Maximum Fighting Championship lightweight Mukai Maromo originally emigrated to the United States to attend college on a track and field scholarship and then transferred to a Canadian university before dropping out to pursue his passion for Muay Thai. While he doesn’t have a college degree to place on his mantle, “The Afrikan Assassin” will have the opportunity this Friday at MFC 36 to bring home a master’s degree in the fight game in the form of a championship belt.

His last fight (and impressive win) was a rematch with Adam Lynn made after Maromo took a controversial split decision against the IFL veteran in their first encounter in May of last year. Their second meeting three months later should have awarded Maromo the MFC lightweight belt, but Lynn missed weight for the fight and it was scheduled as a non-title bout.

“After fighting him the first fight, I figured out the kind of striker that he was,” explained Maromo in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Now I’m working more on my inside game [for the second fight]—the clinch fighting. I worked using the clinch, elbows and knee strikes, a lot more because that’s how he generates his takedowns—body-locking and clinching and transitioning down to the hips to the takedown. So, instead of letting him do that, I decided to use the clinch to nullify that. When he breaks off—when he doesn’t have the option to body-lock and go for the takedowns—that’s when I use the really quick punches, the one-two’s and the hooks and elbow strikes, and then the high kicks and the jumping knees.

Maromo (top) (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

“It was a really well-calculated fight because I knew every time he disengaged, you go from being inside the range, which is clinching, really close elbow and knee strikes, you’d be in punching distance right after you clinch. Every time I disengage, I’d be able to hit him in the clinch, and then when when we disengage, I’d be able to hit him some more. So just by using that basic principle, I started to dominate that fight.”

The fight saw Maromo effectively utilizing an array of kicks and fakes on his way to overwhelming Lynn via stoppage. It was his attack with the clinch game that stopped the fight, but his attack from the outside is what invited his opponent into the clinch to achieve that end.

“Where I keep my eyes during the fight is a really natural part of my game from the Muay Thai background,” Maromo explained. “I keep my eyes focused in different parts of the body and then I attack those parts. Then, without flinching and looking at different parts, I try to do a different part of the body. Their defensive mechanism naturally focuses on where you’ve been attacking and where you are looking. It throws them off, and you usually catch them. If you don’t catch them, you usually get the second or third strike you throw anyways. That’s a natural part of my game I like to use all the time, and it’s paid a lot of dividends.”

Maromo’s knowledge and skill with striking is evidenced through his performances. However, he has shown deficiencies in being able to handle an opponent’s wrestling offense. What made the first fight with Lynn worthy of controversy in the opinion of some onlookers was Lynn’s success at being able to hold Maromo on the mat. Some believed that his success in doing so would have earned Lynn the decision.

“It’s always going to be a factor because the main repertoire of my game is the striking. I’m a Muay Thai fighter first,” admitted Maromo. “You transition into MMA, so it’s definitely one of the biggest assets of my game that I need to work. At the same time, I’m an MMA fighter, so I’m approaching things differently already. In the beginning when I was just a Muay Thai guy…I was very afraid of the takedown. I think it shut down my game and I wouldn’t fight that much.

“I anticipated the takedown and trying to avoid it, as opposed to now where I understand how it happens and where it happens and what it takes to do that. So if someone tries to take me down, I’m going to punish them as much as I can before they do that. And if they do take me down, I’m going to stand up and do it again. I know [my opponent is] going to try for sure, and before he does, he’s going to get hurt. And then after he does, I’m going to stand up and hurt him some more. It’s coming at your own risk. If you stay outside, I’m going to knock you out anyways. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Maromo (L) delivers a left hand (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

A mark of that fight intelligence is the ability to not only freely utilize and adapt one’s skills inside of the ring or cage, but to abstractly explain the approach to be understood in different terms. Any fan of MMA has heard of a martial artist being referred to as a painter creating art inside of the ring. It is a cliché at this point. Maromo has used it in the past for promotion, yet goes on to elaborate beyond the simple explanation of fists as paintbrushes and blood for paint.

