“If I like something, it’s 100 percent or nothing. I already boxed when I was younger and I always liked to fight. I was a fan of the UFC and a fan of boxing, and to me it was just perfect.”
“Liverpool is known to be a place where people are not just competitive; they’re proud,” says Mark Scanlon. So when he walked into a submission wrestling gym six years ago and got tossed around the mat by an opponent who gave up 30 kilos (around 65 pounds) to the former boxer and footballer, there was really only one option left.
“To go to somewhere like that and to be 105 kilos and get your ass kicked by someone who’s 75 kilos, where I’m from, it can’t be accepted,” he said. “So you either go and do something about it or you don’t, and where I’m from you have to do something about it.”
What Scanlon did about it was show up at the gym the next day and begin learning the finer points of mixed martial arts’ ground game. After around two to three months, he took his lessons one step further by traveling to Brazil to study jiu-jitsu for three months.
“I loved it,” he said. “If I like something, it’s 100 percent or nothing. I already boxed when I was younger and I always liked to fight. I was a fan of the UFC and a fan of boxing, and to me it was just perfect.”
Today, Scanlon is 7-0 as a pro and making his UFC debut this Saturday night against fellow newcomer Pascall Krauss. And while Germany’s Krauss has received plenty of attention leading up to the UFC 122 bout, it may be Scanlon who steals the show, something that wouldn’t come as a surprise to British fans who have watched him come up the ranks since he turned pro in 2006. But when you come from a gym that already sports UFC standouts Terry Etim, Paul Taylor, and Paul Kelly, it could be easy to get lost in the international shuffle. Team Kaobon leader Colin Heron has certainly been paying attention though, and he’s had nothing but good things to say about the 26-year old.
“If Colin says anything like that it’s always a confidence boost because unless you do something good you won’t get no praise,” said Scanlon of his coach. “He doesn’t talk very much, so when he does give you the compliment, it does go a long way.”
And understandably, Scanlon may have flown under the radar a bit because his body has not kept up its end of the bargain over the years. Plagued by injuries before he began fighting, he ran his record to 4-0 before he caught a kick to the knee in the gym and basically wrecked everything except his ACL. The injury kept him out from the tail end of 2008 until this year, but as he points out, “touch wood, this is the first year I haven’t had no big injuries.”
What he has had in 2010 have been big wins, as he submitted Marius Buzinskas in less than a minute in February, forced Ousmane Sidibe to tap out four months later, and then came the big one, a crushing 10 second head kick knockout of Michael Reid in October. Shortly thereafter, he got a phone call to replace Kenny Robertson against Krauss at UFC 122.
“I thought I had a bit longer to be honest with you, but that’s only because of the amount of fights that I’ve had,” said Scanlon when asked if he expected the call from the UFC to come this soon. “Normally you get a lot of guys who have 15-20 fights before they get the phone call, but that’s not to say I’m not ready or excited. It just came a little bit sooner than I thought it would have.”
And a 10 second highlight reel knockout didn’t hurt his chances either.
“It didn’t do me no ill favors did it?” he laughs. “I think the video got sent to (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva by my coach and manager and maybe because it was fresh in his mind and a guy pulled out, it gave me a little push, and I got the phone call.”
Now all he has to deal with is a hard-charging unbeaten prospect like himself who’s fighting in his home country and eager to make a statement in his UFC debut. And he gets to do it on short notice. Not surprisingly though, none of that is an issue to Scanlon.
“I’m always training anyway, so it’s never like I’m in bad shape unless I’m injured,” he said. “The fight I took before (against Reid) I had only trained intense for four or five weeks. So it wasn’t so bad because it wasn’t like I had done a 12 week camp for it and went straight back to training. It was like I did a four, five week camp and just carried on training really. I was looking to try to get another fight before the end of the year anyway, so after that fight I was back in the gym two days later and then I got the phone call, so it worked out good.”
As for the rest of the hoopla that surrounds a UFC event, Scanlon’s got that covered as well since he’s cornered his teammates Etim and Taylor for their previous UFC bouts.
“I must have cornered Paul twice and I’ve cornered Terry a handful of times and I’ve trained with those guys for years, so it’s not like it’s all brand new to me,” he said. “I definitely know what to expect with the weigh ins and with what happens before the fights and I know the ins and outs so it will be a lot of help. I can only imagine guys who don’t know what’s involved. Some of them think you just turn up on the day and fight, but it’s nothing like that, and maybe that’s gonna be an advantage for me because I know exactly what goes on.”
But Mark Scanlon’s biggest edge in every bout is that when it comes down to it, he’s a fighter. And that’s something you can’t teach.
“I’ve always been a fighter,” he said. “When I was in school I always wanted to be the toughest guy in the class, and the toughest guy in the year, and I wanted to be the toughest guy in the year above. People in Liverpool are competitive, especially when they’re not so well off as a kid. Besides, I had a younger brother who had a pretty big mouth so he got me into a fair amount of fights when I was younger. (Laughs) I’ve always had to defend myself and stick up for ourselves. But these days, you find out that when you actually can fight, you don’t get into fights.”
He'll be in one this Saturday.