Some people wear their heart on their sleeve. UFC newcomer Drakkar Klose wears his on his chest in the form of a tattoo that celebrates his home state of Michigan.
It’s a big place, but where Klose comes from is a whole lot smaller. How small? Try South Haven, population 4,403 as of the 2010 census. Think about it, everyone who lives in the city can go to Klose’s UFC debut against Devin Powell at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Jan. 15, and there will still be enough seats for another 13,000 plus fans.
So there is a pressure to represent his hometown well on mixed martial arts’ biggest stage, but the 28-year-old is embracing it.
“We had a lot of great athletes in my town that weren’t able to get out of South Haven, but I got the opportunity to leave there, so I want to represent where I’m from and show the younger kids that there’s something else than just living in that town,” said Klose, who now makes his home in Glendale, a short drive away from the Phoenix arena where he will make the walk to the Octagon.
Yet despite the distance between Michigan and Arizona, the unbeaten lightweight believes it will feel like home when he faces Powell.
“Everyone in my hometown, they have my back,” he said. “They’re always messaging me about how proud they are. And I’m like, this is just the beginning. I’m taking Michigan and South Haven and I want everyone to know where I’m from. And it’s just the start. It’s like a dream come true to do that.”
A dream that came true suddenly around Christmas, when Jordan Rinaldi withdrew from the UFC Fight Night card and left an opening for Klose. He took it.
“Coach (John) Crouch told the whole team to stay ready because people do get injured,” said the MMA Lab fighter. “What helped me out is I helped Benson (Henderson) for his camp for (Michael) Chandler and I helped ‘Hot Sauce’ (Scott Holtzman) for his fight against Josh (Emmett), so I was ready and when I did get the call, my weight was good and I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
The UFC call is the one every fighter waits for, but it was particularly good timing for Klose, who, despite turning pro in 2014, has only been able to secure seven fights, going 6-0-1.
“I was down a little bit because I’ve only been fighting twice a year and it’s been hard to find fights, so I’m glad I got the opportunity to get this short notice fight,” he said. “Now I don’t have to worry about fights; they’re gonna call me when they want me to fight. I won’t have to look for fights.”
Needless to say, it’s a fresh start for the former Lindenwood University wrestler, who doesn’t forget where he came from, not just in Michigan but in Arizona as well, where his teammates and coaches have kept him positive that one day he was going to get his shot to perform at the highest level of the sport.
“I look at my teammates, and some of them have kids, and they’re still able to do it,” he said. “I don’t have any kids, so there’s no reason for me to stop. I just push harder. If they can do it, I can do it. And being around positive people – Benson, Crouch, all the other UFC fighters in the room and even the amateurs – everyone rubs off on each other, and it’s just a good vibe.”
And if all else fails, he can always go back to the wisdom his mom gave him many years ago.
“My mom always told me, ‘If you start something, you better finish it.’ And that just stuck with me.”