“Most people, when they get into a fight, they kind of have a bit of a game plan,” Maromo said. “The person is trying to do this and do that, but a fight’s a fight. When you get punched in the face, things change. When you get taken out of your element, things change. So I try not to have a set game plan—not [going to] be in a certain place where I say I’m only going to use my striking. What if a really good grappler takes me off my feet and I have to work my way up and grapple? I like to leave things open-ended. I like to tap every contingent covered. So the whole painting analogy is like a blank canvas. As you paint a picture, some things come alive within that process. You’re painting a tree here and water here, whatever, as opposed to having a closed mind and a set curriculum that you exercise. That’s how I like to do it—leave it open-ended—and it looks better in the end, because there is always room for adjustment and leeway, right?”

Graham Spencer, the man Maromo is facing on Friday for the vacant lightweight belt, is an opponent that Maromo has already lost to by decision in 2010 while fighting under the Awada Combat Club banner. Spencer is also the type of fighter that utilizes wrestling to grind his way to victory. That is something that Maromo will have to be prepared for, given the trouble that strong grapplers have given him in the past. But it can also be a silver-lining opportunity to prove that Maromo’s success in the MFC ring doesn’t end with a certain type of fighter.

“He’s not a big finisher,” Maromo stated. “He’s looking for a grind, and he’s going to be ready for a grind. The only way to deal with guys like that is to knock them out. You can’t fight and go the distance with a guy like that—that’s his thing, that’s his bread and butter. I am conditioned and ready to go the distance, but in my mind, I’d like to even beat someone up the duration of the fight and completely whoop them. Beat their body, their mind, their soul, before I like to knock them out. I don’t like highly-contested fights, kind [of] like the first Adam Lynn fight—it was a really close fight. It was a gritty fight, it was ground out. It’s a tough fight to have. I like to put the exclamation mark and the full stop on the sentence. I like the definitive ending.

“Same thing with this fight. I’ve already fought Graham before, and he’s definitely, in my opinion, pretty tough. I lost [to him] two years ago, and he proved a good deal. But I’ve seen some of his fights after [our] fight and it was pretty much the same kind of approach to our fight. He’s still like the same fighter, but better. It’s my time to rise above that and show that I can fight an opponent who brings that to the table, who’s solely a grappler and likes to grind and finish. That’s exactly what I’m going to do in this fight. I’m going to come out there, he’s going to do his takedown thing, I’m going to stop that, beat him a couple times and put him out.”

Maromo (R) throws a right hand (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

Maromo is still a citizen of the African country of Zimbabwe, where he was born, but he resides in Canada. He is currently in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen and has been training with one of the most prestigious camps in all of the land of the maple leaf, including the famous Tristar Gym. There, Maromo is gaining a wider perspective of MMA with other professional fighters and is working on shoring up parts of his overall game. However, one dimension of his game has taken center stage.

“The ground game,” Maromo said. “The criteria here is the ground game, so it’s a good blend of jiu-jitsu and wrestling from an MMA perspective instead of opposed to being a practitioner of strict Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and strict wrestling. So I really like the regimen they have here. When you train here, it’s opened my concept of a lot of professional fighters. You have the pro-team training, then you have class with everybody else. You work with everybody as a part of training. One day, I might be working with Rory MacDonald, J.J. Johnson, Mike Ricci—it just depends who you are paired up with that day. So you get a really well-rounded, really balanced training regiment. I like it a lot.”

Many more eyes will be on this upcoming MFC 36 main event fight because Maromo was granted recognition on the world stage by earning the honor of Inside MMA’s Bazzie award for “Rising star of 2012.” It reaffirmed Maromo’s choice to pursue a life of fighting and also strengthened his determination to rise to the acclaim.

“It was probably the highest point of my career thus far,” Maromo confessed. “It set the pace of what I need to be. Before, I loved MMA, I loved doing it. But like everything else, there’s always times when it gets hard and it gets bloody and it gets ugly and you’re not sure whether you want to carry on doing this or doing that or how you’re going to take it. That really reassured me that I’m doing the right thing in the right direction, and it kind of fortified my world and my resilience. It definitely made me a better person and a better fighter, and I hope to show that in the [upcoming] fight.”

