T.O. fighter Bocek tired of the 'haters'

NEIL SPRINGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

Mark Bocek isn't exactly sure why some MMA fans still doubt him.

The Toronto native has submitted four of his past five opponents. His only loss during that stretch was a decision to top-ranked lightweight Jim Miller in a fight that could have easily gone Bocek's way.

Yet, Bocek finds himself again in the underdog spot as he prepares to face former WEC lightweight champion Benson (Smooth) Henderson at UFC 129 on April 30 at the Rogers Centre.

"When it was Miller, nobody gave me a chance; when it was (Dustin) Hazelett, nobody really gave me a chance," Bocek said on the line from Coconut Creek, Fla., where he trains with American Top Team. "No one's really giving me a chance in this one. I've trained with many guys all over the world and I know what I can do. This fight's going to show it. Eventually people will start to see.

"I don't really know what it is. I seem to have quite a bit of haters out there, but I know that's part of the sport. I don't know if it's just because people want to see me do bad."

As it turns out, Henderson knows a thing or two about people counting him out. He's tired of critics saying the WEC lightweights are inferior to their UFC counterparts.

"(We will eventually) get some love from the reporters and fans who thought the WEC fighters were going to get crushed and sent on our way once we merged with the UFC," Henderson said on the phone from his training camp at the MMA LAB in Glendale, Ariz. "For people to be doubting us, (it's like) they think we fight in a different style or something. No, I fight in MMA just like UFC fighters do. Who do they think our training partners are?

"The only difference is three little letters: WEC and UFC. After having to hear that for so long, I'm just excited to have the opportunity for ex-WEC fighters to prove themselves and for me to prove myself."

Bocek and Henderson are set to kick off the pay-per-view portion of UFC 129, which will begin at 9 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than previous events. All UFC cards from here on out will adopt the new time slot.

The card also features Montreal's Georges (Rush) St. Pierre defending his welterweight title against Jake Shields. In the co-main event, London, Ont., native Mark (The Machine) Hominick challenges Jose (Scarface) Aldo for the featherweight strap.

Stylistically, the fight between Bocek and Henderson has the makings of a Fight of the Night contender. Both guys are beasts who can handle themselves in any situation. On paper you'd have to give the submission edge to Bocek, but Henderson is no stranger to making people tap, and his cardio and heart are second to none.

Not surprisingly, both fighters feel they have the advantage in all facets of the game.

"I don't think he has any area that really outshines mine," Bocek said. "Not striking, not wrestling and not jiu jitsu. He's a tough guy and he's hard to submit. But whether (his previous opponents) are from wrestling or jiu jitsu backgrounds, they've put him in trouble; they've put him on his back. I'm not saying that's what I'm going to do.

"In a lot of my fights you've seen submission wins. I believe this is the fight that's really going to show who I am."

Henderson said no matter where the fight ends up, he's prepared to take it to Bocek.

"If it goes to the ground, I'll beat him up there," Henderson began, sounding like a pugilistic Dr. Seuss. "If it stays standing, I'll beat him up there. If we're against the cage, I'll beat him up there. If we're in the middle of an ice rink in Toronto somewhere, I'll beat him up there. If we're skydiving, I'll beat him up in the air.

"Wherever the fight goes, I'll be prepared and I'll beat him up in that position."

When Bocek was offered a fight against a former champion in his hometown, on the biggest card in UFC history, and in front of the largest live MMA audience ever in North America, he didn't have to think long before accepting.

"It's an incredible opportunity," Bocek said.

"That was the first thing that came to mind. The second thing that came to mind is (it's) a good style match-up. This is a former champ and guy who many saw as top 10. It's a really good opportunity and I'm going to make the best of it. I'm not going to waste it.

"I really don't want to let Toronto down. I can't do that."

Though Henderson recognizes that fighting in Bocek's backyard means he's walking into hostile territory, he said he has nothing but respect for the Canadian fans.

"The first thing is that they're super knowledgeable," Henderson said. "Canadian fans actually understand the sport of MMA. They understand the boxing aspect of it, the jiu jitsu aspect, the kickboxing aspect, the wrestling aspect. They're not the stereotypical MMA fans who yell, 'Knock his head off!' Put him in a body bag!' They're not those guys.

"They're pretty respectful and they love MMA for the sake of MMA."

neil.springer@sunmedia.ca


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