Mitch Clarke trained at The MMA Lab for years, but he recently jumped ship to the renowned, Albuquerque-based Jackson-Wink MMA. For him, this was a necessary change.
For Mitch Clarke, change was necessary. He had to make a change if he wanted to be a successful fighter and get back on track from a two-fight skid. So he did.
Clarke was a longtime member of The MMA Lab in Glendale, AZ. The UFC lightweight also made his home gym, Hayabusa Training Center, in Edmonton, Alta., a regular part of his fight camps — particularly at the beginning of each camp, and that’s where he trained when not in fight camp.
He’s moved on from The MMA Lab. Though he plans on still training in Edmonton out of camp, he’s found a new home for his fight camps.
Last year, about six to eight weeks prior to his UFC Fight Night 90 bout with Joseph Duffy in early July, Clarke permanently moved camp to the Albuquerque, NM-based Jackson-Wink MMA, one of the leading teams in all of mixed martial arts. It was a big, potentially career-changing decision for him, but one he believes had to happen.
“I have no problems with John Crouch and The MMA Lab; it’s a great team, great training partners, great coaches, great everything,” Clarke told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “But for me, I needed to change some things up. I bonded with a couple of coaches really well (at Jackson-Wink MMA). It stimulated my passion for the sport again. I needed to move forward in a different sense. I changed, and I like the change.
“It’s intimidating. It’s a bigger camp, and there’s so many great guys, so many stars. You forget that you’re at the upper echelon of fighting and they’re just people.”
Clarke said that he left behind some friendships in Arizona and that most of his former coaches and teammates were disappointed when the Canadian broke the news to them. But at the end of the day, prize fighting is an individual sport, and fighters have to do what’s best for them.
“It’s going to be disappointment, obviously. Some guys I was really, really tight with, and others not so much,” Clarke said. “I’m happy I did it. Unfortunately, it’s part of the game.”
Though he moved to Jackson-Wink MMA over half a year ago, he’s only been there for the six to eight weeks leading up to his last fight thus far, because in his fight with Duffy, he badly injured his knee.
Very early into the first round, the Irishman knocked Clarke down and quickly sunk in a rear-naked choke. Clarke suffered a torn meniscus, PCL and MCL in process.
The biggest reason Clarke was disappointed after the bout was he wasn’t able to show off his improved game at all, as the fight lasted less than a minute. He believes he got much better as an all-around fighter in the two months he’s trained in Albuquerque, and particularly his wrestling has improved, he said. But fans won’t be able to see any of that until the next time he steps inside the cage.
Clarke was sidelined and had to rehab his knee for six months, only returning to full health this past January.
“It was a little bit of a longer recovery than I would have wanted it to be or expected it to be,” he said. “I knew something was wrong, because I couldn’t lift my leg. It was a little bit of a harder recovery, just because there was so much wrong with it, than I initially wanted it to be. It’s part of the sport, unfortunately. It could’ve been worse. I immediately thought it was going to be ACL related, and that’s a career-altering injury. It’s still a crappy situation.”
The biggest difficulty for Clarke during his recovery was being able to trust his knee again and re-learning how to walk properly.
Clarke reached out to MMA fighter and six-time wrestling national champion Roger Alves, who’s suffered multiple ligament tears in his knees, for advice on how to deal with a severe knee injury. Clarke said Alves was a big help during his recovery process.
“When you have a bad injury, it’s pretty easy to just give up,” he said. “When your whole life is fighting and you can’t do anything, it’s just terrible in terms of you don’t know what to do. It’s about staying busy and seeing that one-percent improvement every day.”
Clarke recently signed a new four-fight deal with the UFC, but he’s still not sure when he plans on returning to action. Clarke wants to come back the right way, not the fast way; he’s not in a rush. He said summer or fall of this year is a possibility, but his return is ultimately something the UFC and his management team will figure out together.
Clarke’s last fight didn’t go his way or as planned. Far from it. It was a worst-case scenario, he said. But he’s confident the move to Jackson-Wink MMA will eventually pay off, and he hopes to display his improvements in his next fight.
From here, he’s only going up.