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Late bloomer’ Mike Pyle out to spoil another prospect with upset at UFC 133

Pyle, who trains locally at Xtreme Couture, looks to win fourth straight in Philadelphia

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Jenelle Schneider / Vancouver Sun

Mike Pyle (white shorts) defeats Jesse Lennox in a welterweight fight of UFC 115 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Dana White UFC 133 Fireside Chat

Dana White UFC 133 Fireside Chat Part 2

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PHILADELPHIA — Part of UFC President Dana White’s job is to interact with the hundreds of mixed martial artists on his promotion’s roster.

It’s not easy for one fighter’s message on his career to stand out in White’s mind and requires some combination of conviction, distinctiveness and self-assurance. Las Vegas-based welterweight Mike Pyle was able to get his feelings through to the boss in advance of his UFC 133 bout against Rory MacDonald Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

“He’s told me personally, ‘This is my time right now. I’m in the UFC. This is my window. I’m taking this all the way to the top,’” White said. “We’ll find out Saturday night.”

White’s grouping of Pyle (21-7-1 MMA, 4-2 UFC) and MacDonald (11-1 MMA, 2-1 UFC) together as “two gritty, up-and-coming guys” seems misleading based on their backgrounds.

For MacDonald, it makes perfect sense. The Canadian training partner of 170-pound champion Georges St. Pierre is one of the sport’s fastest risers at age 22.

By traditional combat sports career paths, however, Pyle should be the opposite. He is 35 years old and has spent the majority of his 11 years as a professional in organizations outside UFC.

“I’m a late bloomer,” Pyle said. “I’ll take that, though.”

Many around MMA don’t know what to make of Pyle’s recent surge. Oddsmakers,for one, aren’t ready to place Pyle among the elite in the welterweight class. MacDonald is listed as high as a 3-to-1 favorite, marking the fifth straight fight Pyle has entered as an underdog.

He has scored upsets in three consecutive bouts. Pyle’s only loss in the past year-and-a-half came via TKO to Jake Ellenberger at UFC 108, which he said forced him to change everything from his diet to his mental preparation.

“I was just coasting through some of the other talent in other organizations and not buckling down and finding what’s important to me,” Pyle explained. “I got woke up when I got in the UFC. It was either get serious or go back to be a machinist. I’m not going to be a machinist again.”

The best display of Pyle’s refocused demeanor came at UFC 120 in London last year. Pyle won every round against British phenom John Hathaway en route to a unanimous decision victory as a 5-to-1 underdog.

Hathaway was 23 years old, undefeated at 15-0 and coming off a momentous victory over Diego Sanchez. Some hailed him as the next major player in the welterweight division.

In other words, MacDonald’s hype this week is eerily reminiscent of Hathaway’s.

“There are some very subtle things,” Pyle said in comparing this fight with the one against Hathaway. “Young guy coming up in the sport and trying to make a name for himself and UFC backing them and building them.

“I plan on doing the same thing I did at UFC 120.”

MacDonald embodies what White frequently surmises is the future of the sport. As a child in Kelowna, British Columbia, MacDonald was a gifted athlete and excelled in every sport he tried.

He played baseball, hockey, soccer and track and field before discovering MMA.

“I found a gym at the age of 14,” MacDonald said. “First time, I fell in love with it and turned pro at 16. I dropped everything else and went 100 percent from there.”

MacDonald gave one of the most thrilling performances in front of 55,000 people at UFC 129 this year. He slammed Nate Diaz, former winner of “The Ultimate Fighter,” to the mat multiple times in the third round on his way to a unanimous-decision win. In his last time out, Pyle got into a plodding back-and-forth match with Ricardo Almeida at UFC 128 before ultimately winning a unanimous decision .

He’s not as young, flashy or heralded as MacDonald. But Pyle believes no one can match his level of determination.

“I’m going to be hell to deal with now at 35,” Pyle said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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