"I’ll never quit and I’ll never quit working hard and hopefully the UFC
sees that and they keep me around for a while because I plan on putting
on exciting fights.”
If Tim Hague listened to critics, he might be content fighting it out on the local circuit, picking up a paycheck that had a little extra in it since he was a “UFC veteran”. If he cared what people thought, he wouldn’t have made the effort to get his signature on a UFC contract not once, not twice, but three times. Yet even if he had doubts of his ability to compete on mixed martial arts’ biggest stage, all he needed to do was look at the tattoo on his ribcage.
“It (the tattoo) says prove yourself to yourself and that’s what I try to do every day,” said Hague. “The main thing I always think about is that I’ll never ever give up on myself. Through all my training and everything, if a cardio session gets too hard and I quit on myself, I’d rather die. I can’t handle that kind of stuff. I’ll never quit and I’ll never quit working hard and hopefully the UFC sees that and they keep me around for a while because I plan on putting on exciting fights.”
On Saturday, January 22nd, Hague begins his third tour of duty in the UFC, and he hopes this third time is truly the charm. Standing across the Octagon from him that night in Killeen, Texas will be unbeaten Matt Mitrione. Mitrione enters the bout with momentum from three straight UFC wins, notoriety from The Ultimate Fighter’s tenth season and a stint in the NFL, and the idea that he has no place to go but up in the heavyweight division.
Hague has been in this position of foil before, most notably when he faced Todd Duffee in August of 2009. Duffee was unbeaten, had plenty of buzz around his debut, and was expected to go places in the UFC. That night, Duffee delivered on all expectations, knocking Hague out in a UFC record seven seconds. If you asked anyone which heavyweight prospect was going to still be in the organization a year and a half later, no one would take your bet if you said Hague.
But that’s just what happened.
Duffee got knocked out in his next bout by Mike Russow, was cut from the roster, and recently lost his second straight when he was halted by Alistair Overeem on New Year’s Eve in Japan. Hague will be fighting in the UFC in less than two weeks.
“It is a little weird the way things worked out,” said Hague, 12-4 as a pro. “I even personally thought Todd was gonna be the next big thing as well. I went down to Vegas and trained with him and he’s exceptionally talented, but he got knocked out twice in a row after his win over me and I knocked out two guys in a row in highlight reel fashion, so it’s kind of ironic the way the world works.”
It is, but Hague’s journey back was far from smooth.
Following the loss to Duffee, Hague lost a close majority decision to Chris Tuchscherer and was released from the UFC. Hague quickly sought another fight in his native Canada, but his comeback was derailed when his opponent was forced to withdraw an hour before the bout. Then fate intervened when Chad Corvin pulled out of his UFC debut against Joey Beltran and Hague was brought in on short notice to replace him. Hague jumped at the chance, but lost another close decision, this one at UFC 113 in May of last year.
That was three straight UFC losses following his debut win over Pat Barry, and he was released again. He refused to give in.
“I know in the Tuchscherer and Beltran fights, I feel that I could have easily won both of them if I had trained to my fullest potential,” said Hague. “So I’m kind of upset at myself about that. For Beltran I only had a few weeks notice, even though that’s not much of an excuse. As a professional fighter, you always want to be in shape. But I don’t get too down on myself, I just get angry with myself at certain situations, and I think that helps me.”
Determined to work his way back into the UFC, Hague signed for a July bout with Ultimate Fighter 10 vet Zak Jensen, knowing full well that he would keep UFC matchmaker Joe Silva abreast of all the developments in his comeback.
“I wanted to stay in his ear and make sure that Mr. Silva knew that I wanted to be back in the UFC,” said Hague. “For Zak Jensen I got myself in great shape, and I actually underestimated him and he put it on me for the first minute or so and then I kneed him in the face and that was that. I texted Joe Silva and let him know, and he said ‘okay, keep up the good work.’”
One win down, Hague’s next opponent would be UFC vet Travis Wiuff. Different opponent, same result – a first round knockout and a text to Joe Silva.
“I came in there in great shape and I let him have it a minute and a half into the fight,” he said. “I texted Joe Silva again and he said ‘okay, hold off on any contract signing, I might have something for you.’ He sent me a contract a few days later and I was just back living the dream.”
You can almost hear the 27-year old Edmonton product smile over the phone lines as he recalls his rapid-fire return to the Octagon, and this time, he’s determined to make it a permanent stay.
“I’m just happy to be back in the UFC,” he said. “I’m in proper shape now and I hope everyone gets to see that and gets to see a great fight on January 22nd.”
Given the style matchup with Mitrione, it would be hard for the bout not to be exciting, and Hague is going out on a limb to predict that if the Indiana product survives his initial onslaught, we may be in for something special.
“I think he’s gonna be the toughest opponent I’ve faced athletically,” said Hague of his opponent. “He’s just a big strong guy, he moves well, has great cardio, and he seems to learn quick so he’s probably got a couple tricks up his sleeve for me, but I’ve got a couple as well for him, so it will be an interesting fight to watch. I feel confident that I can beat him in all areas. I can beat him by decision, I can beat him by knockout, preferably, or by submission. If it does go the distance, I think we’re gonna be a front runner for Fight of the Year.”
If he pulls it off, it could be the insurance policy he’s been waiting for. If you can pull off a Fight of the Year, odds are you’re not going to be leaving anytime soon. But Tim Hague’s not concerned about going through what he’s experienced already. He knows what’s at stake, and now he’s dealing with it as a veteran who can’t be rattled anymore.
“I know I’ve got to perform and I’ve gotta do exceptionally well in this fight, but I don’t feel too much pressure really,” he said. “I’m a lot more calm now. Throughout my training camp and throughout the fight, I’m not too anxious about anything. I’ve had the experiences of the highs and the lows, so I’m ready for whatever comes.”