Mike Malott in front of a row of heavy bags at Niagara Top Team. Photo by Andy Cotterill
By Andy Cotterill
There are a handful of archetypes in mixed martial arts.
We have the rookie, the grizzled veteran, the prodigy, the outlaw, the trash talker. We have the fighter on a quest, the fighter overcoming adversity, and the fighter seeking rebirth.
You can add more to that list of course, but regardless of how many we compile, Burlington, Ontario’s “Proper” Mike Malott doesn’t fit neatly into any of them.
On Saturday night at UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Florida, the 30-year-old Malott (7-1-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) will be making his promotional debut against American Mickey Gall (7-4 MMA, 6-4 UFC), who is perhaps best known for his quick dismantling of professional wrestling superstar CM Punk, real name Phillip Jack Brooks.
I don’t think it would be insulting to say that the majority of UFC fans don’t follow the minutiae of the organization. There are always hardcore fans in every sport who devour every bit and morsel, but most people watch only occasionally, and only really remember fighter names if they’re near the top of the rankings, or perhaps had an especially memorable moment in one of their fights.
So that being said, Mickey Gall has a name that fans know, and Mike Malott does not.
That last statement may be only 98% accurate, as Malott’s name was spoken somewhat after his impressive 39-second victory at Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) last October, but still, to most, he’s an unknown entity.
But the fans who enjoy knowing the story behind the story know that there is more to Malott than just a newbie fighter getting thrown to the wolves for his first UFC fight.
They know that Malott is one of the coaches for the highly regarded Team Alpha Male, a Sacramento-based powerhouse gym that has produced three UFC Champions, Cody Garbrandt, Deiveson Figueiredo, and T.J. Dillashaw. If he can help to coach those killers, then he must know what he’s doing.
They’d be correct, but the whole truth is that there’s a story, behind the story, behind the story.
Mike Malott was born in Cleveland, OH, in 1991 and holds dual citizenship between Canada and the U.S.
I first met him in probably 2010 or 2011 in Halifax, Nova Scotia when he started training at the respected Titans MMA, and started taking regional fights alongside his “Bash Brothers” Pat Carroll and Gavin Tucker, who also fights for the UFC. It was after his second ever fight, a 2 minute armbar victory that I gave him his first ever media interview, and even then it was apparent that this young man had a quiet confidence in his skill that was unrivaled.
His next fight, his third, I was fortunate to have been sitting cageside as he executed a brilliantly timed walk-off flying knee knockout just 15 seconds into the bout.
Malott left the Maritimes for Ontario soon after to be with his parents and three siblings. His brother Jeff is a Winnipeg Jets prospect currently playing for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, his sister Lauren was on the Canadian synchronized figure skating team, and his younger sister Kathryn was on the Junior Team Canada before COVID hit, and currently plays rugby and hockey.
Although he was getting plenty of training in Ontario he wasn’t happy, and decided to up and move to Sacramento and join Team Alpha Male.
“There were a ton of reasons why I went to Sacramento,” Malott told MM-eh after a hard training session last week.
“One of the big things was that there was no one team around here where everyone got together and had a bunch of training partners. I was training at like 7 different gyms at the time when I was up here and I didn’t like that. I didn’t feel like I had a team, it was just jumping around.”
Malott fit right in with the team where his skillset was quickly noted and appreciated.
But at that point the passion that he had had for MMA since he was 15 had faded and he wasn’t really interested in competing anymore, so when he was offered a coaching position he was all in.
“I had a great opportunity kind of land in my lap where one of the head coaches of the team left and I was able to take over a bunch of his fighters and a lot of people asked me for some help from all different levels. Amateur fighters all the way to coaching Cody Garbrandt for a world title. I was loving it. I was competing quite actively in jiu jitsu and my goal shifted from UFC to ADCC, and just did what I loved.”
Life was good for Malott, and he was content.
The first year of coaching he’d be at UFC events with his athletes and self-reflect about being on the coaching side of things instead of the fighting side.
“Would I want to be in this position? The answer was no, I don’t really want to do that. I’m not jealous of these guys…I don’t wish I were there instead.”
Then a couple of years went by and he would see fighters in the UFC and would say things to himself like “I’m better than that guy, I’m better than this guy, I could whip this guy’s ass.”
Then about 2 years ago Malott could feel his passion for competing slowly return.
“Honestly I think it was the pandemic that pushed me back into fighting.” He said.
