While it took (Proper) Mike Malott just 39 seconds to earn his UFC contract on Dana White's Contender Series in October, the Canadian welterweight spent considerably longer getting there.
The 30-year-old from Burlington, Ont., began training in 2005.
"It's a lot of time, a lot of sacrifices — that I'm happy to make," he said in an interview. "It's not like I do this begrudgingly. I'm happy to put my time into this. It's my passion. It's something I really want to be successful in."
And he is beginning to enjoy the fruits of that labour.
On Saturday, Malott (7-1-1) makes his UFC debut against American Micky Gall (7-4-0) on the undercard of UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Fla.
"Being on a pay-per-view (card) is a huge honour," Malott said. "I'm a fan of this sport first, and foremost. That's what got me into it. I grew up watching these pay-per-views as a kid. I didn't miss a pay-per-view."
The main event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena sees Australia's Alexander (The Great) Volkanovski defend his featherweight title against the Korean Zombie, the No. 4 contender among 135-pounders whose real name is Chan Sung Jung.
Bantamweight champion Aljamain (Funk Master) Sterling faces interim title-holder and former champion Petr (No Mercy) Yan of Russia in the co-main event.
Malott's fight career took him to California seven years ago to join Team Alpha Male. He made Sacramento his home, although he spent most of this training camp back in Ontario.
"Right now the scene in Southern Ontario has gotten a lot better," he explained. "I've a lot of great training partners and people are starting to work together collectively a lot more than when I first moved to Sacramento.
"Before everything was really spread out and I was training at different gyms and I didn't feel like I really had a home base."
Malott trains at Niagara Top Team in St. Catharines, Ont. Gym co-owner Chris Prickett is a close friend — and former national wrestling champion.
"A lot of guys my size (there) and a lot of guys that can emulate that Mickey Gall style quite well," said Malott.
The 30-year-old Gall is coming off a December loss to Alex (the Great White) Morono that dropped his UFC record to 6-4-0. He won his first three fights in the promotion, including a submission victory over highly touted Sage Northcutt, but has gone 3-4-0 since.
"He's definitely dangerous," said Malott, who is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. "You can't underestimate the guy. He's got a pretty solid ground game. He's tough on the feet. He's not the most technical or crisp striker but he doesn't seem afraid to fight.
"(I) definitely respect him. But I think I'm definitely better than him everywhere."
Malott got the UFC's attention by dispatching Israel's Shimon (Assassin) Smotritsky via guillotine choke for the second-fastest submission in the six-season history of Dana White's Contender Series. The TV show, held at the UFC's Apex production facility in Las Vegas, offers fighters a chance to impress the UFC president — and possibly earn a UFC deal.
Malott took a break from fighting between February 2017 and December 2020, when he defeated Solomon (The Black Dragon) Renfro in the Cage Fury Fighting Championship promotion. That was his last action before the Dana White Contender Series bout.
Malott said he took the time off to re-evaluate things.
"I kind of lost the passion for fighting," he said. "The idea didn't excite me. It was purely discipline that was keeping me training for MMA, it wasn't passion at all."
So he opted to compete in jiu-jitsu instead. At the same time, Team Alpha Male boss Urijah (The California Kid) Faber offered him the role of striking coach.
He went on to corner Cody (No Love) Garbrandt, Andre (Touchy) Fili, Darren (The Damage) Elkins and Faber, among others, in the UFC. He reckons he has already been part of 20 UFC fight weeks, including an earlier card in Jacksonville.
"That kind of gave me way more experience and confidence going back into competing and MMA," he said.
Malott isn't used to long fights, however. He has had to go beyond the first round just once — in a 2015 draw with France's Thomas Diagne in Bellator action.
His other eight fights have lasted a combined 11 minutes 26 seconds. "I'm not afraid to look for a finish and I'm not afraid take calculated risks."
In his last outing, he dropped to the ground after grabbing Smotritsky's neck as the two tangled. That led to the quick choke.
Malott is not the only athlete in the family.
Younger brother Jeff is a winger in the Winnipeg Jets organization. The 25-year-old Jeff, the bigger of the brothers at six foot three and 204 pounds, made his NHL regular-season debut March 20 in a 6-4 win at Chicago.
Jeff Malott, who attended Cornell, has 21 goals, 15 assists and 49 penalty minutes in 54 games for the AHL Manitoba Moose this season.
"The kid's not scared to throw the mitts down if he has to," Mike Malott said proudly. "I've put the pads on for him a couple of times and held mitts for him and taught him some stuff. He's big and athletic anyway so he'd be able to handle himself regardless. But I tried to show him stuff I though might help him in some hockey fights."
Malott, who is 6-1 and normally walks around at 185 pounds, said he wasn't that good at hockey. But MMA caught his eye.
"I don't know what it was but something about fighting just clicked for me. I felt like I was able to pick it up pretty quickly and it just kind of made sense to me."
He found a local taekwondo gym in Waterdown where he grew up, then transitioned to a Muay Thai gym in Stoney Creek before moving east to attend Dalhousie University, training at Titans MMA in Halifax.
"I took fighting far more seriously than my degree," he said.
He made his pro debut in April 2011 while at Dalhousie.
"Getting into fights on the weekends and then going back to class on Mondays," he recalled.
Malott started as a featherweight (145 pounds) but now fights at welterweight (170).
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press