Cody McKenzie has announced his return to competition.
The former UFC veteran and The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 competitor will take on Washington trial horse Chris Ensley in an MMA ‘exhibition’ bout, under the Conquest Of The Cage banner on August 26th.
The fight will be McKenzie’s first since being handed a four-year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission back in 2017. He was suspended for refusing to provide a post-fight urine sample for drug testing following his last bout, a TKO loss to Stefano Paterno for the Venator FC promotion in Italy.
McKenzie has evidently learned a lesson about dealing with athletic commissions, as he would need to if he is to make one more run at the upper echelons of MMA.
“I think it’s dumb that I’m suspended in the first place, but that’s not here nor there,” he said.
“The athletic commission has changed, and I have to learn to deal with that you know. When I was trying to stay in the game I was fighting it, but you can’t fight with that. But it’s changed and I can deal with that.”
Despite still being under suspension, ‘The AK Kid’ will likely face no repercussions for taking the fight, due to its exhibition status and the fact that the bout will take place at the Northern Quest Casino, located in an Indian reservation.
“I honestly don’t even know (the rules of the exhibition), the promotor just got a hold of me and I was like ‘yeah when?’. He said ‘three weeks’ and I said ‘yeah, cool’. But yeah, I’m sure he’ll have something put in there for legal reasons so he can’t get in trouble, but really when stuff is on tribal land I don’t think they can do anything anyways” he said.
“I don’t see how Nevada can have any foothold or anything like that and if they do then whatever, I’ll start fighting overseas if I need to to get back into it if Nevada wants to keep crying about nothing.”
McKenzie sports an MMA record of 16-11, largely spoiled by a 1-7 run leading into his intial retirement in 2017. He became known for perhaps frequenting bars more so than the gym in that stretch.
McKenzie is long time working man, born in Alaska into a working class family. Despite his obvious ability in the cage, MMA became just another job to pay the bills.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, I don’t not think that I can fight. I just took fights that I shouldn’t have, at times when I wasn’t training, working at it, or motivated to win fights. They just offered me a dollar sign and I was like ‘cool’, because I’m a fighter and I didn’t have any future in the sport, I didn’t care if I won or lost.”
After somewhat of an enforced layoff, McKenzie was afforded some time to reflect on fighting, away from the pressures and expectations that come with being a fighter at the elite level.
“Now I’m going to give this one last try. Me getting kicked out was pretty much a blessing, you know, because it made me realize that I don’t want to just take fights for no reason. If I’m going to take a fight, I should just go in there to win the fight every time, I shouldn’t take it if I’m not going to win. So at least I figured something out.”
While he still works to pay the bills, McKenzie is ramping up his training regime, although his upcoming return appears to have come about in a hurry.
“I’m still working a lot of hours, still putting in 40, but I’m running and I got guys that I train with at my house. I built a gym in one of my shops, I got a 60×40 shop, so I laid mats in there, workout equipment and all that kind of stuff,” he said.
“I’ve been training lately and put a bug in a guy’s ear that I wanted to fight. So he called me up to fight a guy in three weeks who’s fought a lot of guys around here. He has a terrible record, but that’s what happens you fight all the toughest guys and you’re like a stepping stone in Washington, you’re going to get used a lot.”
The opponent is Chris Ensley, a long time staple of the fight scene in Washington. Ensley holds an MMA record of 6-41, 1 NC – however, he has shared the cage with big-name fighters such as Colby Covington, Austin Arnett, Lyle Beerbohm, and Brent Primus.
While Ensley may not be the calibre of opponent you would expect a former UFC fighter to pick on return, McKenzie sees it as a stepping stone on his way back to the big show.
“I know I can’t go right into a big fight after as big of a hiatus as I took, but I’m ready to fight,” he said.
“I fought a lot, you know, I fought a ton of tough guys at a high level. That’s what I’m trying to get back into and see how it goes. This guy is just my first step, then I’m planning to keep stepping up, keep picking up the competition.”
One could be forgiven for overlooking an opponent with Ensley’s record, but McKenzie knows all too well the dangers of stepping into the cage unprepared.
“I’m taking it serious because it’s a fight. I mean, the guy I’m fighting is just my first step, but after that I’m planning on picking up the competition. I’m going hard at it right now. I trained hard yesterday, I’m going to train today, I’m doing all my stretches, runs and all that kind of stuff” he said.
With those harsh lessons in tow, McKenzie plans to revert back to what works, something that he does better than anything: hard work. Whether that is enough to bring back the ‘AK Kid’ of old, will be laid bare for all to see in the cage on August 26th.
“I’ve done this for a long time, I know what it takes to fight at the highest level, now it’s just about getting myself back there you know” he said.
“I’m going to go in there and we’ll see, that’s when we’ll really know. Anybody that’s ever trained with me knows that I can fight, that’s no secret, but which Cody is going to show up? Am I going to show up in shape or am I not, that’s what matters.”
As well as training at his home in Northern Washington, the long time student of the Sikjitsu gym in Spokane has enlisted the help of his old teammates to get back in the gym with high level partners.
“I just started getting back in touch with these guys (Rick Little and Michael Chiesa) and getting in there to mix it up, because yeah, I need that. My guys are tough, but when you’re the coach it’s different than getting in there with guys who can really give you a run for your money” he said.
“I train at a lot of different gyms because these guys are welcoming, I’ve known them forever and trained with them for years and years. So, they’re happy for me to come back and work with whoever, which is nice.”
So what could possibly be left in the cage for a newly married man, with a stable career in roofing and plenty on his plate outside of fighting? While McKenzie is chasing one more run at the big time, it’s hard not to sense an undertone of unrealised potential.
The now 33-year-old McKenzie, in typically honest fashion, does not shy away from the fact that his run will have to be swift.
“I want to be the best and win. I made a deal with my wife that I get one more shot at it and if I lose any of them, I’m done” he said.
“I don’t want to be in here for much longer, I’m getting older and I have a lot of injuries from fighting for years. I’m going to go for one run and we’ll see what happens.”
In returning to competition, McKenzie seems determined to show that he has come of age. As such, he is preparing to engage more in the business side of the game, something he shied away from in the past. Being a businessman, he says, also involves burying the hatchet with one of the most powerful figures in MMA, UFC President, and one-time nemesis, Dana White.
“I was an idiot you know, I’m getting smarter, I want to be friends with Dana now. I’m over the grudge, I forgive you.”
“This is my comeback, but I’m planning on doing more. I need to get my name back out there, I did it once before and I can do it again. That’s just all about marketing.”
McKenzie’s goal isn’t simply to return to the UFC. He plans on returning to show the skills that perhaps went missing in his last run in the organization when he became disillusioned with the sport.
“I’ll fight anywhere for the right price, but yeah I want to be champ of the UFC, that’s where the fame is. That’s where the big money is, they’re the number one organisation in the world and if you want to be the number one guy in the world you gotta be there.”
However for McKenzie, like any prizefighter, the almighty dollar still reigns.
“If you want gold, you gotta be there (the UFC). I mean, anything else to me is just lower, no point in doing it. I mean, I’ll do it for money, but that’s not where I want to be in the end. I ain’t trying to go on a 10-fight win streak in Russia.”
As for August 26th, the plan is simple, and quintessentially Cody McKenzie.
“I’m getting in shape, I’ll be there when the time comes and I’m going as far as I can with this.”
“If I come in shape and ready to go I usually beat people up, so that’s the plan.”
Watch the interview below: