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McKenzie - The Choke Master Returns

"What matters is just getting in there and fighting. The fans will see. A lot of people are counting me out against Yves, so I’m going to go out there and show a lot of people what’s up, show them why my record is what it is."

Move over, Clay Guida. There’s a new wild man on the UFC scene and he’s attracting fans at an alarming rate, which is somewhat remarkable considering that Cody McKenzie has logged just one official fight inside the Octagon.

I asked the free-spirited lightweight why he believes so many fans empathize with him. The unbeaten fighter with the shaggy, heavy metal hairdo and skateboarder vibe alluded to something that a training partner said to him recently:

“Dennis Hallman brought up a good point the other day. He said, ‘Cody, the reason everyone likes you is because you’re the average Joe. The guy sitting at home on the couch thinks, ‘I could be like this guy! That guy looks like me! And then you take off your shirt and the guy on the couch goes, ‘He really does look like me!”

 The perpetually happy 23-year-old says all of this with a chuckle, of course (laughing easily, for the uninitiated, is a McKenzie trademark). Part of his charm, it seems, centers around his habit of self-deprecation and a tendency to not take himself too seriously. Yet despite his rising popularity, McKenzie is careful to note that while his time on TUF 12 has endeared him to many, there is much room for improvement.

“Not everybody likes me,” he noted. “I get hate mail, too.”

It’s a bit odd, because in-person, McKenzie is an easy guy to get along with. His aura conveys that he’s not judging you, that he wants to be fast friends, that he has no ulterior motives for being nice to you in a world where it seems like most everybody else does. McKenzie’s mission is as simple as his uncombed locks: Pretty much all he wants to do these days is fight. As often as he can. While many UFC fighters are content with fighting three or four times a year, McKenzie claims straight-faced that he would love to fight every month. Which is partially why he jumped at the chance to battle lightweight pioneer Yves Edwards at the Fight for The Troops 2 event on Jan. 22 in Fort Hood, Texas.

“I’ve been wanting to fight someone with a name like Yves Edwards for a long time and this is finally my shot,” he said. “He’s really good and it’s going to be a great fight. I like the extra adrenaline rush and high that goes with fighting in the UFC. I get really amped up. I’m stoked to be fighting for the troops, especially against a legend. That’s going to send me through the roof. I’m hoping after I take Yves out that I can get on another card. I don’t believe in big, long training camps, like most people. I get in shape in a few weeks.”

That approach, unusual among UFC fighters, has been working. McKenzie brings a sterling 12-0 record into the contest with Edwards, an adopted Texan who has built a 39-16-1 record over the 13-year roller coaster that has been his career. The history of both men suggests that Edwards, an exceptional athlete whose lengthy experience in the UFC dates back to 2001, possesses far more weapons to win; Edwards has 14 wins by TKO and another 16 by submission. McKenzie has essentially (and unapologetically) been a one-trick pony – finishing 10 foes with a modified guillotine choke that is so potent and gnarly that countless submission grapplers across the world are trying to imitate the move and its unconventional mechanics. McKenzie has a name for his signature invention: “The McKenzietine.”

“A lot of times I don’t go into a fight thinking, ‘I’m going to do this move,’” he said. “Once I start thinking that I’m going to start getting my head caved in because if that’s all I’m looking for, it will be pretty easy to time me. I never go in looking for it. But it seems like in a fight people leave their neck open a lot. If it’s there I’m going to grab it.”

When it comes to failing to protect his neck, Aaron Wilkinson is guilty as charged. The Brit became the 10th victim of the McKenzietine during last month’s UFC scrap. Everybody in the arena that night knew that McKenzie, competing in his UFC debut, wanted to go neck hunting. Yet 2 minutes and 3 seconds into the bout, the skinny, flat-chested guillotine master had struck again -- swiftly. The tap out earned him his 12th straight victory, all but one coming in the first round. But with his secret now exposed to the world, can McKenzie continue his magic against a fighter who, once upon a time, was one of the world’s premier 155-pounders? After all, Edwards has never pretended to be a wrestler, and rarely shoots on opponents. In fact, McKenzie will be facing an opponent who hasn’t been submitted in nearly five years in a live fight.

“Is that right?” McKenzie said when apprised of Edwards’ stellar submission defense. “I didn’t know that until you told me … That’s OK, because I work everything. I’ve done boxing and Muay Thai. I’ve competed in a lot of submission wrestling tournaments and I’ve caught people in moves besides that move.”

While he lives and trains around Spokane, Wash., McKenzie also journeyed to Orlando, Florida, for this camp to train with TUF 12 winner Jonathan Brookins. But McKenzie’s favorite place in the world, the place where his character and values were formed, is Alaska, where he was raised in Cordova, a small fishing community.

“I lived there for 15 years,” McKenzie said. “My father worked as a commercial fisherman and I spent a lot of time with him out on the boat. I grew up on the best seafood in the world, the best salmon in the world, picking crab right off the pots, shrimp, halibut, rock fish. It makes a world of difference when you fillet it and cook it up right there. I learned to work hard and fast there.”

When it comes to parental influence, McKenzie indicated that, in his case at least, the fruit doesn’t fall very far from the tree.

“My family is a lot like me. I notice that I’m different from a lot of people, but in my circle they’re all a lot like me,” he said. “I guess my parents are pretty wild themselves. I grew up pretty relaxed. My parents were great parents, they gave me a lot of freedom -- I had a lot more freedom than a lot of my friends had. My friends were getting the birds and the bees talk; I missed that. I grew up on a boat, you know. Alaska can be peaceful, but there are some wild characters there that put me to shame. I’m not the craziest out of all of my friends. I have friends that make me look slow-paced and normal.”

Though he has played musical chairs with his fighter nickname – using four different ones – McKenzie announced that he will heretofore be known as “The AK Kid” in honor of his Alaskan roots (Sadly, “Wild Man” did not make the cut, though McKenzie has worn the moniker before).

As for being grouped in the same “wild man” category with Clay Guida, McKenzie didn’t really endorse or reject the comparison.  

“I met Clay once. He wanted to go fishing,” McKenzie said. “I actually had like four fishing poles in my car. I was going to go but I had to train for a fight. Other than that, I don’t really know much about him; he has long hair and tattoos just like me but he definitely ain’t got my fighting style. We have two completely different styles.”

Fair enough. Guida is, after all, a very good wrestler. And explosive. And quick. And tireless. Cody is, well … How do you rate yourself as an athlete, Mr. McKenzie?

“That’s a tough question,” he answered. “I’m not very athletic … I’m not an athlete at all. I’m not a jock. I’m not like your normal fighter; I like to party a lot more than most fighters … I’m definitely not explosive. You won’t see me doing flying knees or nothing. I have a vertical of probably like … well, I don’t even know what a good vertical is, but mine is pretty low. But when it comes down to it I don’t believe a lot of that stuff has anything to do with fighting. What matters is just getting in there and fighting. The fans will see. A lot of people are counting me out against Yves, so I’m going to go out there and show a lot of people what’s up, show them why my record is what it is.

“I got into fighting because I love it. I won some amateur titles in fighting, but all that doesn’t matter; all that matters is that I will be the 155-pound champ of the UFC. I don’t care if they have a darker belt or more trophies and medals, I am going to be the one at the top beating everyone up.”