Things usually move pretty fast in UFC land when a fighter gets injured and a replacement is needed. 2012 has proved that as matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby have been forced to do more juggling than a circus act sewing up the holes that have popped up over the course of the year.
But when bantamweight Mike Easton lost TJ Dillashaw, then Bryan Caraway for his December 8th date in Seattle, there was a little bit longer wait than usual before Brazilian veteran Raphael Assuncao stepped up for the assignment, leading many to believe that maybe the charismatic 135-pounder from the Washington DC area isn’t the kind of guy you want to face on short notice.
“I already know that I’m making a big impression,” said Easton. “And people are gonna hesitate regardless because they already know what type of power that I hold in my hands and in my kicks. My takedown defense is unbelievable and I’m definitely one of the best on the ground when it comes to grappling because I’m a Lloyd Irvin black belt. So I am a very, very dangerous opponent for anybody, and people look at that short notice and they’re like ‘I don’t think I’m gonna take a fight on short notice against Mike Easton.’”
Call “The Hulk” a believer then, but if you take his confident proclamations aside, he’s got plenty of reasons to talk, most notably an eight fight winning streak and an unbeaten three fight run in the UFC that has seen him defeat Byron Bloodworth, Jared Papazian, and Ivan Menjivar. And after celebrating his one year anniversary in the organization in October, it’s clear that he’s here to stay among the top bantamweights in the game.
“It feels so good to be in the UFC because it’s a dream come true for me,” said Easton, 13-1 as a pro, with his only loss coming when a 2007 bout against Reynaldo Duarte was stopped by his corner due to a broken arm. “A lot of people don’t make it a whole year in the UFC, and it’s been a whole year and it’s gonna be many more years for me. Since I was a teenager, I’ve always said ‘Mike Easton’s gonna be UFC champ,’ and they didn’t even have my weight division. (Laughs) But it’s just my words coming to pass, and I feel like I am one of the hardest working men in the UFC and I show it every time that I fight. I just love my job.”
And his fans love him right back, which isn’t surprising given that Easton is one of the most affable competitors in the UFC today and owner of an infectious personality and a compelling backstory. Plus, having taken the long road to the UFC, he’s been an inspiration to those around him in his neighborhood and in the Lloyd Irvin Martial Arts Academy.
“Everyone’s been excited in the neighborhood and the city,” said the 28-year-old Easton. “I teach kids up at the gym and a lot of those kids don’t even have dads in their life, and I’m giving them a positive role model. But the main thing is that I have a son that I take care of, so everything I do is for him, and what I can do for everybody else and all the other kids and also guys that are around my age is to just do what I’m supposed to do, and people look up to that like ‘yeah, I can do something, I can follow my dreams.’ And that’s what I tell everybody: just follow your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it, because you can.”
Right now, five-year-old Champ Easton’s dream is two-fold.
“He wants to be a UFC fighter and wants to be a race car driver,” said his dad as he got Champ ready for school, only to be corrected by Champ.
“It’s dirt bike rider,” said Champ.
I tell Easton that being a UFC fighter is probably easier, and the 135-pound contender laughs, but his standing in the division is no laughing matter, especially with his stablemate Dominick Cruz, the UFC bantamweight champ, on the shelf with a knee injury and interim titleholder Renan Barao and rising star Michael McDonald battling it out for the belt in February. Where does Easton fit in with a win over Assuncao? He doesn’t know, and at the moment, it’s not a concern because he feels his time will eventually come.
“Fighting is motivation for me,” he said. “Regardless of what’s going on in the weight division and the things that are happening, I am going to get a title shot. Patience is a virtue and I am very patient because all I can do is keep getting better. We have a lot of top guys in the division and all I want to do is fight the top guys.”
He’ll get his chance, and no matter who’s in front of him, he’s not going to fight to protect his undefeated UFC record; he’s fighting to win.
“When you look at my fights I go for broke every single time,” said Easton. “I’m the guy that’s coming forward, and losing is not an option for me. It’s not even in my vocabulary. I’m a fighter, it’s what I do, and I know for sure that I’m not gonna come to any fight unprepared. So if I know I’ve done everything I was supposed to do in my camp, losing is not even an option for me. I’m going in there to rip somebody’s head off.”
Mike Easton - Patient Everywhere but in the Octagon
"Regardless of what’s going on in the weight division and the things that are happening, I am going to get a title shot." - Mike Easton