Mac Danzig traveled around the world and back again before winning season six of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). And he has yet to hit the ripe old age 30.
He already has a lifetime of experience in mixed martial arts, winning 18 professional bouts in 23 career contests. It's safe to say, however, that the former King of the Cage and Gladiator Challenge title holder did not become a well-known name among casual fans until his winning performance on the Spike TV series back in late 2007.
Better late than never.
"It definitely made me recognizable," Danzig explained in an exclusive interview with MMAMania.com. "I don’t know if it is always in a good light [laughs] ... the way things went on the show. It definitely put my name out there and got me on the map. Instead of as before the hard core fans knew who I was. But being on the show got me the mainstream attention, which is one of the main reasons why serious fighters try to get on the show -- to give their career a bit of a boost and a jump start.
For Danzig, the opportunity also meant that he could focus full-time on what he liked to do best, fight, rather than trying to squeeze it all in while trying to make ends meet elsewhere.
"I was successful with it and I was able to put myself in a position where I’m finally fighting for a living, which is really nice," he said. "Before I had a couple other jobs at any given time. Just to survive, pay the rent and get gas and food and everything. Now I actually have a career with fighting for the first time in my life. Money isn’t everything but it’s defiantly a plus for me because now I can concentrate on training and on nothing else. That is what you need at this level. The guys I am fighting in the UFC right now, there is no time to be doing other jobs and things like that. You have got to have 100 percent of your time focused."
Indeed, Danzig's next fight will be against fellow veteran Josh Neer at Ultimate Fight Night 17 from the University of South Florida (USF) Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla., later on this evening. And it may be his stiffest test to date inside the Octagon despite losing a unanimous decision to Clay Guida his last time out.
"Josh Neer is a tough guy," he said. "What can I say? I have watched film on him. I’ve been seeing a few of his fights here and there throughout the years. He is well rounded. He is good at everything and not particularly excellent at any one thing. But his wresting is good, his stand up is good, his submissions are good. It is one of those things where I don’t have a clear advantage anywhere. He is a very tough dude so it should be a good scrap. I’m just looking forward to fighting someone that wants to keep moving and having an exciting fight."
Perhaps that's a dig at "The Carpenter" -- Guida smothered Danzig for most of the three-round fight with a relentless wrestling attack. It was a frustrating loss and one that Danzig wants to put behind him as soon as possible.
There is only one way to do that: Get into a good scrap, put on a show for the fans and hope to walk away the winner when all is said and done. He shouldn't have a problem regarding the first two points -- Neer is a 25-year-old competitor who also already has a lifetime of experience with a solid record (24-7-1).
He also has a recent arrest record.
Neer was accused of drinking and driving and arrested after a car chase on New Year’s Eve night. Police had to use stop sticks to flatten the tires of Neer's car to end the pursuit. He was charged with a DUI and eluding police.
For a time it was unclear whether or not Neer would be allowed to compete at UFC Fight Night 17. The uncertainty didn't rattle Danzig.
"When that whole thing first happened I took a wait and see attitude," he said. "I waited like a day or two and once a few statements were released by his management I kind of realized that this was just a thing for him. He will probably have a court date after the fight sometime and he will have to deal with that. He will probably end up with some fines, who knows, but I kind of had a feeling that I knew it wouldn’t really affect the fight."
And for Danzig, he says it's really none of his business in the first place. All he cares about is Neer continuing to train and coming in the best shape possible to fight him.
"He is not the type of guy to pull out and knowing that he was out of jail I knew he would get back to the gym and train and fight," Danzig said about his opponent. "To be honest, the way I look at it, it is not really a whole lot of my business as long as he is in the gym and training which I know he is. So that is all I’m worried about. Whatever goes on in his personnel life I’m not judging the guy. I don’t live my life that way but, to each his own. I knew for a second he may not be able to fight and I said to myself, I now the UFC will give me a replacement, so I just kept doing my thing."
What is his business is his growing family -- Danzig and his girlfriend, Angeline Grace, recently had a child together. As any new father would tell you, it is one of the most difficult challenges imaginable. But he's up to the task, knowing that he is now fighting for way more than just himself and training partners.
Diapers are expensive.
"I just had my first baby, a daughter, on Nov 16," he said. "It has definitely changed my life -- she is everything to me. It is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. It is a huge undertaking and it is something you can never quite totally prepare for. It is just one of those things, when it happens, you got to go with it."
Fortunately for her, she takes after her mother.
"She is extremely cute -- one of the most adorable baby’s and I’m not just saying that," he gushed. "It’s the truth. I really lucked out. I don’t know if she got many of my genes because she is cute but she got Angeline’s. It’s a lot of fun. A lot of hard work but it is definitely rewarding. I’m going to do my best to raise her the right way and to watch her live her life. It has been a huge part of my life lately but I haven’t let it be a distraction."
When he hasn't been changing dirty diapers and attending to his daddy duties, Danzig has kept himself busy preparing for Neer with the All-Star cast at X-Treme Couture. It's a gym that is loaded with worldclass talent. which Danzig admits has helped him take his already well-rounded game to exciting new heights.
"It is by far the best gym that I know of in the world right now for anyone in MMA," he said. "We have the best roster of guys and a lot of guys people haven’t heard of yet that are really really good. They just haven’t come out on the scene yet. We always have a lot of really good pros passing through and training for a week or two. My boxing coach is Gil Martinez. He is also Gray Maynard’s boxing coach. As far as sparring partners go I’ve got Gray Maynard. I’ve got Tyson Griffin. I’ve got Robert Emerson, Martin Kampmann, Jay Hieron, Mike Pyle, John Alessio and Josh Haynes -- the list just goes on and on."
"Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonner are in there quite a bit even though those guys are bigger and I usually don’t do a lot of sparring with them," he continued, "they are there and we train a little bit." There are always a lot of good fighters coming through the gym as well. We have Rob McCullough at the gym right now. Sam Stout. The gym is always full of really tough guys."
Danzig has put in all the hard work and sacrifice. He's trained alongside some of the best in the business. Now it's time to lay it all on the line and see if Neer can handle it. Based on what he's been through and what he's seen, Danzig does not think he will.
"The game plan is not to necessarily worry about him and his style," he said. "I watch tape. I have a pretty good idea on what he is going to do but the main game plan is for me to just fight my fight and impose my will. Like I said I am just looking forward to getting in there with someone who isn’t trying to stall or play for points. I’m just going to go at it and not really worry about him or what he brings."