To casual fans of any sport, athletes appear as larger-than-life personalities and reap the benefits of their physical abilities. The perception of mixed martial artists is likely to be flawed, with dominant champions like Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre garnering so much attention. Even now-retired fighters like Brock Lesnar and Tito Ortiz were headline magnets throughout their careers for their over-the-top personalities.

But what about the thousands of other fighters that are still climbing their way to the top? They spend just as much time in the gym honing their trade as the superstars. And they do it without the fame or perhaps more importantly, the fortune.

Middleweight Joseph Henle knows this first hand. As he prepares to fight for the Maximum Fighting Championship belt against Elvis Mutapcic at MFC 35 on Oct. 26, the undefeated fighter isn’t afraid to admit some of the less-spoken truths of the world of MMA.

“I know a lot of fans hate to hear it, but I fight for money,” Henle told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I’m not going to get hit in the face or have my body beat to shit by someone who’s really good for no money; it’s just not going to happen.”

Henle (MaximumFighting.com)

His sentiments largely come from the inexact science of earning a trip to the world-famous Octagon. Unlike many fighters out there, Henle has had a taste of the UFC, albeit brief. His run on the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter came up short, and ever since, he’s been working hard for a second chance.

“It would be good if the UFC set up a pathway. You really never know with [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva. Last time we spoke, he told me to go fight better competition,” explained Henle. “But it’s not worth it to fight better guys for no money.

“I think the UFC would benefit from a minor-league system. They still want the top of the top. And with as many shows as they put on, they need a ton of guys. They’re trying to find guys that are undefeated, or with one loss, but if guys are fighting the best of the best, it’s hard to find that. If you’re really fighting the cream of the crop, you’re going to get some losses.

“It puts guys like me in a position of what do I do? Do I sign with MFC? Or do I try to find that one-off show that happens to have someone like Kendall Grove? It puts you in a weird predicament. To find that fight is much harder. It’s hard on the finances. Signing with the MFC allowed me to step up my competition and get paid on a more consistent basis.”

Just a few months before electing to sign a four-fight contract with the Canadian promotion, Henle was concerned about being able to put food on the table. Now, he is thankful to have some stability in his fight career.

“It’s awesome,” he declared. “Hell, it’s like having a job. I know that I’ll have work and I’m able to make some money. Barring any injuries, I know I can get back in there and do what I love to do. I feel really blessed in that aspect.”

Henle’s first fight with the promotion came against highly-touted submission ace Luke Harris in August. Despite Henle’s own grappling prowess, the Californian showed off his ever-improving boxing with an impressive TKO in under two minutes.

Henle (R) delivers a jab (Rob Trudeau/Rob T Sport Photography)

“My coach always tells us that we don’t have to hit someone with a big bomb to knock them out. You believe him—only so much—until it happens to you,” Henle said with a laugh. “I caught [Harris] with a jab coming off an inside leg kick; it’s not like it was a crazy power shot. I was glad I had the whereabouts to throw both jabs and really put some mustard on that second one.

“I was a little shocked. I didn’t feel like I hit him. You hear guys say that they gave guys their best shot, but I didn’t feel like I touched him. But there he was, shaking like a baby giraffe. It was crazy exciting.”

The win moved Henle’s record to an impressive 8-0-1, but his performance was unlike anything he had done on the regional circuit in recent years. Instead of worrying about even finding an opponent, he was able to focus on the task in front of him.

“Really, it comes down to relaxation,” said the Reign Training Center product. “For me, I know what I’m capable of. Being on the lowest level, fighting guys on smaller shows—guys that were not as good—I think I tended to play those fights a little too safe. I believe in the fact that anybody can knock you out. Anyone can throw a wild haymaker and catch you on the button.

“Being with MFC, a major organization, I lose a lot of that pressure. I’m fighting guys that other people view as quality opponents; that relieves pressure. In most people’s minds, these guys are supposed to beat you or it’s supposed to be close. You just go out there and whoop some ass. I think that was the biggest factor for me.”

Now Henle turns his attention to the rising Bosnian import Mutapcic and the chance at MFC gold. The pair will compete in the main event, which airs live on AXS TV.

“I am thoroughly excited to fight for the MFC middleweight championship,” admitted Henle. “Being able to hold a title in a major organization is a big deal. It’s one of those milestones that I’d like to reach in my time as a fighter. I would love to be able to add this to the list of things I’ve done. At the end of my career, it’ll be good to look back and say I was a part of that.”

But before he can exit the MFC ring with a belt around his waist, he’ll have to take care of business against the explosive 26-year-old. While Mutapcic’s resume is filled with submissions, Henle isn’t focusing solely on that aspect of his attack.

“He’s a beast,” Henle said of his opponent. “He’s got a shorter reach than a lot of guys at middleweight, but when he gets inside, he does good work. He’s got some submission wins, but I’ve seen guys with no jiu-jitsu get submission wins. Submitting guys in fights can be deceptive. If you rock a guy good, submissions come really easy. It’s one of those things that we’ll figure out in the fight.

Henle (Rob Trudeau/Rob T Sport Photography)

“It’s obvious that he’s powerful. He doesn’t just wing punches from out of nowhere; he’s very technical. From the look on his face, he looks very methodical. Those guys are harder to break than the wild guys. The wild guys ride on emotion. Two or three punches can end an emotional streak. Guys like Elvis (and me) aren’t like that. You can never count guys like that out of the fight.”

So what part of his own attack does Henle think will make the difference come Friday night?

“I think it’s just my game in general,” he stated. “I’m faster than people think. I’m longer than people think. I feel that I’m a lot better than I have gotten credit for in the past. I think he’s going to have a hard time figuring me out.”

If Henle gets past Mutapcic, he’ll still have at least two more fights before he needs to worry about finding another fight. That may not be the fame and fortune of the UFC, but at least it’s piece of mind and financial security.

Joseph would like to thank Michelle Lee and Tri-Coasta, Submit Gear, Street Soldiers, Knuckle Headz Boxing, and everyone at Reign Training Center. Follow him on Twitter: @leonidasmma

Top Photo: Joseph Henle (MaximumFighting.com)