April 20, 2011

You could bus the entire population of Thamesford, Ontario, the 100 miles of roadway through the province's industrial south to Toronto, hand each of the couple thousand people on those buses a ticket to UFC 129, and the collective townspeople would be but a speck in the Rogers Centre crowd.

Mark Hominick, born and raised in the small town of Thamesford, is similarly easy to miss in the leadup to the historic April 30 event at the sold-out 55,000-seat stadium.

The Canadian fighter most people will be coming to see is the one in the main event, Quebecois kilogram-for-kilogram king Georges St-Pierre, who'll be defending his welterweight championship against former Strikeforce titlist Jake Shields. For other fans, the highlight of the evening will be seeing Randy Couture, the five-time UFC champ and Hall of Famer, step into the Octagon for the last time as a fighter, taking on ex-light heavyweight belt holder Lyoto Machida.

As for the native son of Thamesford, he's the invisible man in the co-main event against Jose Aldo.

This title is not so much out of disrespect for Hominick as it is a gesture of utmost respect for Aldo. The indomitable 18-1 featherweight champ has run over everyone put in his way since entering the WEC three years ago, stopping seven of his last eight victims by KO or TKO. No one stepping in the cage with the 24-year-old Brazilian would be given much of a chance.

Hominick accepts that.

"Jose is definitely well deserving of the moniker of being one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world and the best in the weight class," he said during a media teleconference Tuesday. "But the thing is, everyone who goes in there is intimidated by what he's doing. I think I'm going to be the one guy who takes a step forward instead of backward against him."

A protégé of striking guru Shawn Tompkins, Hominick (20-8) has done his share of damage with his fists and feet, too. He's won his last five bouts, most recently a first-round TKO of George Roop in January. And his pro MMA career began with a bang. Back in 2002, as a 19-year-old thrown right into a title fight, Hominick scored a TKO win over Richard Nancoo to capture the Canadian super lightweight belt. The fight card also featured the pro debut of St-Pierre.

That event in Hull, Quebec, drew 6,000 fans, a pretty good turnout for north-of-the-border MMA back in '02. A week from Saturday, Hominick will be fighting in front of by far the biggest crowd in UFC history. And as if a shot at becoming a champion isn't enough, he is poised to become a father for the first time in the days surrounding the fight.

"My life has flipped upside down," Hominick said.

Yet he is confident he's not in over his head. Hominick lives just around the corner from his mom, his grandmother and his sister, a strong support system for his soon-to-grow family. That allows him to concern himself with only what he has to do in the cage. And even there, he's comfortable with the role he'll play.

"I've been in this situation before," Hominick said. "In my UFC debut, I was a 5-1 underdog against Yves Edwards." He won that 2006 fight by submission.

So Mark Hominick listens to all the accolades being bestowed upon Jose Aldo, and he understands. He understands why pretty much everyone says the champion is going to beat him. And he understands what he has to do about it.

"I've got to take it in stride," he said, "and try to prove people wrong."

• "Nick has accomplished a great deal in mixed martial arts and is certainly one of the best in the sport. But getting in the ring with me for a boxing match is a path he needs to be very wary of taking. I'm willing to put it all on the line anytime, anywhere. For the right price, I'm more than interested in heading to his turf and putting my fist in his mouth and silencing him."-- Jeff Lacy, the former International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion, in a prepared statement responding to Nick Diaz naming him as one of the fighters he'd like to face in a boxing match.

What else is Lacy going to say? He's probably happy for the publicity, with his career having been on a downturn these past few years. At age 33, and having lost three of his last four fights, Lacy might recognize this as the most attractive opportunity out there. For Diaz, the bout would be a big challenge, even at this stage of Lacy's career. But if Diaz must step in with a boxer, better that it's Lacy than the guy boxing promoter Lou DiBella wants to put in with the Strikeforce welterweight champ. Paul Williams and Kelly Pavlik made middleweight champion Sergio Martinez sweat. Nick Diaz wouldn't.

• "If only masculinity had a defender. Someone like four-time Ultimate Fighting champion Chuck Liddell, the baddest of the bad."-- Jon Stewart on last Wednesday's The Daily Show on Comedy Central

This was Stewart at his best, skewering Fox, CNN, NBC and ABC for creating a ludicrous media firestorm over a J. Crew ad that depicts a mother with her 6-year-old son, whose toenails are painted pink. Oh, the horrors! After the likes of Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist and Fox News contributor, weighed in by labeling the ad "an attack on masculinity," Stewart let the derisive laughter die down in his studio audience, then chimed in with the above quote, followed by some news footage of Liddell that panned down to his feet as the voice-over called him "so tough he paints his nails." A nice cameo for Liddell, one that put the UFC on the right side of the Neanderthal line.

• "I am as healthy as ever. I feel great. I absolutely have the ability to continue to compete, and compete at this level. But ... I have a whole lot of other things that I enjoy doing in my life, and I don't want to wait until I have an injury and have doctors tell me, 'You can't fight anymore.' I know that's going to affect all the other things I like to do. I like to hunt. I like to ride my bike. I like to do a lot of other things that, if healthy, I can enjoy for the rest of my life."-- Randy Couture, speaking on the UFC 129 media teleconference, on his decision to retire after the Machida fight

This is the place where I usually comment on the chosen quotes. But this time I'm going to step aside and allow Couture's opponent to have the last word about the man he'll face in Toronto next week.

"He said it's an honor," Machida's manager, Ed Soares, said in translating the fighter's thoughts. "It's an honor to fight someone like Randy Couture. He said he feels that Randy Couture has built a history in this sport, he has helped build the sport to what it is today. And he just feels honored to be able to fight him. Out of respect, he wants to give his best to Randy Couture on that night. Out of respect for Randy. Because he thinks this plays an important part not only in history, to be the last guy to fight Randy Couture, but he think this plays a big part in his career. To have a legend like Randy on his résumé, that he has fought him."

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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