Of all the fighters in mixed martial arts, Washington D.C. native Justin McCully has one of the more unique resumes.
Introduced to the sport by his brother in 1995, he’s been at it off and on for 12 years, has been a cornerman for Tito Ortiz and spent several years fighting in Japan. On Saturday, the 33-year-old heavyweight will be making his second appearance in a UFC Championship event, as he takes on Mike Russow in UFC 102. He holds a record of 9-4-2 and is coming off a win against Eddie Sanchez in UFC Fight Night for the Troops in December.
McCully took a break from his preparations in Portland, Ore. to speak to The Washington Times.
TWT: So I understand you’re a D.C. native.
JM: That’s right, yeah, I was born in Washington, D.C. My father and brother were both born there. My mother and father worked in the DC area for quite some time. I’m a big ‘Skins fan, die-hard ‘Skins fan. I love D.C.
TWT: And you moved out to California when you were young?
JM: Yeah, we moved to Cali when I was really young, like three years old, so I don’t remember much. But I got to revisit it recently on my way to Iraq. I was with a USO tour and stopped into D.C. and got to go to Walter Reed and [National Navy Medical Center] in Bethesda and got to visit the city and it was quite a treat. We cruised down the street where I grew up and saw the old neighborhood and things I hadn’t seen before. And my sister showed me the old home we used to live in. So it was a lot of fun seeing the roots.
TWT: You’ve had such an untraditional path to get to where you are now. How would you describe how you got here?
JM: It’s been a strange way to climb the ladder, that’s for sure. I’ve dabbled in all areas of sports entertainment, whether it be stuntwork or professional mixed martial arts. I think timing is everything. I took maybe a different route than others did, but I was learning along the way, about entertainment, about self-promotion and self-confidence, learning the technique and maturing a bit as a person. It was by luck of the draw that I entered into the UFC. Frank Mir fell out of a fight with Antoni Hardnok and I got the call to walk into a semi main event on Fight Night. So it’s all just been a kind of mysterious way to get into the UFC and now my road’s starting to define itself a little bit more. And I think it came at the right time. I think I’m more mature and I think I’m ready to take on the responsibilities of chasingand making the campaign for the heavyweight title and chasing my goal of being one of the best mixed martial artists in the world.
TWT: UFC at this point is close to mainstream. I imagine it’s a lot different from the early days when you were fighting.
JM: Oh, 100 percent. Back in the early days when my brother Sean made his debut in World Combat Championship in 1995, it was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the crowd had no idea what was going on. When people would hit the ground and were doing some sort of awesome wrestling technique or jiu jitsu technique, the crowd would be throwing beer cans and saying “stand up and fight.” There would be some pretty lewd comments. But then when I went to Japan, the guys would be stalemating on the ground, one of them would make and advance and the whole crowd would go “oooh and aaah” and it was a big event to them. So the education of the crowd here in America has come a long, long way. They’re probably the best fans in the world now. It used to be you’d like to go to Japan to fight because the crowd was so educated and they knew what they were looking at. They’d appreciate you so much more. Guys would wait in the hotel lobby and meet you, shake your and hand and treat you like a superstar, whereas over here, we were still kind of treated like barbarians, or some lesser quality of human. But nowadays, we’re looked at as gladiators and the fans love it. And we’re on our way to becoming the best sport in the world if we’re not already.
TWT: Now you worked with Tito Ortiz as a cornerman and sparring partner, is that right?
JM: Absolutely. Tito and I have spent a lot of time together. We were at a grappling tournament in 1995, and the division was so big they split it and we kind of looked at each other like, “hmm I wonder if I could beat that guy.” And then a couple years later we ended up being training partners. I’d help him with his jiu jitsu and he’d help me with my wrestling. We’d trade stand-up techniques and it was such a beautiful relationship. We brought the best out of each other and sidelining him and cornering him in so many UFC bouts really taught me a lot about the sport. I’d like to wish him a great comeback and I know we’ll be working together again in the near future.
TWT: How would you describe your fighting style?
JM: I pride myself in being a well-rounded fighter. Even coming in in 1997 when it was still considered a “style versus style” fight I was a Brazilian jiu jitsu whiz kid. I was one of the best in the United States at that early time for young people learning Brazilian jiu jitsu from the masters. That’s why I consider myself a Brazilian jiu jitsu type guy, but I always boxed and kickboxed and wrestled so I have all those things in my back pocket. So as my style evolved I tried to incorporate all those things and make them work together.
TWT: What do you know about Mike Russow?
JM: I know he’s a real strong dude. He’s got amazing wrestling abilities. He’s submitted a lot of his guys in the first round. It’s going to be a tough fight. There are no easy wins in the UFC anymore. Anyone Joe Silva brings into the UFC is a quality fighter and they’re ready to get their hands dirty.So I’m looking for a tough fight and I know he is too.
TWT: Now you won your last fight against Eddie Sanchez and before then in UFC 86 you lost to Gabriel Gonzaga. Was that a tough loss for you, and what did you take away from that?
JM: Any loss is a tough loss. You work so hard getting ready for these events. You make so many sacrifices, in your diet, the time you spend with your family, just going out and having fun with your friends. So to get up there and fail is just a horrible, horrible let down. So anytime you lose, you take something away. When you win, you don’t necessarily learn that much. You just think “ok, whatever I did was right, let’s just keep doing it.” When you lose, you learn your holes in your game. I brought a lot away from that. As I said before I fought Eddie Sanchez, I wanted to keep my feet into the floor a little more, grind my feet into the ground and swing for the fences and punch a little bit harder. With Gonzaga, I was just trying to float around. You know, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. But I got a little too light on my feet and got swept and put on my back, and the next thing you know he was on top of me and I have issues with that. So I’ve had to adjust my game.
TWT: You mentioned your work with the USO. How much are you inspired or motivated by your involvement with the troops?
JM: The difference is they’re out there fighting this enemy without a face, without a name. IED’s are blowing up on the side of the road, and they’re pushing into combat with much deadlier weapons than we have. We’re dropped into a cage and we fight our enemy face-to-face and we do battle. But we’re all warriors at heart and that’s the correlation between us and the soldiers, and why we support them. It was a great thing to fight on the Ultimate Fight Night “Fight for the Troops” and raise all the money we did for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes fund, because we definitely see ourself as warriors and we support them to the fullest. Our support is always there 100% with the military. We’ve always had an open invitation to any of the soldiers that want to come back and get into mixed martial arts and want to train. If the want to learn the sport, train and maybe get into the profession, my door is wide open to those guys. I’ll help any of them out as long as I live.
TWT: Have you given much thought to what would happen if you won Saturday and what the next goal is?
JM: My only goal right now is Mike Russow, but after that, sitting at 3-1 [in UFC] with the guys I’ve beaten, you have to consider Justin McCully up there for the title shot. You look at other guys in the division, I’m not sure they’ve fought the same caliber of fighter I’ve fought. I don’t know if they’ve gone through the rope I’ve had to go through to get to the belt shot. You look at the champion [Brock Lesnar] right now, I think he kind of went on easy street to get there. Aside from fighting Randy Couture, who was 70 pounds lighter than him on the night they fought for the title. He sells a lot of tickets, he’s great for the business, don’t get me wrong. But as mixed martial artists and true fans go, they see it as kind of a slap in the face to the rest of us. Mike Russow’s my main goal, but if I can get past him, I’ll be 3-1 and I think I’m ready to campaign and get up and say ‘hey look at Justin McCully over here. I’m ready to get a shot.”
- Tim Lemke