Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Mike Pyle can't say whether we was more disappointed or surprised to find out his bout against James Head had been placed on The Ultimate Fighter 16 Finale undercard. After all, Pyle had been around this game for 14 years, left with his hand raised in five of his last six UFC appearances, and was fresh off two stellar first-round knockouts.
Besides, it wasn't as if the free television event was a stacked pay-per-view.
"I just don't know [why]," Pyle admitted on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I had a super sweet knockout on Josh Neer. Nobody's put him face down before in the UFC. He's fought a lot of good guys.
"I get it, you've got to earn your spot. But come on, I think I've earned that, [to] at least have a better spot. But whatever, I did my job. I did what I needed to do, and I can't dwell on those kind of things."
Pyle did indeed do his job. At 37 years old, Pyle continued to mount an improbable late-career push into contention by blasting Head with a gorgeous knee to the jaw less than two minutes into the bout. Head collapsed in a heap, and Pyle celebrated his third straight quick finish.
For a man who entered 2012 with just two knockouts to his credit, Pyle's run is something to behold. Especially when you consider his recent split with Xtreme Couture, the gym he helped found with UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture.
Pyle says the split was amicable, though he isn't the only core member to have left Couture in recent times -- Gray Maynard, Michael Chandler and Tyson Griffin have all departed for a fresh start. Still, he credits his recent resurgence to a conversation that started back in 2011, when he got crushed by Rory MacDonald in just under four minutes.
"I'd already made a decision that I needed to seek some other coaches," Pyle remembered. "That was after the Rory fight. So when I came back, a friend of mine has a home in northern California on a river, so I was out there just chilling one day, with my big booboo lip because of the loss, and I was like, ‘That's it, I've got to make a change. I'm going back, I'm going to talk to a couple coaches I know. I'm going to change everything. I'm going to see if that works, and if it doesn't, I quit.'"
Luckily everything seems to have worked out for Pyle, who suddenly finds himself peaking at an age when most fighters are already retired. Nonetheless, he admits it is odd to not be representing the banner he help start.
"It is [weird], but to be honest with you there were a lot of changes that were going on there anyway," said Pyle. "Things just weren't feeling as close-knit family, and I like that kind of thing. You come in and it feels like family, familiar faces and unspoken rules of thumb.
"I just needed a change, man. I'll be honest with you. It was the same thing over and over and over. A lot of the same training, a lot of the same routine, and I just knew I wasn't reaching my full potential. And I'm no spring chicken so I've got to get things done, man. I've got to do the necessary things to make me better."
When it comes to beating the urgency of Father Time, Pyle is doing a remarkable job. With Saturday's win, Pyle became the only welterweight on the UFC roster with three straight first-round KO/TKO finishes. Immediately afterward he took advantage of his post-fight facetime to ask for a top-ten opponent.
Pyle didn't throw out any particular names, for of naming a fighter who had already been booked. But now that he's had some time to think, someone like Josh Koscheck seems to fit the bill nicely.
"There's a top ten guy," Pyle concluded. "Top ten guys, I feel like I've been there before, [it's] not like [the UFC has] denied me, and I've dropped the ball. I'm back to that point again, so let's do it. And maybe one day I'll break into the top ten. I don't know, what the hell?"
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