Mike Russow is on the brink of something big. The Monte Cox managed prospect is 10-1 with six wins in a row. In a depleted heavyweight division, this makes him something of a prospect. And prospects have to be managed carefully. As Cox looks to secure a big future fight for his fighter in the UFC, in Affliction, or in Japan, it’s more important than ever that Russow take fights he can win and win impressively.
Enter Braden Bice on the December 10 Adrenaline MMA show in Moline, Illinois.
“I know I’ve got myself into a fight. I know I’m not going in there and taking an easy one. But I’ve never fought anyone easy before. I don’t fight cans. I don’t want to. I want to fight the best. If I take a couple of losses along the way-it’s all experience. I like competition. I just want to fight tough guys. If I take somebody on that’s not going to be much of a fight, it doesn’t make me feel like much of a fighter. I want to fight people who are going to challenge me,” Bice said. Despite more than a dozen pro and amateur fights, this is a big step up for Braden. “It’s crazy to think that Pat Miletich and (Ben) Rothwell are on the same card as me. I’ve fought on cards with guys that have been on TV before, but I haven’t been on TV before. That’s what I’m more nervous about. But I’ve been in front of 8000 people at the state wrestling finals so I know how to get it done under fucking pressure.”
Bice is what old school boxing writers would call an “opponent.” On MMA message boards he’d be called a “can.” And Cox has seemingly targeted Bice, first lining him up for former “Ultimate Fighter” star Sam Hoger (a fight that fell through when Bice didn’t get his medical paperwork together in time). Now he’s bringing Bice in to fight another of his heavyweight prospects. There are whispers that Cox knows something, that Bice is more than just an over-matched young wrestler. He’s coming off a suspension in Ohio where there were accusations of wrong-doing. Is Cox looking to buy a win for his hot prospect?
“Ohio accused me of throwing a fight there against Josh Hendricks. I was goaded into taking a fight against a guy I didn’t have any business being in the ring with. He kicked my ass and I got suspended for it. They eventually overturned it. They thought I took a dive for a paycheck. I would never do that. I get pissed off if I lose a game of checkers,” Bice said. “The fight lasted 50 seconds. I threw a couple. I knew if I was going to win, I had to hit a homerun. So I came out throwing bombs and high kicks and all kinds of crazy stuff. He got a hold of me, picked me up, and slammed me. Took my back and pounded me out. I tapped due to strikes. I was hurt and hurt bad and I wasn’t going to win the fight. It was over.”
Bice says he wasn’t dirty. He was just fighting a tough guy on short notice and got caught. It’s savvy matchmaking by Cox, doubling his duty as Russow’s manager and the event’s promoter. Bice is a young fighter with a losing record, seemingly tailor-made for Russow, who wins the majority of his fights on the ground with slick submissions. That’s where Bice has lost all of his fights. But that was the old Bice.
“I am a very different fighter than I was a year ago. I’ve improved 100 percent in all aspects of my game. I know he’s a good guy, but our styles clash pretty well to make a good fight,” Bice said. “I know he’s going to come out there and take me down and try to submit me. I’m a pretty good Greco guy and I wrestled all my life. I think I can stop his takedowns and stay out of his submissions. It will not be a lay and pray match. It will not on my side. My Jiu-Jitsu is pretty game. If anything, it will turn into a jiu-jitsu match. I don’t think he wants to lay around either. He wants to come in there and get his job done quick. He wants to make his money and go home.”
Despite the differences in prominence and pedigree, Bice thought this was a good matchup for him. People might expect a big underdog to look to pick up a check and call it a night. Not Bice, who is confident his wrestling background will help him avoid a very dangerous ground fighter.
“He’s probably imagining he’s going to walk through me for sure. But I’m there to make him earn it. If he looks past me, he’s made a bad mistake,” Bice said. He’s traveling to Fight Firm in Philadelphia to train for a fight he took with just two weeks notice. “As soon as (manager) Mike Camp called me I took it almost instantly. I told him to give me an hour to look up some info on him because I’d only seen him in his M-1 fight. About an hour later I called him and told him I’d take it.”
For Russow it is another step on a ladder that leads to the UFC and the big leagues of the fight game. He’s been close enough to smell it before, with a cup of coffee in PRIDE. There’s pressure to stay perfect, waiting for that call from Joe Silva that could change everything. There’s pressure for Bice, too. He isn’t thinking about being the next Randy Couture, yet. He’d be happy to walk in Mike Russow’s shoes.
“I have no other choice than to perform on this one. If I pull a dud, I’m done,” Bice said. “I’ll be stuck on the lower shows. It drives me, man. I’ve got to do it.”