TORONTO – Kyle Watson
doesn't want to make too big a fuss over his fight against John Makdessi
because, well, the two are "definitely not teammates."
But in a sport in which every little advantage could be the difference between a win and a loss, Watson will take what he can get.
Watson (13-6-1, 1-0 UFC) and Makdessi (8-0, 1-0 UFC) meet on the preliminary card of UFC 129 in Toronto on Saturday, but it was the short time they spent together at the Tristar Gym in Montreal that is eliciting a few whispers.
Makdessi makes his training home there alongside UFC 129's star of stars, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. And as a contestant on Season 12 of "The Ultimate Fighter" under GSP, Watson recently popped up to drill with his old TUF coach. There, the two worked together before they knew they were fighting each other.
"It's nothing to be played up too much," Watson told MMA Fighting on Thursday. "It did give me a little bit of insight of what to expect, but obviously video does that too. I'd rather not fight someone who is Georges' teammate, but that's the way the game works. I'm the little guy on the totem pole."
And Watson said he nearly was in another sticky situation before signing to fight Makdessi when a bout was proposed between him and Darren Elkins. Watson said he wasn't keen on that fight because Elkins' main coach, Keith Wisniewski, had been over to Watson's training home, the H.I.T. Squad, for some recent work. But Elkins' decision to drop to featherweight scrapped that fight before it got off the ground.
But if a scenario fighting a sometimes-training partners is Watson's biggest fighting dilemma, he'll probably take it. It's a far cry from his days grinding out wins on regional shows in the Midwest. And he hasn't forgotten that – especially given his first UFC fight was in front of 1,900 people at the TUF 12 Finale, and he's doing an encore in front of 55,000 at the Rogers Centre on Saturday.
"It gives you validation it was worth all the hard work and all the sacrifices," Watson said. "I'm looking forward to going as far as I can, and I don't think it's going to change me. I've seen guys completely change, where they start to get more cocky and think they're something more than they are. I don't want to embarrass myself like that. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose. But I'm going to leave it all out there. I have to be a role model at the end of the day – I've got a lot of students at home."
As the head jiu-jitsu coach at the H.I.T. Squad, the gym founded by UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, Watson has to constantly wear two hats as both fighter and teacher, which he said sometimes has been to his detriment. But it's that experience as a teacher and coach that probably helped him glean information about Makdessi and recall it once the fight was booked.
"If anything, I got a feel for my reach against him," Watson said. "I'll definitely have an edge in the reach. I know it's in his head that he doesn't want to be on the ground with me, but now he knows he can't stand up with me, either. He's a tough guy, and the cage is going to be bigger than the ring we were in. But I definitely feel he knows I have more than one tool in the tool box."
Watson said since his stint on TUF, he's focused on improving his wrestling skills as a means to an end – he wants fights on the ground where he can utilize his strong grappling skills. He just isn't sure what took him so long to get there.
"I'm always working everything and trying to get more well-rounded," Watson said. "Honestly, I've paid the most attention to my wrestling. I'm still working on my standup, too, but a lot of focus has been on my wrestling. I should've been doing it a long time ago, but didn't put as much of a focus on it. I want to be on the ground, so I need to be able to dictate when I'm going to be there."
Watson-Makdessi is part of the preliminary card of UFC 129, which will be part of the UFC's live Facebook stream starting at 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. The Facebook stream will be followed by a pair of prelims live on Spike TV at 8 p.m., and the main card of UFC 129, which airs on pay-per-view at 9 p.m., features a main event welterweight title fight between St-Pierre and Jake Shields.