Nick Hinchliffe used to lift weights at a gym in an old building that had a wooden staircase. Walking up those stairs to the gym after a hard day of working construction, Hinchliffe’s steel toe boots would signal his arrival, practically shaking the whole structure.

“The whole building felt like it was going to cave in,” Hinchliffe explained in an interview with The MMA Corner.

The ominous-sounding arrival prompted his friends at the gym to yell down the stairs to him, “The Juggernaut is coming! The Juggernaut is coming!”

The nickname stuck with Hinchliffe, and he feels it’s a perfect fit for his aggressive style of fighting. The 25-fight veteran has only had five bouts go to a decision, and he has finished 14 of his opponents.

Before displaying his aggression in one-on-one combat, the “Juggernaut’s” first foray into professional athletics came in an entirely different sport. Hinchliffe played football for the Victoria Rebels and Vancouver Island Raiders of the Canadian Junior Football League. He was even a member of the 2003 BCFL championship team. However, a decline in his passion for competing on the gridiron led him away from team-based sports and into a more individual form of competition. Having trained in martial arts throughout his life and competed in wrestling at the high school level, mixed martial arts was a natural fit for the native of British Columbia.

“I lost the luster to play football,” Hinchliffe admitted. “I had a buddy that was training at this gym with this guy named John Punt. So I went out, came right off the football field at about 275 pounds, went to Impact MMA and John was like, ‘You have to come back, you have to come back.’ I was like, ‘You know what? I think I will.’ I just really enjoyed it.

“Since then, I haven’t stopped coming back.”

The Canadian athlete dropped a lot of the weight he carried during his football days. Rather than a 275-pounder entering into battle, Hinchliffe steadily improved his physique as he launched his fighting career at 205-pounds before dropping to middleweight, then welterweight.

Hinchliffe at one time stated that middleweight was his ideal division, even though he had already fought as light as 170 pounds. Nowadays, however, he feels that 170 was the right fit for him after all.

“I’m settling in at 170,” said Hinchliffe. “I’ve got a really great strength and conditioning coach in Jeff Van Dam. He does my diet for me, as well. That was one of my reasonings to make the drop down to 170. I kept getting in better shape and having to cut less and less weight at 185 that my last couple fights at 185, my opponents, we looked the same size at the weigh-ins. But the next day, they were quite a bit larger than I am because, really, I should have been fighting at 170.

“I think it was just time to make the move.”

The 18-7 fighter is now staring down a tough challenge that presents a unique opportunity for both him and his opponent, Ryan “The Real Deal” Ford. The two will square off Friday, June 10, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada at “Aggression MMA 7: Confrontation.” The winner earns the opportunity to fight for a vacant welterweight title, but in a twist on the usual title-eliminator format, the two will not be fighting for a shot at the same title. Instead, Hinchliffe will vie for the chance to challenge for the vacant Armageddon Fighting Championship 170-pound crown, while Ford, with a victory, would earn a spot in the Aggression MMA welterweight championship bout.

“I think that’s pretty cool,” Hinchliffe said. “I think it’s a really good thing for promotions to band together because obviously MMA is still growing in Canada. We’re breaking down the barriers. We’re getting legalized in more provinces, but we’re still a growing community here in Canada. So, for two top promotions to band together, do something that’s cool like that, I think that’s great.”

While Hinchliffe is no stranger to big opportunities, having come close to being cast on two different seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, his name likely doesn’t resound with MMA fans quite as much as Ford’s. “The Real Deal” has long been considered a top welterweight prospect and has recently traded blows with UFC veterans Pete Spratt and Karo Parisyan. In fact, Ford emerged victorious in both of those encounters and has lost only once in his last eight outings.

“(Ford) is really tough,” stated Hinchliffe. “He’s got lots of heart, good wrestling. He’s very aggressive. He brings a lot to the table, but if I didn’t think I had the skills and the tools to win, I wouldn’t have taken the fight.”

While some naysayers would argue that Ford just got lucky after losing the first two rounds to Parisyan, Hinchliffe respects what Ford accomplished in that battle against the judo specialist.

“That’s just a testament to Ford,” said Hinchliffe. “He’s a bell-to-bell fighter. He was down in that fight, but he never quit. He ended up catching (Parisyan) with a big knee and finished the fight. So, I definitely take my hat off to him for that because Karo’s a good fighter. It was a good win for (Ford).”

Hinchliffe revealed that he did see some holes in Ford’s game that he feels he can expose in their upcoming fight. Obviously, the fighter didn’t want to share too much information on his game plan for defeating the Edmonton-based Ford. However, he does realize the importance of the matchup as a launching pad for not only a shot at capturing the Armageddon welterweight strap, but also putting his name on the map with the larger promotions, such as the UFC and Strikeforce.

“I see it as a good fight for me to obviously jump up in the rankings,” he said. “I’ve been fighting at middleweight and just came down to welterweight, so taking high-profile fights like Ryan Ford and winning is obviously going to make a statement in this weight class, and that’s what I’m planning to do.

“I want to fight the best and have good, hard-earned victories on my record.”

Taking tough fights has resulted in Hinchliffe suffering a couple of recent setbacks in his career, with two losses in his last five fights. The first loss came against UFC veteran Kalib Starnes, while the second defeat was a narrow split decision loss to Bastien Huveneers. As with any good fighter, a loss turns into an opportunity to learn. The lesson of the Huveneers fight was not lost on Hinchliffe.

“I took the fight (on) pretty short notice,” Hinchliffe said. “It was a really tough fight. Most people thought I won it, but I ended up losing by split decision. So, don’t leave it up to the judges, is what I learned. Try to finish.”

Despite an active fight schedule, the Canadian still dons the steel toe boots to this very day, working a full-time job in construction while also training as a mixed martial artist and fulfilling his responsibilities as a full-time father. Most people would find a full-time job and parenthood enough to fill their plate, but not Hinchliffe. With his daughter as his driving force, he has remained committed to training and fighting at a high level.

“Before I had a kid, I fought more – not for selfish reasons – but more for myself,” Hinchliffe confessed. “Now, having a daughter, it’s more of a motivating reason to keep the push going, and take it as far as I can.”

It also helps to have an understanding boss, who just happens to be an MMA fan. Hinchliffe is able to take off the time necessary to put in a quality training camp for his fights. In fact, the former football player is currently wrapping up what he described as a great training camp. While he is still based out of Impact MMA, Hinchliffe does bounce around to different gyms to round out his training, and also brought in a number of fighters to help him with this camp, most notably former UFC and Pride fighter Denis Kang.

On Hinchliffe’s website, he describes himself as, “Your hometown hero or the spoiler taking a win from your hometown boy.” In his fight with Ford, he’ll have to play the role of spoiler, but he’s okay with that. He feels well-prepared for Ford, and believes he has the skills to defeat the hometown favorite. This is the type of test he desires as he works his way up to the bright lights of the bigger shows. He’s not out to pad his record; he wants tough opponents, and there’s no doubt that he has found one in Ford.

On Friday night, Hinchliffe might not be wearing steel toe boots or walking up the wooden staircase of an old building, but he hopes his footsteps will echo loud and clear in the arena. Then, Ryan Ford and Ford’s hometown fans will know that the “Juggernaut” is coming.

Nick would like to thank Impact MMA, Iron Fist Athletics and Reign Full Contact.

Top Photo Credit: Tinney Photography