It wasn't always easy for Jordan Mein. He wasn't always filled with so much confidence that he could look at the white board in his room with UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre's name on it, and tell himself that it would one day soon be crossed off. He didn't instinctively know he was bound for the UFC, even if he was always meant for fighting.
Mein was the kid who was enrolled in karate before kindergarten, the one who was watching fighting when his friends watched cartoons, the one who trailed training partners to events before he was ever old enough to shave.
While his first fight -- at age 16 against fellow Canadian phenom Rory MacDonald -- has already passed into MMA lore, it wasn't really his first rodeo. That came a few years early, in 2001, to be precise, when he had his first real competitive kickboxing match. At the age of 11.
It was at a local bar called "The Roadhouse," in an event promoted by his father, Lee Mein. Jordan and his opponent were the only other kids on the show, and he weighed in at 70 pounds. Yes, they had an official weigh-in for the pint-sized scrappers, and Mein went on to win the three-round fight by decision.
"The crowd was going crazy," he told MMA Fighting. "It was pretty entertaining, and I've been hooked ever since."
Has he ever. Mein couldn't even wait until he was an adult to start his pro career, so shortly after turning 16, he was on his way. But this is where the uncertainty comes in. He lost his first fight. A few months later, he lost again. About one year after beginning his career, he was just 4-4. Sure, he was fighting some grown men during that time, but defeat is never easy to swallow.
"Yeah, I did have self-doubt," he said. "I've never really been hung up on wins and losses though. It's more the experiences. I knew some losses could get in the way or put me down. What I'm trying to strive for is to be the best. Taking losses and fighting back-to-back like I have my entire career, it's not about that. It's about overcoming what’s in front of you, and sometimes it’s taking a fight on short notice."
In those early days, Mein's goal was to pile up practical knowledge that would help him in the long run. That's how now, at age 23, he can already have 35 professional fights under his belt.
In his mind, it's also why he is performing at such a high level. Mein has won nine of his last 10 fights, and in his UFC debut last month, became the first man to finish durable veteran Dan Miller. That victory didn't come without some adversity. Early in the fight, Miller caught him in an armbar that was tight, but that's where Mein's many years of competition paid off. He didn't panic, executing a textbook escape before turning the momentum for good.
"Fighting and training and mental focus add up," he said. "The experience of fighting and traveling different places to train, it adds up eventually. It gets better as you go along. "That’s how it works for me anyway. I'm a little more comfortable with everything surrounding the sport."
When a spot opened up opposite Matt Brown on the UFC on FOX 7 main card, Mein was the UFC's first call. Given his past activity levels, the quick turnaround time -- five weeks from his UFC 158 win -- didn't dissuade him.
"I’ve done it before," he said. "My outlook’s always been if I’m healthy, I’m ready to go. I think being brought up in the sport like this is a big advantage."
Amazingly, despite all that activity, Mein has never gotten burned out on the sport. While the training is a grind, Mein says he often reminds himself how lucky he is to be doing something he loves.
There is a belief out there that MMA is a sport with a short shelf-life, at least when it comes to elite-level status. With almost a decade already behind him, Mein might be a good test case to watch in the future. Mein is aware of the opinion, but says it's not something he spends much time focusing on.
"It enters my mind because I do get asked about it, so it's not something I completely ignore. But I don't dwell on it," he said. "I don't think, 'Oh, I've only got until I'm 30 to get all my fights in. I'm just trying to act on what my career is, training every day. I go more on how I feel. As long as I’m healthy, I feel like I can train and fight. As long as I take care of myself, I think I'll have a long and successful career."
A win over Brown in a national showcase on FOX would be another key step on the way to achieving his goals.
The UFC welterweight division is loaded, a class full of sharks. Beyond St-Pierre, there is Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, Carlos Condit, Demian Maia, and Mein's old rival MacDonald, just to name a few.
For now, Mein is on the outside of the top 10, looking in. He sees those names daily on that white board in his room. He thinks about the challenges he might face from them. Right now, Brown stands in the way, in between the hard work that started from the time Mein was a toddler and what he believes is his ultimate destiny.
"Every fight I go into, I'm trying to make a statement," he said. "I know I can be the best in the organization. That's what I'm there to prove. I don't know when time-wise, but I definitely see myself at the top and fighting the very top guy in the division. I definitely see myself there."