The year 2012 saw the rise of a Canadian MMA star in Maximum Fighting Championship—lightweight Mukai Maromo. His TKO win over Adam Lynn last August was a dazzling display of his Muay Thai talents, and it made him a lock to fight for the vacant MFC 155-pound belt.

Yet, in his first fight of 2013 for an opportunity at the title against Graham Spencer in February at MFC 36, Maromo came up short.

The loss set the high praise he would have likely received by becoming a champion on hold for the time being. To his credit, Maromo hasn’t made excuses for not living up to the hype.

“Honestly, I didn’t take that fight seriously enough. It was a mistake I made,” Maromo admitted in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I came into that fight thinking I had won that fight. In my mind, I was like, ‘This guy can’t touch me, he’s got nothing on me. I’m just going to walk in here, I’m going to beat him up, take this belt and go home.’ Whereas he put his life on hold and trained with Urijah Faber and the whole crew there at [Team] Alpha Male.

Maromo (R) connects with a body shot (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

“He put in the necessary work to get the win. It was just a big mistake on my part by not taking someone seriously who was taking me definitely seriously.”

Fans that tuned in to see the MMA Insider’s “Rising Star” award winner of 2012 were disappointed to see Maromo’s cardio fade by the end of round one. Flashes of his talented striking and ever-improving grappling defense were seen in that fight against Spencer, but it didn’t do him much good in the end if his body wasn’t conditioned to perform effectively.

“I hardly did any of my cardiovascular,” Maromo agreed. “Even coming into that fight, the weight cut was a bit bothersome because I hadn’t trained properly. The whole thing was botched, honestly. The cardio wasn’t there and I was really tired at the end of the first round. I hung in for two more rounds, but competing off natural talent can get you only so far.”

The loss snapped Maromo’s five-fight winning streak and left him open to the main weakness that critics would point to in his overall skill set: wrestling defense.

Maromo came into MMA with greatly honed striking, but needing to elevate the all-around defensive grappling aspect of his game. He showed that he’s made progress in those areas in his last fight, even reversing himself from the bottom of his opponent’s full mount. But his opponent, Spencer, still found an opportunity for a submission finish.

While there was improvement shown by Maromo, his lack of cardio didn’t win him any favors in the eyes of his critics that say that defending against a strong wrestling attack will still be his biggest problem.

“I think it was true back in the day, but no, it’s not [now],” Maromo argued. “I could not have lasted that long and done that well in a fight I hardly trained for. I’m a much better fighter than Graham Spencer in my opinion on all levels. My wrestling defense, my takedown defense, my submission defense is really good, but if you don’t train the cardiovascular endurance to be where it needs to be, there’s very little you can do in a fight if you put yourself in that kind of situation.”

Granted, it was a setback for Maromo, but not terribly so in a relatively shallow high-level Canadian MMA scene. And fights aren’t going to get any easier.

We’ll again see the theme of Maromo facing a fighter with a strong grappling pedigree—which includes a substantial number of national wrestling titles and two years of college wrestling—in his next opponent, Kurt Southern, at this Saturday’s MFC 37. And again, we’ll likely see Maromo doing his best to keep the fight standing in order to deliver another flashy knockout that will remind fans why they took notice of him in the first place.

“I think Kurt’s going to want to make it a grappling match,” Maromo acknowledged. “But I’m going to nullify that and I’m going to knock him out. I’m going to add a knockout to his resume of losses.”

But an added incentive for this match will be the chance at salvation after coming off an uninspired loss.

“It’s definitely a shot at redemption,” he said. “Plus, Kurt Southern is an accomplished grappler. He’s one of the best grapplers in Canadian MMA at the lightweight division, I think. As a staple of someone to beat who’s a grappler, it would be a guy like Kurt Southern. He is what a grappler needs to be in MMA: a very solid wrestler, strong guy with good top position, good top game and pretty decent bottom game too.

“To beat a guy like that shows you that you’re good in the right things. To beat a guy like Kurt, who’s so accomplished, also puts me in a position to know I’m doing the right things in knowing what to avoid with the NCAA wrestlers.”

Maromo (Jacob Bos/Sherdog)

To accomplish his goal of maintaining a strong grappling defense and keeping the fight standing, Maromo opted to stay in his home province of Edmonton, Alberta, for training. Making the rounds, he visited Frank Lee’s Muay Thai, Munduruca BJJ and Avenue Boxing Gym to accomplish his desired task.

