Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canadian mixed martial artist Mitch Clarke moved across the prairies many times over before finally arriving in his current city of Edmonton, Alberta. A former walk-on wrestler at the University of Saskatchewan, Clarke has competed as a professional mixed martial artist since mid-2007 and at this point in time, shows no signs of slowing down.
With a perfect record consisting of seven wins with no losses, Clarke is the current Evolution Fighting Championships welterweight champion and is widely regarded as one of Canada’s most promising mixed martial arts prospects.
On September 10th, Clarke will drop down in weight and compete against Josh Machan for the lightweight championship under the Alberta-based ‘The Fight Club’ banner at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton.
Recently, the up-and-coming mixed martial artist took time out of his busy training schedule to give fans of the sport an "insider's view" of all-things Canadian mixed martial arts, including the past, present, and future of the sport in 'The Great White North.'
Currently, Canada is represented well by many elite athletes in mixed martial arts, but in the early days of the sport Canadian competitors were few and far between. In the beginning stages of your career, did you look up to any Canadian fighters as inspiration?
The only Canadian fighters I looked up to in the beginning stages of my career were the people I trained with like Elmer Waterhen. Other than that, I looked up to fighters that I enjoyed watching or could relate to. I looked up to fighters like Matt Hughes and Evan Tanner when I first started, due to their wrestling backgrounds and their hard-nose style. I also liked the old-school guys like Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and Don Frye, because they were the first ones I started watching.
Aside from the sports incredible surge in popularity over the course of the past few years, how different is it for young Canadian mixed martial artists trying to make a name for themselves today than it was for you when you began training?
I think the sport is allowing more kinds of personalities to come to the spotlight. You don’t just have the “badass” type fighters taking up the spot light. You’re beginning to see more fighters that people like due to their sense of humor or hard-work ethic. I think this is mostly due to the fact that the sport is being more widely accepted by the general population.
With Georges St. Pierre currently ruling the UFC’s welterweight division, in conjunction with a number of other prominent fighters competing under the UFC banner, and countless other young competitors fighting both in North America and abroad, how do you feel about the current state of Canadian mixed martial arts?
The sport is really taking off, but promoters need to make sure the market doesn’t become oversaturated with mixed martial arts. Too many promotions could lead to the quality of fights going down, and that’s the last thing the sport needs.
From British Columbia to the Maritimes, there are more mixed martial arts gyms now than ever before that are churning out very talented fighters. What gym or team do you think is the best in Canada?
I think Hayabusa Training Centre has the best gym, but I feel obligated to say that, as that’s the team I train with. Other top teams in Canada are Revolution Fight Team, Tristar, BDB, Brazilian Top Team Canada, and FitPlus. All these teams produce top quality fighters that could be fighting in the big shows.
Despite reports to the contrary, professionally-sanctioned mixed martial arts has proven to be one of the safest sports in the world while also consistently proving financially beneficial across every province that sanctions mixed martial arts professionally. Do you think that it is just a matter of time until the sport is legalized across Canada?
I think that within five years the sport will be legalized throughout Canada. The benefits of mixed martial arts to a community, I think, far surpass the cons. Roadblocks in getting the sport sanctioned across Canada are people who put on illegal, unsanctioned shows and people who are uneducated about the sport. Everyone sees mixed martial arts as a “bloodsport” about destroying your opponent, which isn’t the case at all. Most fighters fight because they enjoy competition. Way more people are severely injured in other contact sports like boxing, kickboxing, football, and hockey.
Recently the British Columbia Medical Association declared their intention to pursue banning professional mixed martial arts across Canada, citing the occurrences of “broken limbs, lacerations and brain damage” as potential afflictions to participants of the sport. How do you feel about the intentions of the B.C. Medical Association? Do you feel their cause has merit?
No, not at all. Most doctors are uninformed about the perceived dangers of the sport. The only difference between mixed martial arts and other contact sports, like boxing, football, and hockey being accepted by doctors is that mixed martial arts hasn’t had the luxury of being around for over sixty years.
As an athlete who has enjoyed an extended career as a professional mixed martial artist and is familiar with all of the potential risks that mixed martial arts has to offer, do you have a statement to make to the British Columbia Medical Association?
Do your research. How many deaths have been in mixed martial arts since it’s inception? The answer is two. How many deaths a year occur in boxing on average? 11. The doctors who hate mixed martial arts, usually hate all contact sports including boxing, kickboxing, football, hockey, and contact knitting.
With new training facilities being opened on almost a weekly basis across Canada with a number of Canadian-based promotions achieving international recognition, there is no doubt that there are more opportunities for young mixed martial artists than ever before in our nation, but do you feel that there are enough opportunities for aspiring mixed martial artists in Canada?
There are definitely enough opportunities; newer fighters need to be careful about which facilities they align themselves with. Having qualified instructors seems to be a luxury few seem to get. Also, so many fighters want to just fight, but need time to develop their skills. The best way to facilitate both, is to have more sanctioned amateur events.
There are a plethora of young up-and-coming mixed martial artists in Canada, from Rory MacDonald to TJ Grant to any number of promising athletes competing in smaller organizations across the world. How do you feel about the future of mixed martial arts in Canada?
The future looks bright for mixed martial arts, but to be honest, I think it’s going to get bigger and then probably take a little step back.
Few would argue that there is a more prominent figure in Canadian mixed martial arts than Georges St. Pierre at this point in time, but who do you think is the next great Canadian mixed martial artist?
Rory MacDonald is definitely a top-prospect; the kid looks like he’s good everywhere. Jordan Mein is another kid who is destined for big things. There’s so many guys who are on the verge of being the next top-prospect. Guillarme de Lorenzi, Clayton Sheen, the Machan brothers, Victor Bachmann, Luke Harris, Kajan Johnson, Ryan Jimmo and maybe Mitch Clarke (laughs).
Canada is blessed to be represented by not only a number of very talented fighters, but the majority of these athletes are also terrific sportsmen who serve as exquisite role-models for young people everywhere, how do you feel about the way Canada is represented by our mixed martial artists? Do you think it is important to represent your nation well when you perform at an international level?
Although representing your country is important, I think it’s more important for the fighters to represent themselves well. Fans shouldn’t look automatically to the fighter’s nation when they act like a jackass and deem that nation filled with jackasses. If anything, fighters represent their gym more than their country. Look at the Cesar Gracie team fiasco at the Strikeforce event. The Diaz brothers, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez all going crazy on “Mayhem” Miller. I think that reflects poorly on their school and their instructor Cesar Gracie, as opposed to Stockton, California or the United States.
While you have this opportunity, do you have anything that you would like to say to your Canadian fans?
Don’t cook bacon with no shirt on.