WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2011 – Mike “The Hulk” Easton is D.C. born and bred. He’s lived in the immediate area most of his life, riding the metro and marveling at monuments like thousands of other District residents. Unlike most of his neighbors, however, Easton fights with his fists and feet for a living. A dedicated mixed martial arts practitioner, Easton will make his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at D.C.’s Verizon Center. It’s a homecoming brawl the boisterous fighter was all too happy to discuss (among other things) during a recent training session at Team Lloyd Irvin Dojo in Arlington.
How did you first become interested in mixed martial arts?
Mike Easton: I’ve been doing traditional martial arts all my life. I started Tae Kwon Do at a local school in D.C. and I’m now a black belt. I’ve always been a banger though, somebody who likes real contact stuff.
At 17, I saw a UFC special on pay-per-view after my family had just moved out of the city into Maryland. I watched the fights while I was back in the city staying at my grandmother’s and just visiting. After that, I met Master Lloyd Irvin by chance at a Clucky’s Chicken on old Branch Avenue. He told me about how he taught mixed martial arts and that I should come check it out having just seen the UFC for the first time.
I got hooked up there and one day I just had to have my parents come in. My dad sat me down and looked me in the eyes and said, ‘If we sign this contract to join this gym, you better make a commitment.’ I made that commitment and Master Lloyd took me on knowing I was serious about making it into the UFC. Ten years later, I’m there.
You recently signed to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and will compete in your debut match for that organization in October. How does it feel to be part of the UFC?
Easton: It feels good. It’s a godsend to be able to do it in my hometown at the Verizon Center. It’s crazy. I’ve been watching the Capitols and the Wizards there for a long time. It’s going to be home-field advantage for me, but I already feel like the cage is my home, the octagon is my home.
There’s something about it that has spoken over my life. My first opponent in life was death. I was born in George Washington Hospital at 2 lbs., 3 oz. I wasn’t supposed to make it. I was in the hospital for about two months and even had some blood transfusions. I beat death. I’m not worried about no human being, especially no little man when it comes to fighting. I got my elbow broken in the cage and I kept on fighting. I’m just as tough as they come.
Your first fight for the UFC will be against Jeff Hougland. What thoughts do you have on your opponent?
Easton: He’s in the UFC for a reason. He can fight. But he has to be scared – I’m the hardest hitting 135 lb. fighter around here, period, hands down. I believe that and if anybody wants to test it, it’s like ‘What’s up?’ you know? It’s that simple. I have great leg kicks, my Muay Thai is great, and I have a black belt in jiu-jitsu from Master Lloyd Irvin. I know the system and I know how to play the game. I have also been working a lot on my wrestling defense. I’m going to offset any wrestling against me with my judo throws. Jeff’s got a lot to worry about.
Your upcoming bout against Hougland is your first in two years. How excited are you to get back in the octagon?
Easton: I’m excited. I’m hungry. People talk about ring rust and being off for two years. You know those guys who’ve been fighting for two years? They haven’t rested their bodies. I’ve had a chance to rest and sit back and study and watch the guys I’m going to fight. I’ve been involved in the UFC for two years as Dominick Cruz’s training partner. I’m a loud-mouthed guy so people know who I am. I’m just ready to shut up all these haters. I’ve got a lot of haters. I call them secret lovers. People say the UFC made a mistake in hiring me. And I say, ‘what are you saying about the UFC?’ What’s wrong with that statement? Are these people fans or really against the UFC?
Although we love fans, they say some harsh stuff. Fans are fickle. They can change on you real quick, just like that. Truth be told, I’m coming back to fight for myself, my city, and my two kids. No one is going to take that away from me. Now I get to live and make money doing my dream.
A big part of your hiatus since 2009 from MMA competition has to do with a severe elbow injury that’s plagued you. How difficult was it healing and rehabbing that injury?
Easton: I actually waited six months after the surgery to start again. The scar I have from it is a victory. It’s one of my pride and joys. I’m healthy now and I’m getting wiser. I’m training with the champ in my division, Dominick Cruz, and learning from the millions of fights he’s had. I can’t wait to fight. I’m about proving who I am and what I can do for the UFC. The UFC’s going to take care of me and I’m going to take care of them. That’s my goal. I am down to spread UFC all over the world.
Your fight is on the undercard of a bout between Dominick “Dominator” Cruz and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the UFC Bantamweight Title (for fighters 126-135 lbs. in weight). Any thoughts on which of those two combatants will walk away with the title in October?
Easton: I’ve got to go with my guy Domo. That’s my boy, my training partner, my main man. It’s going to be an excellent fight no matter what though.
I like Demetrious. He’s a smart, he’s funny, and he’s a cool dude. He’s Mighty Mouse, you know? He’s fine by me, and by Domo. We’re all smiles today. It’s a business here. Yes, you have your little beefs in the UFC, but we all know it’s still a business and we carry ourselves as professional athletes.
As someone with a life-long interest in MMA, what do you think makes a good fight?
Easton: If you go in there, go in there to wreck, go in there to fight. Get your takedowns and strikes in. Don’t be boring. The fans don’t pay to watch boring. The UFC pays us to be exciting, to know how to fight, to talk, and to represent the UFC well.
What tips do you have for other people looking to compete in MMA professionally?
Easton: You’ve got to make a commitment. Once you start fighting, keep at it.
You are a D.C.-area native. What does the District mean to you?
Easton: I’m still the same old Mike Easton hanging out in Southeast D.C. and stuff like that. No matter how big or large I get, I’m going to be the same guy. The paparazzi don’t go through the hood too much. Most of my family and friends are out there.
I’ve got friends who have died on these streets, who are incarcerated. I have cousins who have died on these streets or been murdered or are incarcerated. I have to do what I have to do to show them there’s a bigger life. You don’t have to rob nobody, kill nobody, or harm nobody. You just have to work hard.
I know dudes who sell drugs. I tell them, ‘Dog, you’ve got to do something different homey.’ I’m not going to change my love for them or my friendship for them, but they’ve got to do something different. They’re selling poison to our neighbors or people we know. That’s not cool, that’s not good. If I can show them to change it around, I will. If I can change my city, I can change the world. I want to reach all the youth out there and tell them to do what they need to do to stay out of trouble. If they have beef, they should join a gym, fight in a cage, and learn mixed martial arts and how to control their anger. That’s what MMA did for me.
I grew up with a learning disability. I see letters backwards. People have always called me dumb or stupid. I couldn’t go around hitting everybody, so I learned to control my anger.
At the end of the day, I don’t have a regular job. I’m just enjoying life and doing what I love to do. What goes around comes around. I can’t believe I’m making history being the first fighter from Washington D.C. fighting in Washington D.C. I’m so happy my kids can look up to me for that.
Mike Easton will make his UFC debut in a preliminary match against Jeff Hougland at “UFC Live: Cruz vs. Johnson” on Saturday, Oct. 1 at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
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