Even in defeat, Kyle Bochniak was riding high off of his last performance.
Matched up with blue chip featherweight prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov at UFC 223 in April, the two proceeded to put on a show that earned he and Magomedsharipov an extra $50,000 each for the Fight of the Night. The unanimous decision went Magomedsharipov’s way and Bochniak had to settle for winning over a swath of new fans, including a Brooklyn crowd that may not have been amicable towards the proud Bostonian at first.
In the months following, Bochniak and his team thought to strike while the iron was hot, which meant putting off a vacation to Spain that his wife had mapped out for the two of them. A discussed bout at UFC Lincoln in August never made it out of the starting gate, and a verbally agreed upon bout with Artem Lobov was derailed due to Lobov’s involvement in the Conor McGregor bus attack.
That left Bochniak on the shelf for longer than he wanted and he now finds himself matched up with Hakeem Dawodu at UFC 231 on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Dawodu is coming off of a win, so Bochniak is aiming to halt the Calgarian’s career momentum and get his own back on track at the same time. A win over Magomedsharipov would likely have vaulted Bochniak way up the rankings and his goal remains to face a legitimate contender soon.
“I want to be on big cards, definitely,” Bochniak told MMA Fighting. “But really just guys who have a lot of fights in the UFC, winning records, who are ranked, I would like to fight some guys who are ranked. If not ranked, just outside the cusp of being ranked. I can bang with the best of them.
“I know I belong here in the UFC, I have a skill set that you’re going to see on Dec. 8 and I’m going to open a lot of people’s eyes. Everybody knows that I have the heart, the grit, the cardio, but now it’s time to show my full arsenal and I’m definitely going to want to fight some top-ranked guys. I don’t think they’ll give me top-10 just yet, so we’re probably looking at the 15-20 level. Anyone around that area can get it.”
Dawodu doesn’t have the same buzz as Magomedsharipov and he’s just starting to make a name for himself in the UFC, but that hasn’t lessened Bochniak’s enthusiasm for Saturday’s fight. He sees Dawodu as an exciting style matchup, one that he also believes he has a distinct advantage in.
In Dawodu’s last outing, he picked up his first UFC win with a convincing unanimous decision nod over Austin Arnett. Bochniak will have the edge in Octagon experience at UFC 231 and he expects that to make a world of difference.
“He has very good standup, but I don’t think he’s as well-rounded as I am or has the experience that I do,” Bochniak said of Dawodu. “I’m battle tested, I’ve fought five times in the UFC, I’ve gone the distance every time and every single one of those fights have been extremely different and diverse. I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been in bad spots, I’ve been bloodied, I’ve had to just grit it out. I have the experience that I need now and I consider myself battle tested and I think I’m on another level than Hakeem.
“He’s explosive, he’s strong, but I’m going to be able to bring him places that he hasn’t been before. We’ll see his heart, his mindset. We all know that I have that and I have a bunch of skill sets that I haven’t shown yet.”
In preparation for this fight, the Massachusetts native spent a couple of weeks training at the Tristar Gym in Montreal. Add in his split decision win over Enrique Barzola in Vancouver, British Columbia, at UFC on FOX 21 back in August 2016, and you can understand why Bochniak doesn’t feel like he’ll be dealing with a hostile crowd in this northern excursion.
Bochniak was thrilled to work with coach Firas Zahabi and his team, and he plans to make Tristar his “second home” in the future.
That future could include a move up the contenders’ list and more fan-friendly fights if Bochniak gets past Dawodu. The two were elevated to the UFC 231 pay-per-view main card after a bout between Renato Moicano and Mirsad Bektic fell through, so Bochniak is getting a prime opportunity to once again steal the show.
And as 2018 comes to a close, he knows where he wants to be this same time next year.
“Definitely in the top-10,” Bochniak said when asked what goals he expects to reach 12 months from now. “If I get the right matchups, if I get a good performance this Saturday, which I’m planning on and they give me some good ranked guys, I think another win or two, good performances, I’ll definitely be in the top-10.”