The Flamengo district of Rio de Janeiro is a hot, lively place, bustling with friendly locals and free-spirited tourists. On the top floor of the all bells-and-whistles Club Upper Sport, you’ll find José Aldo training with the cream of Nova Uniao—guys like Marlon Sandro, Diego Nunes, and Amilcar Alves—while being coached by André “Dede” Pederneiras.
Since making his WEC debut in 2008, Aldo has been an unstoppable force, demolishing a who’s who of featherweights, including Cub Swanson, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, and Manvel Gamburyan. The champion’s story of triumph against crippling poverty and a lack of opportunity has been well documented. “Nova Uniao fighters train hard—more now than ever,” says Pederneiras. “Most of the guys come from poor families, and fighting can be their ticket out.”
Aldo hasn’t surmounted a life on the margins to be forgotten there, and his first UFC title defense on April 30 in Toronto is a special occasion for him to entrench his position with Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre as the world’s best pound-for pound fighters. However, one man more than 5,000 miles away stands in his path: Mark “The Machine” Hominick.
DRIVING WEST ON THE 401 to the Adrenaline Training Center in London, Ontario, takes you across the southwestern part of the province. It’s cold in Canada—something evidenced by the massive snowbanks surrounding the gym Hominick co-owns with teammates Chris Horodecki and Sam Stout.
While the renovated auto body shop is spacious, there’s no escaping the bare-bones approach to training here. An ice-cold concrete floor and draft throughout the place never allows spectators to remove their parkas. Only every other bank of lights works, due to the Ontario government phasing out higher voltage bulbs, making the corners and shadows even darker. It’s an ominous feeling.
In the back corner, Hominick, aided by strength and conditioning coach Brian Fletcher, is beginning his training camp with explosive lifts. They don’t call him “The Machine” for nothing. Hominick hits like a ton of bricks. Just ask recent TKO victims George Roop or Yves Jabouin. You can sense the intensity of his training, which is in preparation for the biggest chance of his nine-year career as a mixed martial artist. “This is the first UFC in Toronto, and it’s going to be the biggest MMA event North America has ever seen,” says Hominick. “I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Yet, in the midst of a winter chill among the small town streets of London, the vastness of a sold-out arena that seats 55,000 people seems so far away. After all, the fight is just another night where Hominick’s skills will be tested. The cold of Canada and the heat of Brazil are just starting points for the opposition of the challenger and the champion. While Aldo experienced going without food and sleeping in the gym in his early days, Hominick earned a Commerce degree from the University of Windsor and turned down lucrative job offers in the corporate sector.
“In Canada, we have a lot of privileges and opportunities that other countries don’t have,” says Hominick, “I wasn’t fed with a silver spoon, but I didn’t have to scrape for food, either. Fighters come from all walks of life.”
He was first introduced to martial arts in ninth grade, but it wasn’t until later in high school that he really developed his focus on the sport. “The training that I was doing started to influence everything else in my life,” Hominick says. “One day, I just decided to schedule my days so that I could devote 100 percent of myself to training.”
Hominick’s story may not involve run-ins with the law, street fights, or misbehaving in class, but the absence of any rebellion only amplifies his self determination and an early understanding of where he wanted the sport to take him. It’s the individual aspect of MMA that appealed to him and the idea of competing with oneself.
At 16 years old, feeling like he had plateaued in his learning curve, Hominick decided to surpass the beginners in the grappling tournaments, and he ventured into the advanced men’s division—and, perhaps, a course in humility. “I was getting handled,” says Hominick of the step-up in class. “Those were times when I really had to toughen up, and I knew that I had a lot of work to do.”
In 2002, when Hominick turned professional, only one man in Quebec had the power to help a spiring mixed martial artists gain a foothold in the industry. Stephane Patry ran a promotion called the UCC, which later became TKO (2003) and Canada’s longest running MMA promotion. “Patry made all of us stars,” says Hominick, noting that the promotion also launched the professional careers of Georges St-Pierre and David Loiseau. “That’s one thing that you cannot ignore. He was the guy that got us all to the big show.” It is a compelling statement, considering that Patry also promoted Patrick Cote, who received a title shot against Anderson Silva, and Jonathan Goulet, who’s had a seemingly limitless number of stints in the UFC.
Hominick fought 15 times under the UCC and TKO banner, winning 12 times. Among his fights were two losses to Hatsu Hioki—the Japanese featherweight who bested Aldo’s teammate Marlon Sandro at December’s Sengoku show. While Hominick’s first bout with Hioki ended via second-round triangle choke, he lost a close majority-decision to Hioki in 2007 that could have gone either way. “I thought I landed more damaging shots and won,” says Hominick. “A fight like that will teach you to never leave it in the judges’ hands.” It’s a thought he will carry with him when he steps into the Octagon to face Aldo.
Now four years improved from that telling moment, Hominick counts a five-fight win streak that has earned him his current title shot. Outside of a slam that knocked him unconscious in his sixth professional fight back in 2003, he has never been knocked out. Those suggesting that José Aldo is untouchable need to revisit the same sentiments voiced over Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres right before each of them lost their WEC titles. No man is untouchable.
On April 30, Hominick knows that there won’t be 5,000 miles separating him from Aldo—there won’t even be five inches. He’s up for the challenge, because it’s something that goes beyond survival, financial benefits, or the accruements of fame. “I’ve never done this to prove that I’m tough,” says Hominick. “I just love this sport.”