By the time he steps into the Unified MMA cage on Saturday night in Edmonton, it will have been nearly nine months since Ty Flores last competed.
But it doesn’t feel that long for the Elevation Fight Team member.
“I was going to try to fight before the end of the summer, but it was tough to find matchups and whatnot,” said Flores, explaining the time between his last fight in March and this weekend’s light heavyweight title clash with Graham Park that headlines Unified MMA 49. “It doesn’t really feel like it was that long, to be honest.
“Everybody has been asking (about the time off), and I’m like, ‘It hasn’t even been a year, really.’ In the meantime, I’ve been keeping really busy, really active. It doesn’t feel like fight camp is that different — it’s a little more focused, but I’m always training two or three times a day, so I think I’ve made some definite, necessary improvements.”
The primary focus of this camp has been boxing defense after Flores was stopped by George Tokkos due to strikes in the late stages of the opening round of his last appearance.
Prior to the contest, Flores dealt with a stomach ailment of some kind that made his weight cut a much more difficult process than usual and left him feeling depleted heading into the cage. Rather than lay everything at the feet of a weight-cutting issue, the 28-year-old has opted instead to focus on the things he could address, and make sure they’re on point heading into this weekend’s clash with Park.
“I don’t know what the hell it was, to be honest with you, but when I started cutting weight, I was shedding about half as much as I thought I would the day before,” explained Flores, who carries a 9-4 record into his Unified MMA debut on Saturday. “We had those early morning weigh-ins and I couldn’t keep down food for 12 hours; I was cramping up bad. The morning of the fight, I was doing shakeouts with my coach and I was getting vertigo, and I was like, ‘This is a problem.’
“He won; it is what it is,” he added. “But if I have to rectify something about that fight, it’s to be much more careful about (my weight cut) because I was very depleted before that fight. I think the weight cut was the major factor from that fight, but taking things away from it to work on, it’s boxing defense, and so the past nine months, we’ve been working that pretty religiously.”
The majority of that work has come with UFC fixture Devin Clark and recent Ultimate Fighter finalist Zac Pauga, two members of the small, but skilled, collection of teammates Flores works with on a regular basis as part of the Denver-based squad.
Curtis Blaydes is another frequent training partner for Flores, and while they didn’t specifically work together ahead of Saturday’s contest, “Big Medicine” admitted that while there are huge benefits to training with the heavyweight contender, there are also times when he playfully questions what he’s doing working with the ultra-talented Blaydes.
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“With Curtis specifically, it f***** sucks, dude — he’s so good and so big; it’s not fun,” Flores said, laughing. “During camp it’s like, ‘I don’t know how many rounds I can do with you because I’ve got to make it to the fight.’
“Curtis is excellent. He was giving me pointers last week that I was able to use, good pointers in sparring last Friday. The knowledge is excellent and having that core group of guys is great. It’s not really guys just coming in for camps: we lift together, we do strength and conditioning together, if we get extra work in, it’s together; we’re going to different gyms together.
“It’s been excellent, and I’ve just been soaking everything up.”
In advance of his meeting with Park this weekend, he’s been soaking up a great deal of film on his opponent, as well, and Flores believes he’s figured a few things out about the defending champion.
“Graham Park seems very telegraphed,” Flores said, beginning his assessment of the 33-year-old titleholder, who successfully defended the belt last year against Neil Berry. “It doesn’t seem like he really likes to fight.
“I’m a big hunter and they always say, ‘Don’t corner something meaner than you.’ I do a lot of hog hunting, and (when they’re cornered) that’s when they become really, really dangerous, and with Graham, it kind of reminds me of that. He comes out and shoots in the first 10 seconds of damn-near every fight.
“What he’s going to want to do is ground-and-pound,” continued Flores. “He doesn’t really stand too much, and when he does throw, he throws single shots. He looks like he wants to wrestle, pound guys out, and a mistake a lot of guys make — or they’re looking for a way out — is he goes ground-and-pound, they give up their backs, and he chokes them out.
Having spent the majority of his camp wrestling with Clark, a former NJCAA National champion and two-time All-American, Flores is confident that Park won’t be able to deploy his preferred approach on Saturday.
And if he’s correct, Flores expects the champion to be in for a very long night.
“The first round is going to be very important,” he said. “I’m going to be very unorthodox with my movement, make it tough for him to fit in, and if he does, I feel very confident on the ground. The lion’s share of my rounds this camp have been with Devin Clark, and I know he’s not as good a wrestler as Devin Clark.
“He either loses in the first round or he finishes the other guy in the first round. If I finish in the first round, hell yeah, but if not, this is a five-round fight and I’m ready for a five-round fight, and I’m coming down from elevation.”
After starting the year with a setback, closing out the year with a championship victory would not only get rid of the sour taste that has lingered in Flores’ mouth since March, but be a perfect way to celebrate his impending birthday and kick off an enjoyable holiday season for the Colorado resident.
But Flores wants more than just a victory on Saturday night.
“I want a finish. I want something big,” he said. "I think that would be excellent — a great way to cap off the year. I don’t like being in the loss column, so I’m ready to put a stamp on it before I head down to Florida and get some hunting in."