For Cody McKenzie, a self-described unathletic specimen, awkward is the name of the game.
The lanky lightweight who catch-phrased the term "McKenzietine" during his stint on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) has developed a style all his own.
His "Average Joe" persona helped him relate to American audiences and they lived vicariously through his ability to repeatedly defeat more physically imposing foes with his signature submission hold.
McKenzie lost his first professional fight to major MMA veteran Yves Edwards in the beginning of 2011 and he vowed to take his career more seriously. After hitting some bumps in the road dealing with some training injuries, he feels he's finally found that happy medium to improve his skills while staying healthy.
The beloved Alaskan will take on Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Vagner Rocha this Saturday on the UFC Fight Night 25 undercard and he spoke with MMAmania.com about major changes in his training, giving up the party lifestyle and why his unorthodox style works so well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The last time I saw you, you were in Chicago cornering Tyler Stinson and Miesha Tate and they both went out and just had incredible upset victories. It was an amazing night of fights at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson. Can you talk about what that experience was like for you?
Cody McKenzie: I had just met Tyler Stinson that night and he'd asked me to corner him the night before at weigh ins. He tore it up for sure. I'll never forget the kid's name. We'll actually train together one of these days but he killed it. That was beautiful work on Tyler's part. Miesha surprised me a lot in that fight. She had a lot of problems leading up to that fight and I was helping her get ready in San Diego. We both trained over at Team Alpha Male a bit and I stayed with Miesha and her boyfriend Bryan [Caraway]. She had some issues with her knee, she kept hurting it but she pulled through like the champion she is and did her thing and ended up subbing a girl that'd never been subbed so that was pretty impressive.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned training at Alpha Male for a little bit but now you're in Las Vegas. You've moved there and it seems like you've finally settled down a little bit. Can you talk about what led to the decision to move to Vegas and train there?
Cody McKenzie: Mostly, I just needed a place with a lot of tough guys and a place I can call home. I met a couple pro fighters when I fought in the Middle East a couple years back and the last time I was in Vegas for the 170 pound tryouts, I was just there to support some of my guys from Spokane and I ran into these two good pro fighters David Hulett and Shawn Fitzsimmons and they had actually cornered me back when I fought in Bahrain. They were living here in Vegas, had a beautiful house and they had a big extra room so I finally decided to quit being a nomad travelling all over and actually get a little consistency to my camp.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Before that last fight with Yves Edwards, you had that reputation of going out and partying more than most fighters. Did you make any major changes in that after the loss?
Cody McKenzie: Yeah I did. I made mistakes up to that fight. I don't know if it was because I got a big head or just because I was nervous fighting Yves Edwards but I sipped a little too much booze leading up that fight. I definitely changed my ways for this fight. It's actually good for me because it's so expensive here in Vegas. If you go out, the club scene is just ridiculous. I hate clubs. I think every club SUCKS! (laughs). I've been a good boy, staying at home at night and living with pro fighters who are helping me keep to my diet.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What other changes did you make with your training?
Cody McKenzie: I've been doing Bikram Yoga also and I just signed up for a year. I did my first month leading up to this fight and it's ridiculous. It's like an hour and a half long in this 100 degree room. It's helped my injuries a ton and helped my focus. I also hired a strength and conditioning coach over at Throwdown because I gassed a little bit in my last one. His name's Norm and he's real great and works with a lot of UFC fighters. I made so many mistakes in that last fight and I know the fans enjoyed the fight because I scrapped but I don't just want to be a scrappy fighter, I want to be a world champion. Lightning will have to come down and hit me to make me lose this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You talked about recovering from injuries, well you were set to fight Bart Palazewski and I've read that your knee popped like three separate times. How frustrating was that period where you were just really getting hurt? Is that yoga something you've been doing to help recover from injuries?
Cody McKenzie: As a fighter, getting injured is the absolute worst for us. We're such tough people in life that when we're down and out, I don't even like to leave the house because I feel like I'm useless. I was out for a long time and now I'm glad to be back. This is it for me. I'm feeling great and I'm just doing maintenance up to the fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've read that you spar a lot more than most fighters, especially before your first 12 or so career fights. How do you think that helps you?
