me out that it was for a cut,” he said of the massive growth that took up residency on his forehead and remains the automatic MMA reference point any time an athlete incurs a similar welt. “I didn’t feel it. It didn’t impact me one bit. I did have a lot of blood in my eyes, but that was from a different cut.

“Looking back, you see the images and it’s like, ‘Holy crap!’ but even at the hospital, it didn’t register,” Hominick laughed, adding that the emergency room doctors believed he was there due to his wife’s pregnancy rather than his fight-related bumps and bruises when they were transported to the hospital following the bout.

Clearly behind on the cards and needing a finish in order to claim victory, Hominick continued to press in the fifth and finally had an extended period of success.

An Aldo uppercut busted him open again and caused more blood to spill from his face, but the challenger still managed to secure a takedown in the middle of the cage during the exchange. Hominick started working body-head combinations from inside Aldo’s guard and when he postured up to land more powerful shots, the crowd at Rogers Centre erupted.

Each punch Hominick connected with produced a roar; the champion content to try and defend off his back and the audience trying to will the challenger to victory with their applause. Aldo was exhausted and Hominick refused to quit, peppering the gassed Brazilian with a steady diet of short, sharp punches and hammerfists to the very end.

When the final horn sounded, the building erupted. Aldo and Hominick shared an embrace and then the champion joined the challenger in performing his customary post-fight push-ups in the center of the cage.

Aldo earned a unanimous decision victory, securing his first successful defense of the UFC featherweight title with scores of 48-45, 48-46, and 49-46 from the judges, but no one walked away from that bout thinking any lesser of Hominick.

While the fairytale ending would have been for the Canadian veteran to emerge triumphant, the UFC 129 co-main event instead produced a true Rocky moment, where the previously unheralded challenger showed he was an elite talent by going the distance with the dominant champion, his stock increasing exponentially despite landing on the wrong side of the results.

At the time, it felt like the start of a new chapter in Hominick’s career — a breakthrough moment that elevated his profile, established him as one of the best fighters in the 145-pound weight class, and potentially set the stage for a run of marquee bouts against other high profile talents in the featherweight division.

Instead, it became an unforgettable high point that marked the start of a string of losses that resulted in Hominick hanging up his gloves less than two years later.

Four months after the event, Tompkins died unexpectedly as a result of a heart attack; he was 37 years old.

Hominick returned to the cage four months later, again in Toronto. Chan Sung Jung beat him in seven seconds, and after a split decision loss to Eddie Yagin at UFC 145 and a unanimous decision defeat against Garza seven months later in Montreal, Hominick announced his retirement, finishing his career on a four-fight losing streak and with a professional record of 20-12.

“I really do believe that things happen for a reason and that fight happened at that time in my career, that time in my life, for a reason,” Hominick said, reflecting on the event and the way his career came to an end. “With everything that happened afterwards — starting a family, losing Shawn — that was just when it was supposed to happen.

“That was our world title fight and we did it together from Day One,” he said of his relationship with Tompkins. “We set out to win that title — that’s what we were prepping for all those years we were together — and we both hit our pinnacle at the same time.

“It was the pinnacle of my career and where I was as an athlete. I was at my best at that moment, fighting in front of the world, on the biggest stage, for the world title. I’m blessed to have experience that with him and it’s a tragedy what happened afterwards, but we were at our pinnacle at the same time and that is something nobody can take away from us.”

Nine years later, people still come up to Hominick and share their memories of UFC 129 with him daily, and given the magnitude of that event and the lasting impression his bout with Aldo left on everyone watching, old fans and new, it’s an occurrence that will likely continue to happen for years on end.

Not many athletes would consider a night where they came away on the wrong side of the scores as the biggest moment of their professional careers, but it’s in those rare occurrences where that holds true that we actually see that sports are about far more than wins and losses.

It’s often those individual “where were you when” moments that people remember above all else and on April 30, 2011 inside Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, Hominick co-authored one of those moments and nearly a decade later, it still remains one of the greatest moments in UFC history.

“Looking back on my career, that is something that will always hold true and that experience is something I can be proud of,” said Hominick. “It’s funny to say that a loss has made my career, but it has, and it etched my name in the history books.

“It’s amazing to know that I’ve had an impact on people and it’s a life experience that no one can take away.”

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