During the first month or 6 weeks everything was shut down in Sacramento, so Malott and other fighters would go to a local park to box, and then he and fellow UFC fighter Andre Fili would set up children’s foam puzzle mats in Malott’s living room and study jiu jitsu from Gordon Ryan and John Danaher DVDs.
“I didn’t have any distractions, it was just doing what I enjoyed and there was lots of time to think about what I wanted in life.”
He decided that he wanted to make another run at fighting, and that he was on a high enough level to get signed to the UFC quickly.
He accepted a short notice fight in December of 2020 against an at-the-time undefeated Solomon Renfro and dispatched him in less than 2 minutes, and then he received the phone call that he had been hoping for.
That call was of course from the UFC, and in October 2021 Malott impressed everyone, especially UFC President Dana White with his 39-second guillotine choke over yet another undefeated prospect in his DWCS bout.
As referee Herb Dean raised Malott’s hand in victory in the centre of the Octagon, the look on Malott’s face told a thousand tales as he struggled to contain his emotions.
“It was an overwhelming feeling,” he said, “It was a lot of work put into that 39 seconds. It was years of hard training and self belief and self doubt, and pushing yourself to the brink and seeking out more training, and traveling to a another country to train, and time away from family and time away friends and meeting new friends. So much went into that and it all came out in that moment.”
With that victory came a coveted UFC contract, and that leads us to Saturday night when Malott will stand across the cage from Gall an the pair will fight to see who will be the better man that night.
Malott said that he was shocked that he got a name as big as Gall’s for his debut.
“I thought that would be a third fight in the UFC type thing, but it just gives me more confidence knowing that they’re probably trying to fast-track me. I think this is a great fight for me.”
Malott admitted that he respects Gall’s skills, but still has a lot to say about why this match up is a good one for him.
“After CM Punk they (Gall’s opponents) were all legitimate UFC fighters. I don’t think he’s fought the upper echelon of guys in the UFC, but at the same time all of his fights have been in the UFC and that’s a lot of experience. I can’t be lazy…I can’t be reckless…I can’t completely disrespect this guy, but I don’t see anywhere where he’s clearly better than me or even on my level. The closest would probably be on the ground, but I would imagine I’m definitely a better grappler than him.”
In preparation for this fight Malott has stayed in Canada within an hour radius of his family’s home in Burlington, which may surprise some as the current talking point is that he’s with Team Alpha Male.
“I love Alpha Male and those are my guys and I’ll be on that team forever, those will always be my boys, but the training is great at both, so why be away from my family?”
What made the situation different in Canada for Malott now compared to years ago has been the emergence and ascendance of Niagara Top Team in the small city of St. Catharines, about an hour’s drive South of Toronto.
“Niagara Top Team has really brought everyone together,” Malott said enthusiastically. “They have a big, beautiful facility it’s awesome. This, I think, is the start of the next superteam type thing. You’ve already seen it, they’re producing elite level fighters, like Jas is in the UFC, Aaron Jeffery just got signed to Bellator…he’s an absolute beast. Anthony Romero is with Fury right now, but you know he’ll be in a major promotion he’s a beast too…there’s going to be a bunch of guys coming out of there that will be super high level.”
That hour-drive radius between St Catharines and Toronto has some fantastic MMA training that more and more athletes are coming to experience. In addition for NTT Malott trains several times a week with Kru Alin Halmagean at House of Champions in Stoney Creek, has been getting lots of one-on-one with high level BJJ black belt Andre Grandbois, and also spending time training with Adam Assenza at BTC, and the cerebral Coach Lyndon Whitlock at Aegis MMA.
Malott is well aware that he has great support in abundance.
“I feel like Niagara is my home gym and Prickett (NTT co-owner and wrestling coach Chris) and Alin are my coaches up here. A lot of stuff is really tailored to me now which I really like, I always have high level coaching eyes on me now and I’m getting a lot of good advice…it’s really conducive to growth.”
But now all of the training is over and all that’s left is to get down to business, and Malott doesn’t have a prediction on how the fight will play out other than that he’s going to win.
“I’m not typically the kind of guy that plays things safe. I’m not here to out point guys and squeak out wins. The way I view fighting is, I don’t want anyone to be able to say that they survived 15 minutes against me. I want stoppages. I want to go in there, I want to win, and I don’t want there to be a question about who’s better or at very least who was better that night.”
Mike Malott will be cornered at UFC 273 by Chris Prickett, Alin Halmagean, and Danny Castillo.