— Cody McKenzie (@thecodymckenzie) May 7, 2017
Cody McKenzie is a working man. His MMA career took him all the way to the UFC, where he competed on The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 and enjoyed a seven-fight run with the promotion.
…actually, ‘enjoyed’ is a strong word, but more on that later.
As McKenzie reflects on his career, it is clear that he often walked the line between pursuing MMA as a passion, or as a job.
Blue Collar Beginnings
Born into a family of commercial fishermen and raised in Cordova, Alaska, Cody McKenzie was always going to be a man with a strong work ethic.
McKenzie practiced Judo and wrestling at a young age, but it wasn’t until he was 14-years-old that he was introduced to MMA, and he quickly made his mind up that it was something he could do.
“When I was 14 I watched the UFC and thought ‘that’s cool’, and I was like, that’s a job, I want to do that for a living. I was already a bit of a trouble maker and getting into fights, so I just kind of went with it,” he said.
However, it wasn’t until he was 16 that McKenzie managed to start formal training.
“I ended up moving from Alaska down to Washington, found a good Muay Thai gym in Canada and started training there six days a week as soon as I was old enough to drive there, so 16-years-old.”
“I was already training myself, just off videos and stuff like that, so once I found a proper gym I just ran with it,” he said.
Working His Way To The UFC
McKenzie quickly set about making a name for himself in the cage. After working his way up through the gritty amateur scene in Washington, he turned professional in 2007, aged just 19.
McKenzie however, wishes he hadn’t even waited that long.
“I went into the show at 11-0, and 90% of them were guillotines. I was 10-0 amateur as well, which a lot of people didn’t know. Washington had a really tough amateur circuit at the time, so really a lot of other states didn’t have an amateur circuit, a lot of fighters were just straight to pro.”
“Hindsight is 20/20, but when I look back I wish I never fought amateur, because I had tougher amateur fights than a lot of my pro fights when I first started.”
“When you’re starting out you’re looking for guys you know you’re going to beat, and the fight world is a small world, so I knew a lot of the guys I fought before I ever fought them.”
What followed was an impressive run of 11 wins, of which nine were by guillotine choke, culminating in an appearance on Season 12 of the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show. McKenzie however, feels that the UFC was selling him short by adding him to the cast.
“They had us fly to North or South Carolina, I forget, to try out. I thought I was a shoo-in to get in because of my personality and my record, I was undefeated with all finishes.”
“I actually thought I should already be in the UFC. I remember when I got there, I went and found Dana White and said ‘hey this is bullshit, I don’t need to do this dumb reality show, just put me in the UFC!’”
“I had one of the best records out there at the time, but he convinced me to do the show, which turned out to be a huge mistake because the contract was absolute garbage! I got stuck in this terrible money contract for like years. Yeah, he got me good. But that’s his job, get me in there for as little as he can get me in there for.”
“No hard feelings though Dana!”
After adding two more guillotine choke finishes to his record, McKenzie was eliminated from the competition by MMA veteran Nam Phan, by far his toughest test up to that point.
“The first tough guys I ran into were on the The Ultimate Fighter. Nam Phan was the first guy to ever beat me, and he was on old veteran who’d had a bunch of fights and he outsmarted me in the fight.”
“By then I’d already choked out two guys, I choked out Marc Stevens and the first guys to get into the house. By the time I fought Nam, I think we were already four weeks into the show, that house is a tough gig because it’s not like we’re fighting every three months, you’re fighting every week. That was pretty much unheard of at that time.”
Paying The Bills
Even as his MMA career was seemingly blossoming, McKenzie continued to work full time, as he had done throughout his career.
“I always went back to fishing, I always went back to Alaska to work. I worked a lot of jobs, even when I was in the UFC, I worked jobs.”
“Even back then I went back and forth between construction and commercial fishing. Even when I was at the highest level, I was working jobs because I like to spend money, I go through it fast! The UFC certainly never paid all my bills.”
