LAS VEGAS — In the basement of the Ultimate Fighting Championship office on Sahara Avenue is a gym. It is filled to overflowing with weights and mirrors, but there is also a boxing ring, speed bags and other various fight gear.
The gym is ostensibly designed for employee use, but what you'll often find in the gym are fighters who come to town for media engagements and need a place to work out. A select few—the Conor McGregors of the world, for example—are allowed to work out in Lorenzo Fertitta's private gym at the Red Rock casino. The rest are consigned to the basement.
The basement is where I find Myles Jury, a UFC lightweight tasked with the biggest opportunity of his career when he faces the popular Donald Cerrone in the co-main event of UFC 182 this weekend. Jury has just finished an intensive workout. He is bright red, and he is sweating everywhere. He asks if he can have a few minutes to take a shower before our scheduled appointment, and I tell him yes, this is a good idea.
Thirty minutes later, Jury joins me upstairs in a UFC conference room. I tell him that I won't spend very much time asking him about the fight with Cerrone, and he laughs. In the years since I began covering mixed martial arts, I have discovered that it is mostly a terrible idea to ask fighters how their camp is going, or how they plan on beating their upcoming opponent, or how their weight cut is going. They've repeated the answers to these questions so many times that they are automatic. They are not answers. They are reactions. They are instinct.
It is far more interesting to try and get to the truth of who someone is, to find out where they're from and how that helped form who they are today. And so I begin by asking Jury about growing up in a sleepy suburb called Hazel Park.
Hazel Park is on the edge of Detroit, between the city and the countryside, but not close enough to either to identify with them.
He was in diapers when his father and mother separated. His brother—four years older than Myles—was affected by the divorce, but Myles was too young to remember it.
Myles spent time on the streets growing up. Like much of the surrounding Detroit area, the streets of Hazel Park did not offer the best environment, and Jury grew up with a chip on his shoulder. He recognized early that he needed an outlet. Without one, he would end up like so many others, which is to say: on the streets, fighting other kids and making nothing of his life.
And then Jury discovered martial arts, and his life changed forever. Here was something that he could apply himself towards. Here was something that offered competition. Here was something that gave him a chance to be the best.
"From that moment on, my life was about training and competing," he says. He enrolled in taekwondo classes because he loved the flashy kicks and movements. But one day after class, his instructor asked him about sticking around and taking a jiu-jitsu class. Jury was skeptical.
"I didn’t want to be rolling around with sweaty men," he says.
His instructor told him that taekwondo wasn't going to work in real-life situations. Jury didn't believe the instructor, so he was asked to stick around and spar after the class to help other guys get ready for fights.
"I got the crap beat out of me," Jury says with a laugh. "They were knocking me down, slamming me. After that, I went home and told my mom I needed to do jiu-jiutsu."
Jury joined the wrestling team when he started high school. His first day in the wrestling room was a disaster. He hated it. He went home after that first day and told his mom that he wanted to quit and would just do jiu-jitsu.
"You're quitting because it's too hard?" his mom asked.
"I remember thinking that my mom called me out," he says. The chip on his shoulder, the one that began developing on the streets of Hazel Park, reared its ugly head. "There was no way I was going to live in that house with my mom and have her hold it over my head, like I wasn't tough enough to stick it out with wrestling."
Jury stuck it out with wrestling, and began fusing together his striking, submissions and wrestling game to create a base in mixed martial arts.
A local Michigan gym often held "smokers," which are something like exhibition fights. You showed up at the gym, filled out some paperwork and then told the folks running the show what style of fight you wanted to take part in. You could do kickboxing or grappling matches. You could mix and match them in various permutations. Or you could do a mixed martial arts fight.
Jury decided it was time to fight. He paid his $25 entrance fee and told the organizers he wanted to do an MMA fight. After he weighed in, they matched him with an older opponent similar in size. And then, at 15 years old, Jury's mixed martial arts career began when he stepped in the ring.
Jury knocked the older kid out in violent fashion.
"It was a good knockout," he recalls. "They had to bring an ambulance in. And I thought, 'Man, this is what power feels like.' It was like a drug. I wanted to get that feeling again."
Jury returned to Hazel Park with renewed confidence. He did not go looking for fights, but he knew he had the skills to defend himself if needed. And he knew he'd finally discovered the thing that could give his life meaning beyond the streets.
Jury is a quiet man. I ask him why he avoids the glare of the same spotlight that shines on fighters such as McGregor or Chael Sonnen.
"I like the art of surprise. I like being quieter," he says. "People look at me like Rory MacDonald. You don't know how to read the guy. But then he gets in the cage, and he is just an absolute animal. I like guys like Georges St-Pierre. He was so much more composed."
It may surprise you, then, that Tito Ortiz was once Jury's favorite fighter. But it wasn't just Ortiz's mouth that won Jury over. It was the way Ortiz worked hard, walked into the Octagon in shape, spoke his mind and believed in himself. The interplay between Ortiz and Ken Shamrock hooked Jury, but it was the dedication to craft that made him stick around.
Jury grew out of the showmanship phase. He wanted to be a respectable fighter, someone the fans could relate to. The trash-talking and social media antics? He'll leave those for others.
"I get all these guys trying to be the next Mayweather. Conor is good at talking. Chael can pull it off," Jury says. "But a lot of these other guys, they’re fake. It just gets annoying. Either you got it or you don’t.
"And there’s nothing worse than somebody who talks s--t, gets their ass beat, and then talks s--t again," he continues. "We have a lot of lights on us. A lot of kids watch me. If I'm out there on Twitter, talking crap, I might get more fans and followers and money. But in the long run, what if there's a kid looking up to Myles Jury? What if he thinks he should be a punk because I'm being a punk?"
Cerrone is the biggest and most difficult opponent of Jury's career. Jury and his team handled his career with care, because he recognized early on what many fighters do not: that your record is your resume. People love when guys say they'll fight anybody, anytime, because it makes us feel they are brave and awesome.
"But they’re never going to be in a position to be a champion. I want to be a champion, and that’s why I take my career so seriously," Jury says. "A lot of fighters don’t understand that your record is your resume. If you have a 5-5 record, that’s like going to a job interview with a piss-poor resume. Nobody’s going to want to hire you."
Jury is 15-0 heading into the Cerrone fight. If you include his amateur fights, he is 21-0. Over the course of his career, he has taken the boxing route—consistently and slowly upgrading the level of opponent he faces—and he is now reaching the upper tiers of the UFC's lightweight division. Cerrone, improving with age, is on a five-fight winning streak, and Jury believes there's more on the line this Saturday than a simple undefeated record.
And, if things go his way, he's willing to ignore his own "no talking" rule to make a special request.
"A win over Cerrone puts me next in line for that title shot. And that’s what I want. Anthony Pettis beat Cerrone and got a title shot. A lot of people that beat Cerrone, back in WEC and in the UFC, get title shots," he says. "When I beat Cerrone, you better bet I’m going to be asking for that title shot.
"The cat’s out of the bag. I want that title shot."