Cody McKenzie: It's more for my timing. I feel like I'm not as athletic as these guys but my timing makes up for that. I know my distance a lot better, my submission wrestling is very good, I've got that choke obviously (laughs).
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've got a very unorthodox style that seems to confuse a lot of fighters. Even though you lost the fight against Yves Edwards, you had this takedown where you'd wrap him up from behind and just like sit down, bringing him down with you. That's just not something that most fighters prepare for and it makes you an awkward opponent. Did that spar-only training style contribute to you being so different?
Cody McKenzie: No man, that's just my style. I still do that same takedown if the opportunity presents itself. I've got crazy trips to take people down and take their backs. I've got a lot of unorthodox moves and I roll with some of the top guys out here in Vegas and all of them are really impressed with my submission wrestling. They all say the same thing, "It's real weird but you still know your distance good and you still know your control." I still know all the basics but at the same time, I've always looked at it as, a lot of people do the same moves so everyone trains the defenses for those moves. I've always been trying to find my own moves in a way that people don't know how to defend.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your upcoming opponent, Vagner Rocha, may have a problem with that because he's so used to high level Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He fought once in the UFC thus far against Donald Cerrone. Did you glean anything from that fight?
Cody McKenzie: I actually watched his fight just today. I don't think Donald really put the pressure on him at all. I think Donald could have finished him any time he wanted if he'd have gone in there and fought him to his full potential but he was really hesitant to go to the ground with him and that was a mistake. A fight can go anywhere and it will go anywhere. I'd rather be standing up with this guy like Donald wanted to keep it but I'm definitely not afraid of the ground. He's a human, I'm a human. Punches and kicks and chokes work just as well on him as on me. We both have the same objective. I look at it more like this guy is trying to take my money. When the fight is over, I don't want him to think, "I hope I can get a rematch with Cody McKenzie," I want him to think, "I hope I never, ever, ever, ever get locked in the cage with that guy again." (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Rocha did not showcase much stand-up at all in that fight. He got lit up pretty bad by Cerrone. Do you think this could be an opportunity to showcase the improvements you've made in striking?
Cody McKenzie: Yeah I guess. To me, my striking isn't that improved, more that people haven't seen me at my best. I know I looked terrible against Nam Phan striking because I tried to wrestle and wrestle and I gassed out. That was some really tired striking. Even Nam told me that the shots I hit him with really hurt. I spar with a lot of great guys, boxers, kickboxers and MMA fighters and I can hang with anyone on the feet. People just haven't seen my stand-up. My stand-up with Yves was more just a ruse to take him down because he's so experienced with his striking and I was hoping to just take him down and choke him and it obviously didn't work out that way. I'm looking to show the world that I've got stand-up in a way but I'm not afraid to go anywhere with this guy. I know I'm a good fighter and then I'll get the respect. Haters tell me I'm a "one-trick phony" and I'm going to prove them wrong.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Rocha is a very accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner. He's competed on the world level. Do you have the confidence that you can submit him if you go to the ground with him?
Cody McKenzie: Yeah, I can submit anyone. Everybody's human. Don't get me wrong, his submission wrestling level is probably higher than mine but he can get choked out just like anyone else. If he catches me in something, he might as well just break it for all I care. I'm fighting 'til the end just like I always do. I don't like to quit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How would you like the fight to finish against Vagner Rocha?
Cody McKenzie: Just finish. I go into every fight just going for the finish. I've said it 100 times. If I was allowed to grab his big toe and crank it and bend it backwards and make him tap out that way, that's fine. I can barely do an armbar but if I see an opportunity to use one, I'll do one of those too (laughs). I just go in there looking to beat that guy up and finish him anyway possible. I just fight. It don't matter to me how I finish as long as I finish. I ain't looking for no decision, I know that. I'd rather be finished than go to a decision, truthfully.
Cody would like to thank his friends and family and his new sponsor The Gun Store in Las Vegas. He had a special shoutout for Chris from The Gun Store who's helped him out a lot in particular.
So what do you think Maniacs?
Will Mckenzie's changes in his training pay off with a big win on Saturday night? Or will his lack of fear for Rocha's ground game end up costing him?