With the wide array of talent in the UFC lightweight division, it’s easy to get lose sight of certain fighters and not see them coming.

Say what you will about Saskatchewan’s own “Danger Zone” Mitch Clarke, but despite a loss to John Cholish in his UFC debut, the 9-1 Hayabusa Training Centre product is still one such lightweight.

Despite this, Clarke, a noted wrestler and an always-active submission ace, looks forward to taking on his next challenge in Anton Kuivanen at UFC 149 this Saturday.

“He’s one of those European-style kickboxers,” Clarke told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “He’s well-rounded, but he primarily likes to stand up.”

Mitch Clarke

Clarke (MMA Junkie)

Kuivanen, a Finnish MMA standout with a 16-5 pro record, saw a nine-fight winning streak snapped by Justin Salas at UFC on Fuel TV 1, but Clarke does not anticipate anything less than a tough fight.

“He’s a good athlete, he’s really gritty, and he’s there to fight,”  Clarke said. “So he’s a tough guy, but I think it’s a great style match-up.”

In Kuivanen, Clarke admits he sees a “Judo-esque” ground game and recognizes that one-half of Kuivanen’s 16 career wins come by submission. Breaking it down, four of Kuivanen’s eight career wins by submission have come by way of an armbar, while the other four came by way of some form of a choke, two of which were rear-naked chokes. Clarke, however, does not expect this ground game to prove a difficulty on Saturday night.

“He does have a solid ground game, but I see a lot of holes in it that I think I can exploit,” Clarke admitted.

Not only does Clarke see holes in his opponent’s mat skills, but he also sees a great learning experience from the only loss of his own career—a second-round TKO defeat at the hands of Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu standout John Cholish.

What did Clarke take away from the Cholish fight?

“Just how important the mental aspect of the game is,” Clarke explained. “I think I had all the tools to definitely beat him.”

“I’m not going to take anything away from John, he’s a good fighter and he did his job, which was to beat me up…but, you know, it was a good learning experience.”

“That’s all I can really do is learn from it. I’ve made some changes in my camp, I’ve hired a nutritionist, finished off my camp in Arizona. I knew I had to change things up if I wanted to stay in the UFC.”

Bringing forward a drive like never before and prepared for the opportunity to earn his much-coveted first UFC win, Clarke’s changes look to pay dividends towards success this Saturday against a true test in the form of the durable Finnish cage veteran. Maintaining his belief that the veteran Kuivanen is much more well-rounded than he may appear, Clarke knows how prepared he must be, regardless of where the fight goes. However, it is in one particular area that Clarke feels he will do his best work in implementing his game plan.

Clarke (L) (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

“With someone like that, you have to use the right type of pressure,” Clarke said. “If I let him sit in the middle and set up everything he wants to do, that’s how he’s going to pull away. Some guys get caught in that game, and that’s how he wins fights—he’s allowed to work his game how he wants—so that’s a big part of being the aggressor, doing what we want to do, and go off of that.”

As far as where he goes with a win over Kuivanen, Clarke is merely focused on beating the Finn. However, don’t count out the chance of this kid making his next move if he beats Kuivanen on Saturday night.

“Everyone says ‘take it one fight at a time,’ and that’s really what I’m doing,” Clarke said. “With a win, I’m going to go put my nose back to the grindstone and go back to working hard. It’s hard to get to the UFC; there’s no chumps there, so you have to work your butt off to stay there.”

UFC 149 is the promotion’s debut card in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the event comes to you live from Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome this Saturday on pay-per-view, with prelims on FX, Facebook, and YouTube. If Clarke earns himself a win over the European kickboxer in Calgary, there’s a good chance that fans of the sport will get to watch Clarke go on to do great things in the sport.

Photo: Mitch Clarke (R) catches a kick and delivers a right hand (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.