When Mike Rio steps into the Octagon tonight (May 18, 2013), he'll be fighting for something much bigger than himself.
"The Wolverine" has an autistic brother, and every punch thrown in the bout won't just be with the intention of taking home a "Knockout of the Night" bonus, but also to help the charity Autism Speaks.
Rio was a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 15, the only live season of Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) flagship reality show and he'll be bringing his 9-1 professional record to Brazil against Francisco Trinaldo on the Fuel TV portion of the UFC on FX 8 preliminary card.
The 31-year old spoke to MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about fighting outside the US for the first time, preparing himself mentally to compete and the issues his brother faced growing up in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've spent your entire career fighting inside the United States. How are you feeling competin outside the country for the first time, especially in an incredibly hostile environment like Brazil?
Mike Rio: I'm expecting to be booed a lot (laughs). Brazilians are super fans. They love their sport and they love mixed martial arts. The first thing you learn in any martial art is respect. Yeah, I'm expecting to take a lot of flack when I step in there but I feel the second the fight is over, as long as I respect myself, respect Brazil and respect my opponent as a person, they'll give respect back to me. If I give it, I'll get it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned recently that you've never really been booed in your life. Are you bracing yourself for that? Perhaps getting your teammates to heckleyou a bit when you're sparring?
Mike Rio: I've been trying my best to prepare myself mentally. For the most part in my career, I've always had people to cheer me on. I've had a boo here or there during fights, but that's whatever. This time, however, I'm gonna be booed by the entire stadium. I'm trying to put my head on straight to completely cancel out any noise. I'm just gonna be there 100 percent to fight. I was thinking about getting a blowhorn and when I'm in the locker room right before the fight, blow it right in my ears so I can't hear a thing. (laughs)
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you don't just want to prepare for someone, but you actually want to overprepare. Are there any things you really went overboard with in your training for this fight?
Mike Rio: Yeah, well Trinaldo is the Hector Lombard of the lightweight division. I just have to make sure I'm ready in all areas. My grappling has to be on point, my striking has to be there, I think 95% of any sport is mental. I know plenty of athletes that are phenomenal in the gym but they go out and just buckle under the pressure. It's not just about being athletic and technical, you most importantly have to be ready to step in there mentally or you won't perform to the best of your ability.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're fighting for the charity Autism Speaks, you've got a family member afflicted with autism. Can you tell a bit of your story in that department for those that don't know it yet?
Mike Rio: My little brother is named Steven and he has autism. You technically cannot beat autism, but to me, my little brother beat it because he graduated high school, got a full ride to college. That's beating autism to me. If it wasn't for my mom not allowing him to use his autism as a crutch, he wouldn't be so independent. He wouldn't be so hard-working all the time because he's not just getting things handed to him. Mom made him work for it. He was raised great. He had his problems as a kid because he was in the wrong schools and kids were hazing him and bullying him because he had a problem. These kids were being mean to be mean, thinking it was funny. It wasn't to allow him in a group or let him be their friend. The schools aren't doing enough about it and the teachers aren't doing enough because they haven't been trained for it. Their excuse is they aren't a special needs teacher. What I decided to do is sell wrist bands and 100 percent of what I make off the wrist bands, this was my brother's idea, I donate it to Autism Speaks, a South Florida branch to represent autism and bring awareness. Hopefully I can do my part to get better schools, better classes and hire better teachers that understand them and don't just stick them in the back of the class because they don't want to deal with it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It seems like you're working really hard to make a difference. This isn't just taking a stance to be a fad. It's a real passion for you.
Mike Rio: It's very, very important to me. If you see my little brother, you can tell he's a special needs student, but he tries to hard to fit in. Even though his condition doesn't allow him to be very social, he tries so hard, he comes to my fights. First of all, that's something very hard for autistic kids, being around that many people. He'll sit in the crowd and handle it as long as he possibly can. When he can't handle it no more, he runs into the hallway, blows his mind out for a second, resets and then comes back and sits in the stands to cheer me on again. He tries his best.
It'll be too much to bring him to Brazil this time around. I'm not making Georges St. Pierre money yet. (laughs).