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Kyle Bochniak: Zabit Magomedsharipov is ‘a perfect fight for me’

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Kyle Bochniak
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Kyle Bochniak is fine with people overlooking him. For now.

It’s been an uneven UFC journey for the 31-year-old featherweight from Massachusetts since debuting with the promotion two years ago. Bochniak has alternated wins and losses in his four Octagon appearances, losing a unanimous decision to Charles Rosa in January 2016 before scraping by with a split decision win over Enrique Barzola in his next fight.

A trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, saw Bochniak lose another unanimous decision, this time to Jeremy Kennedy, before he outpointed Brandon Davis in front of a lively Boston crowd at UFC 220.

Next up for Bochniak is a fight with Russian blue chipper Zabit Magomedsharipov. The two will kick off the main card of UFC 223 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Saturday, an opportunity that came about after several matchups were altered by one of the most insane weeks in the history of the sport.

It’s Magomedsharipov who has garnered the lion’s share of the hype, based on his 14-1 record and impressive performances in his first two UFC fights, but Bochniak told MMA Fighting he’s expecting to steal that thunder for himself.

“Nobody wanted to fight Zabit, I have no idea why not, but they offered me the fight and I said, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll take it,’” said Bochniak. “It’s the perfect opportunity for me to showcase who I truly am and a perfect fight for me, I think my stock is going to go way up after this and I can’t wait.”

This will be the first outing of a recently signed four-fight contract for Bochniak, so he’s looking to start things off on the right foot. While he showed off his athletic and evasive style in his win over Davis, he admits that he played that one somewhat safe to secure a new deal and expects his duel with Magomedsharipov to be a better indicator of the fighter who has won eight of his first 10 pro bouts.

Being counted out before the bell has even rung has Bochniak feeling even more excited about Saturday night.

“It doesn’t bother me, but it does fuel my fire,” Bochniak said of the publicity surrounding Magomedsharipov. “I’m the type of person that always thinks I’m the underdog, even if I was the champ I always have something to prove to myself. I always want to raise the bar with myself, always try to reach new levels. So when there’s not a lot of talk about my style and there’s all this talk about my opponent, it just fuels my fire to go steal his thunder.

“Like I said, my stocks going to go up, I’m going to take all his fans, the UFC’s going to love me. I’m not underestimating this kid at all. I know he’s a killer and I know he’s going to bring it and that just brings the best out of me.”

Kyle Bochniak (left) celebrates his win over Brandon Davis at UFC 220 in Boston, Mass., on Jan. 20.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The best of Bochniak is a far cry from where he was in the early aughts. Before embarking on an MMA career, he was a sporty youth, but also a troublemaker and that eventually caught up to him when he dropped out of high school and later found himself in jail for what he calls, “petty crap”.

“I would get in trouble, I would drink, get in fights, I stole a couple of cars,” said Bochniak. “Racked up a lot of charges and the judge just kind of wanted to give me a hard awakening, so he sent me to county jail with true criminals and I was like, ‘This isn’t me. I’m throwing my life away. I’m going down the wrong tube here.’

“So that’s when I said to the judge, ‘Listen, I had a moment of clarity. I’m not this person, I want to do something with my life.’ And he gave me the opportunity. He gave me a five-year probation and I completed that, that’s when I was in mixed martial arts, I didn’t have a license, nothing, they took my license away so I had to start from the bottom and prove I’m a new man. This is what I want to do.”

While serving his probation, Bochniak was free to continue pursuing a career in welding and also keep up his martial arts training on the side. He was doing boxing and jiu-jitsu to stay in shape, and with the support of his girlfriend Brittini, now his wife, he hit the amateur MMA scene and later turned pro in 2014, signing with Rhode Island’s Classic Entertainment and Sports promotion.

His hope was to get the call from the UFC the next time they visited Boston, and that’s exactly what happened, though he was brought in on four days’ notice to replace an injured Jimy Hettes against Rosa at UFC Fight Night 81, where he suffered his first loss.

Bochniak is now part of a strong contingent of Massachusetts-based fighters who are making an effort to train at each other’s gyms, a list that includes the likes of fellow UFC 223 competitors Joe Lauzon, Calvin Kattar, and Mike Rodriguez.

“They paved the way, Lauzon, (Kenny) Florian and all that, but now it’s the new wave of martial arts,” Bochniak said. “We’re doing a lot of cross-training up at Lauzon’s on Saturdays where all the top talent in New England, the Boston area, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, everybody’s coming to Lauzon’s and we’re all getting awesome sessions in on Saturdays. It’s been tremendous and having a lot of the guys on the past couple of cards, we’ve all been training and fighting together, so it’s been a great comradery and just the vibes have been awesome and everyone’s been meshing very well.

“New England’s doing some big things right now and we’re all fired up and looking forward to keeping this momentum going.”