Mike Pyle is a self-described “old, country boy.”
He speaks deliberately, with conviction and a slight twang, a remnant of his Tennessee roots. He’s been around the block a time or two, having fought for a handful of regional outfits and a half-dozen name brand organizations over a career that spans more than 13 years and 30 fights.
Guys like him have a certain way of doing things, even if it may not be the way business has been getting done recently.
“I’m not going to talk my way into an ass whipping, that’s for sure,” says the 37-year-old, referencing the recent trend of fighters who talked their way into high profile bouts coming out on the wrong side of a one-sided result. “I’m not going to hype things up and do that WWE, trash talking s*** or whatever it is that has been going on as of late.”
In the midst of the best stretch he’s put together since debuting with the UFC in May 2009, the veteran welterweight is frustrated.
He went 3-0 in 2012 with successive first round knockout victories over Ricardo Funch, Josh Neer, and James Head.
Despite his success – and politely lobbying for a chance to fight some of the bigger names in the division following his last victory in December – Pyle will once again find himself on the preliminary card when he steps into the cage with at UFC 160.
Originally, he was scheduled to share the cage Gunnar Nelson, but the up-and-coming Icelandic prospect was forced out with an injury. Fresh off a first round finish of Quinn Mulhern, Vancouver, Washington-based welterweight Rick Story stepped up to fill the void, and the duo will serve as the final bout of the televised portion of the undercard.
It’s not exactly the marquee matchup (or main card placement) Pyle was hoping for after stopping Head in less than two minutes back in December. However, rather than complaining, the surging veteran who has acquired a taste for knocking opponents out is focusing on the task at hand, and fixing to get himself a place on the main card the old-fashioned way.
He’s going to earn it.
“Here’s the way I look at it: I’m obviously not the guy that they want to push and have in the big fights and whatever, and that’s fine because if you knock dudes out like I have and perform like I have, it says something to me. I guess it doesn’t say the same thing to them because they’ve got their eyes on other guys – like Gunnar Nelson. They put quite a bit of hype behind him, and quite honestly, he ain’t did s***. He hasn’t done anything. He fought (Jorge) Santiago, and he didn’t finish that fight.
“Those are things that I cannot control, so I don’t dwell on it,” continues Pyle, the frustration evident as his usually laid back tempo picks up pace and heft. “I don’t put any focus towards where am I going to be next fight or whatever; I just go to the gym, train my ass off, and perform.
“I’m just going to let my performances make their mark, and sooner or later, things will hopefully fall into place, and I’ll get a little respect. Until then, that’s fine – I’m going to go in there, knock dudes out, and collect my paycheck.”
While part of Pyle’s frustrations stems from success in the cage taking a backseat to success at the box office at various points over the last year, the fact that his window of opportunity is not quite as wide as it once was is a definite factor as well.
“The MMA world has changed since I started,” opines Pyle, who lost the first bout of his career to a fellow first-timer by the name of Quinton Jackson in November 1999 in Memphis, Tennessee. “I’m an old vet. I was once called an NHB fighter. I was making zero cash. I was doing it because I freakin’ loved it, and it was awesome, and I’m still doing it because I enjoy it.
“I love this sport and I’ll always be a part of it somehow, some way, but my time’s growing a bit short. I don’t have a foot in the grave or anything, but I’m getting a little older. This is a tough sport. I’m 38 this year.”
He pauses, and then doubles back, hitting at all the standard veteran fighter rest stops along the way.
He feels better now than he did in his 20s. He’s smarter, taking care of his body more. Retirement hasn’t even crossed his mind.
As much as it sounds like the well-used script of a fighter clutching to the final years of a career on a downward trajectory, the fact of the matter is that Pyle has never looked better. After years of being tagged as a guy who was great in the gym but never put it all together consistently inside the cage, Pyle truly has all the markings of someone who is just now hitting his stride.
“I feel I’ve matured a lot in the sport – I’ve been in the sport for a while, and I’ve matured a lot. I feel more confident in my hands, and I just feel more experienced. The UFC will bring that out in you – you always get pitted against someone who is tough and who is badass.
“Getting with the right coaches has helped; that has definitely contributed to that. That’s what’s really helped me a lot, and I thank those guys for dedicating that time and effort to helping me become a better fighter. Nowadays you need that special attention because it’s tough; you’re fighting tough guys, and you need to be prepared.
“I feel like I’ve maybe come into my own, gotten a little more confident in myself and my skills. I feel like I’ve always had the power to knock people out, but it’s just a matter of letting it go, letting it rip, and it’s paid off.
“I know I’ve got the power, and I’ve got the confidence, so everybody beware; I’m ready to rock. I can knock the biggest of them out or I can sub them. I’m not lacking in any department, and I feel good about that. It just brings that much more confidence to the table for me with whoever it is that I’m pitted against.”
That includes Story on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
Though the compact and powerful wrestler presents a very different style than Nelson, the change happened early enough that Pyle had ample time to adjust his training and ready himself for what Story brings to the cage.
“He don’t shy away from nobody,” assesses Pyle in his twisted Tennessee drawl. “He ain’t trying to get in there and dance around like Muhammad Ali or nothing like that; he’s there to fight and get it done. He’s gonna be in your face.
“Fighting Gunni, I was going to have to go and find Gunni – walk him down, find good angles and all that; try to cut him off. Not Rick – he’s gonna come at me, be right there in my face, so that poses a different challenge than having to find Gunni and cut him off.
“He don’t back off,” he says, continuing in his breakdown of the man standing between him and the first four-fight winning streak of his UFC career. “He brings it, but if you look at the fight I had with (Josh) Neer, he just kept putting the pressure, putting the pressure, and kept on, and it ended up getting him knocked out.
“I’m excited about the matchup,” Pyle adds summarily. “It’s going to be a challenge. I’ll have the reach on him because he’s a little bit of a shorter welterweight; he’s stocky, powerful. I’m gonna have the reach, and I’m gonna try to reach out and touch that chin every chance I get.”
If a win does come his way this weekend, don’t expect Pyle to snatch the microphone from Joe Rogan’s hand and drop a CM Punk-style pipe bomb in the center of the Octagon.
“It’s not what this sport is about, but it is selling fights, so how can you argue with that?” he says with an annoyed acceptance. “From a business standpoint, that’s attracting a lot of attention and getting it done, but meanwhile, you’ve got a hardworking, old guy like me trying to be somebody, staying quiet, knocking dudes out, and don’t get even half as much respect as somebody that talked their way into a brutal ass-whoopin’ – an embarrassing ass-whoopin’ at that.
“For me, I’m an old country boy, so everything will be respectful. If I did have something to say, it will be very respectful because I appreciate the position I’m in right now. After this fight, I would like – if things go well for me and go my way – I’d really like to step it up a notch and get closer to that title. If they want to do something with me, fine. If they don’t want to push those bigger fights with me, I’ll just earn it.
“Either way, I’m going to be in a fight that night and it’s going to be against a tough sonovabitch, so let’s just get it done.”
Mike Pyle: Taking an Old School Approach to Becoming a Contender
"I know I’ve got the power, and I’ve got the confidence, so everybody beware; I’m ready to rock." Mike Pyle