“Just focusing on rounding out my game, as opposed to standing still in that hardcore Muay Thai stance,” Maromo explained. “More boxing, footwork and combination punching. Munduruca BJJ for takedown defense.

“Getting up with submission defense and getting back to my feet technically as opposed to muscling it and just using my explosiveness like I usually do. It’s going to be a combination of both so I don’t burn off my energy and function much longer in a fight.”

Since Maromo came from a successful Muay Thai career, learning how to effectively conserve energy while defending from the bottom of a wrestler’s attack was never a concern in his training regimen. He never lost that love of stopping an opponent with strikes, but now that Maromo is in his third year as a full-fledged professional mixed martial artist, he’s learned that being headstrong in attack is one thing, but in defending, one must be smart to keep themselves in the fight.

“That’s part of what I needed to change in this training camp as opposed to kind of muscling everything and relying on my natural strength,” Maromo explained. “I added a lot of wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques to my game, where getting up is going to be combination of a number of different things as opposed to just one thing. Like, shoot off in a number of different directions as far as getting up as hard as you can, and get up that way. It’s time consuming and consumes a lot of energy as opposed to doing it technically—taking part in the hooks, positioning your feet throughout, positioning hips the right way and pushing the right direction.”

There’s little doubt that Maromo is pushing in the right direction. He knows what he needs to do and has the skills to get there, but that was also the case before his recent loss. Call it a hiccup, a lack of putting in the actual work or whatever you’d like, but it cost him a championship and a chance to validate onlookers’ opinions that he is a force in high-level MMA.

What it didn’t cost him was a place on this Saturday’s MFC 37 main card. But he’ll need to have a better performance this time out for those same fans to take his words seriously this time out.

Yet Maromo doesn’t have his mindset stuck in a place of regret. That’s evidenced by a recent tweet he was asked to explain: “Still can’t believe its me doing all this…win lose or die, I’m #happy.”

“It’s a surreal feeling doing what you love to do…and living your life that way,” Maromo clarified. “I’ve met a lot of people who have a lot of disdain in what they do and I’m glad [I do not feel that way]. I’m blessed enough to not be one of the people who feel absolutely wrong in what he does.

“That comment—it’s fighting and competitive sports—you can’t always come out on top, you can’t always be the best, but you aim to be the best,” he said. “Win, lose or die, it’s what I do and I’m glad to be doing that. The worst thing I could imagine right now is being stuck in a dead-end career that I didn’t love. I can’t imagine that. I think I’m very blessed and very lucky to be a person that is doing exactly what he wants to be doing right at his very moment.”

To a lot of us, losing or dying sounds like a pretty bad outcome, but Maromo is at peace with any result, because he knows that it comes with the territory of fighting for a living. Even if some things don’t work out, it’s still worth learning from in order to push forward.

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

“You’re doing what you love to do,” he said. “It’s kind of sad when you talk to people and you sit down with them and you go, ‘Man, did you ever dream of doing something?’ And they’re saying what it is and you say, ‘Well, why don’t you do it?’ And it’s like, ah, they were afraid to fail or something wasn’t right, or whatever.

“You know what, man, you could have tried it and failed, but you would have done it for a measure of time. Even if you tried something for two years and failed, it’s not completely a loss. If anything, now you can apply it to something else.”

While there is plenty for us to dwell on in regards to Maromo’s career—him learning from the recent loss, living up to his hype from 2012, the threat of another strong wrestler for his next match or even if he will have his cardio up to par for this fight—we should remember how easily our perspectives can be changed by one exciting fight. All of the doubts, pre-fight talk and criticism will pale in comparison to another highlight-reel finish.

Maromo has his mind set on pushing forward, and putting on a great performance against Southern this Saturday will remind us to take him seriously. Even if he didn’t do it himself the last time out.

“It’s going to be a show-stopper, this fight,” Maromo exclaimed. “It’s one of those classical striker vs. grappler matches. It’s against two fierce competitors who don’t know how to move backwards, only know how to go in there and fight. It’s like going to be a UFC ‘Fight of the Night’—a very big fight. It’s going to be an exciting fight, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Mukai would like to thank his sponsors: Crystal Glass, JP Gentleman’s Club, Crush Ultra Lounge, Kimurawear and Street Soldier. Follow Maromo on Twitter: @AfrikanAssasin 

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.