Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Mike Pyle experienced a revelation in the most proper place possible for a hard-working Southern boy.
The Las Vegas-based, Tennessee-raised UFC veteran picked up his phone to plan the next step of his career while clearing his head and relaxing on a lake.
“One day my phone rang and it was Mike Pyle,” said Jimmy Gifford, a longtime local boxing trainer. “He said, ‘I’m on a fishing trip right now, but I need to make some changes in my career.’”
Pyle was winding down from a disheartening first-round TKO loss to Rory MacDonald back then, at the end of summer 2011. But when he returned to Las Vegas, Pyle started to train at new gyms — first Throwdown Training Center and later Syndicate MMA — and under more specialized coaches such as Gifford.
He’s compiled irrefutable results since implementing the changes. Pyle (24-8-1 MMA, 7-3 UFC) rides a streak of three straight first-round knockouts into his UFC 160 bout against Rick Story (15-6 MMA, 8-4) on Saturday at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The 37-year-old welterweight had only knocked out two opponents in 12 years before his sudden power surge.
“There aren’t a whole lot of years I have left,” Pyle said about his time in mixed martial arts as he prepared for a training session. “How many, I don’t know. But I’m going to make the best of it, enjoy it and just kick (butt). I’m very grateful for what I’ve got and very grateful for how I got here.”
Pyle has more perspective than the majority of the current UFC roster, largely made up of college wrestlers who transitioned into MMA and other athletes steered toward the sport. When Pyle began fighting in the late 1990s, the idea of an organization like the UFC signing network television contracts and securing mainstream sponsorships would have drawn only laughs.
Pyle dreamed of making martial arts his profession, but it wasn’t practical. Besides, he had a stable full-time job as a machinist where he made gears that went into race car transmissions.
“That was at B & R Gear in Sharon, Tenn.,” Pyle said with a smile. “It’s two hours from Memphis, two hours from Nashville, right out in the middle of nowhere.”
Pyle pursued MMA on the side for several years with sporadic bouts, including a 2002 submission win over future UFC top contender Jon Fitch at the Stardust in Las Vegas. The little bit of time he spent in the Fight Capital of the World stuck with Pyle.
At the first glimmer of hope that he could make it fighting professionally, two years later in 2004, Pyle left his job and took off for Las Vegas.
“I came here with a suitcase full of clothes and that was it,” Pyle said.
It wasn’t long before Pyle, who eventually worked his way into notable promotions such as the WEC and International Fight League, built a reputation. He became known as the diligent gym junkie who could rough anyone up in sparring sessions.
Although they didn’t team up until recently, Gifford had known Pyle for years. The trainer said much of his first impressions of Pyle had proven true to this day.
“He’s stayed with the whole, ‘I’m a regular Joe from Tennessee, there’s nothing special about me,’” Gifford said. “A lot of time it works against the opponents because they buy into that whole ‘golly, gee’ attitude. Next thing you know, you’re getting punched in the face and he’s lulled you to sleep with the whole Tennessee boy (shtick).”
One of the first conversations Gifford remembered having with Pyle when they started working together revolved around becoming a more exciting fighter. Pyle had 16 victories by submission but no finishes in nearly two years and no knockouts since 2006.
Gifford immediately changed Pyle’s stance and instructed him to get more offensive-minded with his hands. Even before he found his first knockout victim of the current streak, Ricardo Funch in January 2012, Pyle could tell how much he’d improved.
It’s an example, according to Pyle, of evolving after years in the sport.
“It’s continued to be my passion to do something I love to be my job,” Pyle said. “Sometimes, people have passions in mixed martial arts and things get in the way with everyday life and they can’t reach their goals. I can’t let that happen. This is my everyday.”
The leap of faith Pyle made by relocating to Las Vegas and fighting for a living paid off in ways he never expected. Pyle met his wife, Katerina, here and the couple are expecting their first child, a son named Maximus Michael, the first week of August.
He’s also started acting, having small roles in three movies, including "Men In Black 3." Pyle would like to continue in that arena, especially when he’s done fighting.
It’s a far cry from working as a machinist in Tennessee, a fact that’s not lost on Pyle.
“I was just your everyday, average blue-collar worker trying to make ends meet,” Pyle said. “I was just chasing a dream, and all of that developed me into who I am today.”