The honor has also led many to ask if Maromo is content to stay in the MFC or if he will be moving on to Bellator or the UFC soon.

“To be honest with you, a lot of people ask me that,” Maromo acknowledged. “It’s the same response to everybody: I’m not in a hurry to get to the UFC or any of the bigger shows than the MFC right now. I feel personally, before I go that far, I need to be at the peak of my game. I need to be the best fighter I can possibly be to compete at that level. There’s a couple of things I feel I need to do before I take myself to that level. I don’t want to show up to the UFC or Bellator or whatever it is and be just some guy who’s there for three fights and washed out. That’s not my aim. I don’t want to just get there.

“I don’t want to get to a bigger show and be somebody’s stepping stone or whipping boy and then kind of end up being a wash out. I want to get there and shine and then leave on my own terms.”

Outside of promotion and speculation about his career, Maromo is continually strengthening his body as a weapon. Fans might have seen a demonstration of this online from a 2011 Edmonton Fight Scene Fan Expo show, where Maromo breaks a baseball bat with nothing but a well-executed kick.

Maromo (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

“That’s hours and hours in the gym, man,” Maromo admitted. “Just competitive training. Most people, they look for that ultimate technique or that super move to finish somebody, but what they miss and don’t understand [is] that all the complicated and complex and exciting stuff in anything you do in life is derived from the basic. You have to master the basic before you can become a master of anything complex, right? That just scratches the surface [laughs]. Once you really get going, there’s a lot more to come.

“It’s a combination of the density of the bone and the power in the kick itself. If the kick isn’t strong enough to break the baseball bat, it doesn’t matter how dense and strong your bone is, it’s not going to happen. Being able to generate that much power in that little distance, it’s that rotational force and having enough strength in your shin to be able to do it in that blow is what it comes to. It comes from hours of bag work, like on the heavy heavy bag or the sand bag. That’s what you do to condition your shin to be able to take that kind of impact and not break and not hurt. I definitely feel that when you hit something really hard. I feel a bit of pain for a couple days, but I’m not limping and hobbling along.”

If you follow Maromo on Twitter, you might see some of the things that inspired him as a child, such as a love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When he is away from his family, it is those sort of things that he uses to reflect back on to remind him of where he came from.

“As a kid, I had a person who used to get me a lot of comic books and I loved them,” Maromo reflected. “[I was a] big comic book junkie—you know, the Battle Toads, Ninja Turtles, the X-Men—I was a big fan of all that. So from time to time, if you follow my Twitter, it’s always changing from one thing to the next. I’ve had a lot of things. Ninja Turtles—I just put that up there because I’m nostalgic. I was just thinking about my brother back home and everything, and it reminded me of the time we snuck into a movie to watch the Ninja Turtles movie. Back in the 90s, that old-school Ninja Turtles movie when there wasn’t any good CGI, so they had the costume on, the actual body suits. There was a little bit of nostalgia with that.

“[As a kid] I put on little bandanas with the holes in it for my eyes. I had a big stick and that was supposed to be a sword or nunchucks. It was good times. Good memories with that, and I had to put that up there.”

This Friday at MFC 36, “The Afrikan Assassin” has the opportunity to validate the success of his decision in leaving college to become a full-time fighter. His intelligence is not wasted, however, as he has proven to adapt wisdom in his new pursuit.

Sometimes the life of a fighter can be overwhelming, but the continued recognition he’s received, coupled with the remembrance of where he has come from, has kept Maromo pushing forward to achieve new heights.

Mukai would like to thank his sponsors: Crystal Glass Canada, Tristar Gym and dorms, Joblocity.com, Edmonton Rush Lacrosse, and sponsor fighters.com. Mukai has a friend, Shane Campbell, fighting this weekend he wishes luck to. Follow Mukai on Twitter: @AfrikanAssassin, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/afrikanassassin and his website: http://www.mukaimaromo.com/

Top Photo: Mukai Maromo (Arnold Lim/Sherdog)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.