Luckily, I got the job and moved straight in with my brother, driving forklifts for a living. I’ve never looked back.
It wasn’t long after moving to Melbourne that I began my pro career with the Aussie fight promotion, HEX.
My first fight was against a guy I was never supposed to beat. Everyone was saying the promoters should lose their licence for putting me up against such an experienced guy like Ben Kelleher on my pro debut. They thought I was going to get killed.
I went out and subbed him in the first round.
In my second fight, I was up against the third-ranked guy in the country, Mike Turner. He was on a five-fight win streak before I smashed him. I won the first round 10-8 and didn’t let up from there.
I made a reputation for myself as someone who always takes the hard fights and puts on an entertaining show. That’s what grabbed the attention of the UFC.
IMPRESSING DANA WHITE
Last July, as the undefeated HEX light heavyweight champion, I received the invitation to fight on Dana White’s Contender Series in Las Vegas. It was exactly the kind of chance I’d been waiting for.
The Contender Series is broadcast on UFC Fight Pass and, each fight night, the guy who impresses is given a contact with the UFC. It’s their way of blooding exciting prospects.
It’s held at the Ultimate Fighter gym and when you walk out there’s no music. It’s just Dana, Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby sitting cage-side and you don’t want to disappoint them.
I went in to my fight against Chris Birchler with a game plan: don’t rush in and get caught. That went right out the window when they locked the cage.
I saw red, put my chin up and started swinging from the fences. I didn’t care if he hit me, I just wanted to knock him out. It wasn’t pretty but when I got him with my left just before the end of the first round, it was done.
It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. I went back to the change rooms and a wave of emotion just washed over me.
At the end of the show, we were all taken to the Ultimate Fighter kitchen. They gave out a developmental contract and then another two contracts. All of a sudden, I was the last bloke left in the room and the doubt started setting in.
They don’t usually give out multiple contracts, so I started thinking maybe I hadn’t done enough. But they ended the torment and told me I had a contract.
I lost it. It was the best feeling in the world. I looked behind me and Dana was sitting there, saying I was his favourite fight of the night.
Man, that was a surreal moment because everyone knows Dana says exactly what’s on his mind. If he’s giving you praise, he means it.
We ran into him again later that night back at the casino when we were sinking some beers. He said he liked how hard I hit and couldn’t believe Birchler had eaten so many punches before I got the finish. It meant a lot getting that feedback.
A MISTAKE I WON’T REPEAT
Making my UFC debut in Adelaide last year was a dream come true, but I learnt some valuable lessons.
I put so much pressure on myself that I almost froze.
I can’t explain the sound the crowd made when I walked out to fight Paul Craig. Let me tell you, when an arena is pumping like that, you can feel the energy running through your whole body. But I learnt the hard way that you can’t block that kind of atmosphere out. You have to embrace it, or the occasion will get on top of you.
It was still a good performance though and I got the win. I’d been meditating the night before, envisaging that I’d finish him with a kimura. That’s exactly how it panned out, which is pretty cool.
It would have been good to stop him earlier, but I was able to show my conditioning, heart and composure in tough situations. I also got to show how dangerous I am on the ground.
What people need to understand is, if you try to stand with me, I’ll knock you out. And if you try to take me down, I’ll make you tap. I genuinely believe I can submit anyone in the world.
This Sunday I’m going to showcase what I can do and shut the mouth of anyone who doubts me.
I was supposed to fight Ryan Spann, a 6’5’’ orthodox fighter who is explosive and good at boxing, but he pulled out with a broken hand. Now I’m up against the complete opposite. Sam Alvey is a stocky 6’2’’ southpaw who likes to brawl.
The upside is that the reward is much bigger.
Sam has been around for a long time, with a professional record of 33-11. But it’s not just about the number of fights he’s had, it’s the quality of the opponents. He’s fought some huge names, including a former world champion in Rashad Evans, who he beat.
That’s what I love about Sam. He’s not scared of anyone.
I’m exactly the same. For me, you’ve got to fight everyone eventually so why hold off. I’ve never turned down a fight and I’ve never tried to pad my record out or take the easy route.