Rarely in sports does a loss prove to be a lucrative career move, but Canadian Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight Mark "The Machine" Hominick is proving a memorable performance is worth as much as any victory.
A mixed martial arts record crowd of more than 55,000 packed the Rogers Centre in Toronto last April for UFC 129. Many came to see Canadian MMA superstar Georges St-Pierre fight in the main event, but most went home talking about the heart and courage shown in the octagon by the native of Thamesford, Ont., in his fight with Jose Aldo.
Hominick absorbed a brutal beating for four rounds, fighting on despite a tennis ball-sized hematoma on his forehead that produced audible gasps from the crowd, and a gash under his left eye that literally leaked blood. He rallied late, bringing the crowd to its feet in the closing minutes by mounting the Brazilian champion and raining blows down on him until the final bell sounded.
Although he lost by unanimous decision, Hominick made an impression on the biggest possible stage in his sport. He became an overnight sensation a decade after he began slugging it out in the octagon.
"I've been fighting professionally for the last 10 years, but almost in the dark," he said during a recent promotional event to announce a partnership between Boston Pizza and the UFC. "Even in my own province there weren't many people who knew who I was or what I did for a living. Suddenly everything changed. I've been given an amazing opportunity and I have to run with it."
Hominick estimates he is making three times as many public appearances as he was before the Aldo fight, and the UFC has made him one of the most visible faces for the company in Canada. He also inked a sponsorship deal in June with beverage company XYIENCE, maker of Xenergy – the official energy drink of the UFC.
Add to his increasing public profile the birth of his first child, a daughter, shortly after the Aldo fight and the time and energy necessary to co-own and instruct at Adrenaline Training Centre in London, Ont., and it's clear Hominick has more than just fighting on his plate.
"I've always prided myself on not fighting on emotion, but obviously there's a bigger responsibility now," Hominick said. "I'm taking care of not just my wife and myself, but also the little one. The more sponsorships I get and more appearances I make certainly help on the financial side. That said, for me the fight game has always been about the fight and it still is."
Nearly three months removed from UFC 129, Hominick says he's still meeting a lot of people who rave about his performance in the Aldo bout.
"The support from fans has been overwhelming," he said. "I knew I was going to be a part of history just getting to fight at the event, but to be in the fight that people remember from that night is amazing and something I'll hold on to for the rest of my life."
Hominick felt a lot of disappointment immediately after the loss, but his mood changed the Wednesday after the fight when he sat down by himself and watched the UFC 129 tape for the first time.
"I was happy with my performance," Hominick said. "I look at the fight as I just ran out of time. I came on strong late and was able to prove what the last 15 years of my life have been all about. It was uplifting to watch. I was right there. I was one punch away from taking the title from one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world."
The infamous hematoma from the Aldo fight (UFC announcer Joe Rogan screamed, "It looks like he's got two heads!" during the pay-per-view broadcast) went down considerably that night after two hours of ice treatment at the hospital, but a broken bone in Hominick's right hand has taken longer to heal. He recently had the cast removed and has been cleared to resume full training.
"The hand is healing properly and I'm ready to go," he said. "A fighter does one of two things after a loss: He either sits and dwells on it or he uses it to make him hungrier. It has made me hungry to get back to the top. I know what it feels like to compete in the biggest UFC card of all time for a world title. I know what it feels like to be within a minute of walking home with that title. I want to get back to that feeling and back to that title."
His chance to step back into the octagon could come before the end of the year. Tom Wright, UFC director of Canadian operations, confirmed at the Boston Pizza event that the company plans to hold a card in a Canadian city on Dec. 10.
"We haven't made any official announcements as to exactly where it is going to be, but it's going to be in either Montreal or Toronto," Wright said. "We're coming back to Eastern Canada. Probably in the next few weeks we'll make it official."
For Hominick, the event marks the first step toward his goal of getting back into the UFC featherweight title picture.
"I'd love to have the opportunity to fight again on Canadian soil," he said. "I've heard rumours that two wins would get me another title shot. Whoever those two fighters are that make the most sense to get me to the title quickest are the guys I want to face. I don't want a tune-up fight, I want to get right back on the horse and fight the real contenders in the division."