It was perhaps during McKenzie’s seven-fight run with the UFC that his feelings about MMA crossed the line between passion and work.
“I’ll always love fighting, it’ll always be a passion to me. I just really enjoy it, and I always loved the martial arts ever since I was a little kid. That part will always be a passion for me. But, when it became my full time job it became about the money. So when you’re trying to make money out of your passion, it just makes it miserable in a way.”
McKenzie is an outspoken character, and regularly drew the ire of the UFC brass because, like many fighters, he felt that he wasn’t being paid his due. While in most industries it would be fair to say that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the same cannot be said for MMA.
“I fought (Chad) Mendes at the highest level in the world and made ten grand. I could make that in a couple of months working,” he said.
“Why would I sacrifice my life and my health to fight the best guy in the world when that’s all they’re going to pay me. That’s all back to that Ultimate Fighter contract, I was stuck in a terrible contract.”
“My whole career with the whole financial part was pretty tough, I didn’t do a good job with all that. I’m from a small town, I didn’t know any of that business side.”
Post UFC Career
McKenzie was released from the UFC in 2013 following a decision loss to Sam Stout, in which he wore a pair of basketball shorts to the Octagon, complete with the tag still attached. The infamous incident prompted UFC president Dana White to refer to it as ‘amateur hour’ and along with his 3-4 UFC record, was another reason for his release from the company.
McKenzie explained that the basketball shorts fiasco was partially a case of misplaced fight shorts, partially a case of him sending a message to the UFC.
“That (the basketball shorts) was kind of me at the end of my UFC career, being like ‘here Dana’. The tag was an accident, but I told people I kept it on because I had to return them as I couldn’t afford them.”
Following his release, McKenzie’s record stands at 2-7, a mark he says is reflective of his waning love of the fight game. He even ventured over into bareknuckle boxing, a sport that many MMA fighters are turning to in the twilight of their careers.
However, McKenzie’s foray was once again a financial decision, rather than one driven by sporting aspirations.
“The money was there with that, but I was so far out of fighting at that point. I mean, you can look at my record and see when I stepped out of fighting. I stepped out of fighting long before I got out of fighting. I was working jobs, I would step off of the fishing boat and fly out to fight people whos names I don’t even know anymore. That was the case with that bare knuckle fight, that was 10% of what I should’ve looked like in a fight.”
“The money was there for me because I built that name for myself a while ago, so if you’re going to pay me $10,000 to go jump into a cage with somebody win or lose, then I’ll definitely do it.”
“None of that was anything I’m proud of by any means, my passion was long gone at that point. It was all about the dollar sign, ten grand would get me a little bit more in life.”
Forever The Troublemaker
McKenzie has been inactive on the fight scene since 2017, but not by choice. He is currently serving a four-year suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission as well as the Italian MMA Commission for refusing to provide urine samples following two of his later fights.
While McKenzie concedes that the suspensions are his own fault, he explains that his reasons were once again financial. He had been smoking marijuana in the weeks leading up to fights, and wanted to avoid being fined 30% of his purse for a positive test.
“Italy I just wouldn’t take a test. I fought, I lost the fight and got cut open and had a big gash on my head. They were trying to make me take a piss test straight away and I was like ‘get the fuck away from me’, just stitch my head up. I’m not going to blame it on Italy or the promotion over there, it was me being an asshole for sure,” he said.
“Same with Nevada, I was definitely being a pain in the ass at that point in my career. I wasn’t using or anything, but it was more of a money issue, I didn’t want to get fined 30% of my purse because at that point in my career, it was more of about the money.”
Despite feeling that the length of the suspension was excessive, McKenzie believes there is a silver lining.
“Really, I think the suspension was way overboard, I was just trying to keep some money in my pocket and they made it a whole other thing. It depends who you ask as to how that story comes out, but I don’t think I should be kicked out for the next four years, I think the next weekend was when Conor McGregor and Khabib got into that huge brawl in the cage and they got kicked out for what? Two months?” he quipped.
