When sizing up 2013, Quinn Mulhern had every intention of making it the best year of his professional career.
The 29-year-old Jackson’s MMA fighter had built solid momentum under the Strikeforce banner by winning three consecutive showings, and with the doors of the San Jose-based promotion closing for good in the New Year, Mulhern had his sights set on making an immediate impact inside the Octagon. While his previous organization was also owned by the same parent company as his new home, everything - no matter how subtle the situation - comes with a unique level of intensity when the UFC stamp is involved.
And while such circumstances were not lost on Mulhern, preparing and experiencing the difference are two completely different things. With that in mind, he went into his promotional debut against Rick Story at UFC 158 in Montreal looking to put his best foot forward. Mulhern knew the Brave Legion fighter brought some serious power, but he also carried a solid amount of name recognition, and the opportunity presented created a scenario where the reward outweighed the risk.
Unfortunately for the California-born fighter, things didn’t go his way against the gorilla-strong welterweight and he suffered a first round loss via TKO. Where the loss to Story was enough to bring his spirits down, he still had plenty of time to turn things around and make 2013 the year he knew it could be. Losses are going to happen when you are competing at the highest level of a sport, but rather than dwell on the negatives, Mulhern turned his attention to righting the ship in his next scheduled outing against Ryan Couture at UFC 164 in August.
In addition to the opportunity to make sure his setback was short lived, the bout with Couture presented some interesting angles. Both were former Strikeforce fighters looking to establish themselves under the UFC banner, and each would be coming into the fight looking to lay it all on the line. For Mulhern, the prior meant the most career wise, but the latter had more personal level of appeal. He knew Couture would be coming in there to scrap with him, and in that style of fight, he would have the chance to erase his shortcomings back in March with an action-packed performance.
Nevertheless, where the loss to Story put a damper on things for a short time, what happened next took a much larger toll on the Albuquerque transplant’s mind, body and spirit. Mulhern was in the middle of a training session, four weeks deep into his camp to prepare for the Couture fight, when he felt his hand crumble upon impact with a sparring partner. In a sport as physically demanding and diverse as mixed martial arts, there are a wide variety of injuries and plethora of methods one can use to recover and/or adjust to the situation. But in the case of a shattered hand, Mulhern knew there was nothing that could be done.
He was going to have to withdraw from his bout in Milwaukee and 2013 had officially taken a sharp turn south towards the gutter.
“The day I broke my hand was definitely a difficult one,” Mulhern said. “I was set up to fight [Ryan] Couture and I was pretty well into my training camp at the time. When I broke my hand, I knew it was broke immediately, and it was just a hard day. I don’t think I can describe it any other way. I went home, balled my eyes out for about five minutes, then got up and grabbed some pizza and beer. I told myself this was life right now and there was no other reality. There was no going back and I tried to have that attitude. There are obviously moments in the past you would like to change or pick a different training partner than you picked that day, but that’s just not how it works. I tried to come to terms with that and stay as positive as I possibly could. I tried to focus on the things I needed to be thankful for, like being a part of a great school at Jackson’s. It’s one of those places where even if I’m not actively involved in the practice, I can still gain knowledge and improve even if I’m just sitting there.”
Before it was all said and done, he would be forced to pull out of another scheduled bout, as injury threw a fight against Thiago Tavares onto the scrap pile. That being said, when the road ahead is filled with obstacle after obstacle, a fighter has a choice to make.
Mulhern knew he could either continue to sink or get with firing up his comeback, and it was a decision that came with a few changes. Not only in the mental sense, where he chose to focus on the road ahead rather than the negative elements of the past four months, but in the physical sense as well, as Mulhern decided to make the drop down to the lightweight division.
Where he had competed at 170 pounds every step of his 20-fight career, Mulhern saw potential advantages hovering at 155 pounds. Much like the welterweight division, his new home is a weight class filled with fighters who have strong wrestling pedigrees, but Mulhern believed he would be in a far better position to handle those attacks facing competition that was closer to him in size.
With a new motivation intact, Mulhern was champing at the bit to get back to the action. So when the opportunity to face Katsunori Kikuno came along at the UFC’s first ever stop in Singapore, he jumped on it right away. Not only would the promotion be making its inaugural showing in a new market, but he would be welcoming a highly touted newcomer who was a former champion in one of Japan’s larger MMA promotions.
“Kikuno is a little bit of a puzzle in a couple of ways,” Mulhern described. “His striking is a little bit odd and that is always going to be a challenge. If his striking was more dangerous but a bit more orthodox, it might be a little easier to game plan for. I’ve focused a lot of my attributes just kind of topping his. My range, reach and kicks being better. I’ve had to get into that karate mindset to see where he likes to go with the plan of being better at the long range fight than he is.”
While Mulhern is eager to mix it up with Kikuno inside the Octagon on January 4, he’s also returned his sights to the bigger picture. Although his 2013 campaign went exactly the opposite of what he had hoped, Mulhern’s optimism has him believing the best is up ahead in the coming year. For everything 2013 wasn’t, 2014 has the potential to be, and he can take a big step in a positive direction with a win over Kikuno in Singapore.
“Oh hell yeah I’m looking to make the most of the coming year and this will be a great start,” he said about his upcoming tilt at UFC Fight Night. “I’m already excited. I really want that to happen for a few reasons. The first being that I really haven’t been in this sport all the way and I want that to change. It’s not because of my own training, but has more to do with politics and business. With Strikeforce going under, having fights scheduled that don’t happen or having to pull out, there have been a lot of unknowns to deal with. Only fighting a couple times a year, where not all that long ago I was fighting five or six times a year, puts you in a place where you don’t necessarily feel like you are a part of the sport. Sometimes it has been a bit of challenge waking up and feeling like I fight for a living. I want to get in there, be consistent, and fight a bunch this coming year. I feel like a lot of momentum can be built up with a win in this fight.”
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Quinn Mulhern: A Fresh Start for 2014
"I want to get in there, be consistent, and fight a bunch this coming year." - Quinn Mulhern