“I mean, I wasn’t on steroids, I was just smoking pot. But I didn’t want them to take 30% of my money, that was the main thing I got in trouble for.”
Where Is He Now?
With fighting on the backburner, McKenzie now spends his time doing what he does best, working jobs.
Still situated in small town Washington, McKenzie lives on a farm with his partner and numerous animals. However, the farm is simply a side project while he makes his living in residential construction.
“I have a little farm, but that’s mostly a hobby. My girl and I just like animals, I think at one point we had 80 animals, I don’t know what we have now. We have dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, chickens, birds, ducks, whatever. Sometimes people know that we have a lot of animals, so if they can’t take care of their animals they’ll send them our way. We’ll re-home them, take care of them for a little while.”
“We have eight acres, so we have plenty of room for them to run around. We have two big shops, I do construction, so I build houses for them all the time.
“It’s kind of just another side project, but mainly I make my money off of residential construction and roofing, mainly roofing, but we do framing or whatever needs to be done. Sometimes we’ll do interior remodelling.”
As he said, McKenzie now primarily makes his living from roofing, a profession he says he switched to during his MMA career, as the long fishing seasons in Alaska started to take their toll.
“I’ve done it for a while, even when I was fighting on-and-off. I kind of got burnt out of the fishing because you’re away for too long and it’s really hard work.
“It’s hard to be away from your significant other for that long. When me and my girl first met, I told her I’d be away for three months and I ended up being gone for seven because another job came up right after that one.”
“So I switched more into construction full time after that.”
The work ethic he was born with is one thing that has never waned, as he now works long days to maintain what is by his own admission, an expensive lifestyle.
“I always get by just fine, I got a nice place and a good life right now, but I work a lot. I wake up at daylight and I literally just got back inside and it’s eight at night, zero degrees out and I got to feed my animals. I have a little farm now on my property.”
Return Of ‘The AK Kid’?
Still only 33-years-old, McKenzie’s involvement in the fight game now only consists of training on his farm, as well as teaching his young labourers MMA.
“I work a lot more now as I have a lot of bills, but I had five students that work on my property. They help me out cutting wood and I just pretty much have five teenagers between 16-19-years-old who work for me and they’re tough hillbilly kids like me who can chop wood and work. However many hours they put in on my property for me, then I train them, hold pads, have them beat up the bag and whatever.”
“I have a couple shops on my property and I’m building a gym right now. I live in a very small town with only 500 people in it, so there’s no gyms around. So pretty much, if I want a gym I’m building one.”
While McKenzie appears to have his hands full with his work, farm and students, he still hasn’t closed the door on the fight game. Should he decide to make another run at it, he still has the contacts to be able to make it a reality.
“Miesha Tate came up recently and hung out, I have a lot of high level friends in the fight game still, so I do consider making a comeback and having people come up and actually train with me where I live.”
If the talk of a comeback were to come to a reality, McKenzie promises that it won’t be like the last few years of his career.
“If I were to comeback, I’d comeback properly and train hard and not be just trying to skate by.”
While McKenzie does appear to hold some resentment towards the MMA industry, his love of the sport does shine through from time to time. Hearing him speak, it is clear that he still itches to compete, despite some trepidation from his partner and family.
And once again, the potential financial gains are a motivating factor.
“Some people don’t want me fighting anymore, but I still think about it and I’m 33-years-old. I started so young that I kind of hit my peak when a lot of guys I was fighting were much older, so I still feel like I can make another run at if I wanted to. Plus, the money is way better now, so that always draws me in!”
So should we keep an eye out for ‘The AK Kid’? Suspensions aside, the door is still well and truly open, at least in the mind of Cody McKenzie.
“I still might make a comeback, so keep your eyes peeled. It might happen, it’s in the air right now.”