But it is important to point out that this weekend’s bout will mark the one-year anniversary of his TKO of Rafael Viana in the RFA promotion, a victory that saw him impress UFC President Dana White enough that he signed the “Brown Bear” to a contract. It’s been a whirlwind ever since, but one Clark is embracing.
“It’s been a great year,” he said. “I got signed to the UFC and we’re still fighting, so everything has been moving well. I’m going on three fights within the year in the UFC, and I’m real excited.”
As one of the fighters brought to the Octagon by way of White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” series, Clark knew that the UFC boss was in attendance and scouting when he stepped in to face Viana. Just five fights into his career, Clark could have folded under the pressure, but he was loving it.
“It wasn’t really an option to lose,” he said. “I really didn’t think about losing. It was, ‘Okay, I’m gonna win this fight and get signed to the UFC.’ It was an RFA title fight as well, and a title fight’s a title fight, no matter what promotion, so I was hyped for that. And then having Dana in the crowd and it was in my hometown as well, so a lot of people came out. There was a lot of pressure, but it was good pressure and a great feeling, and I knew I wanted to keep that feeling going under the big lights and keep advancing.”
Clark would get his shot to advance three months later, only to lose in his hometown to Alex Nicholson via first round knockout. It was a crushing blow to a prospect with high hopes for his career.
“I lost my debut, and it makes you question everything,” he admits. “Okay, I just got knocked out in the first round, do I have what it takes to be in the UFC? But then I had some time, I reflected on it and got back in and trained harder, and I said this is what I’m meant to do.”
With the pressure (there goes that P word again) on, he finished up 2016 with his first Octagon win, a hard-fought decision victory over Josh Stansbury in December. Finally, Clark had arrived.
“I went in there and fought a good fight against Stansbury and it was a good moment,” he said. “But it was a short lived victory – you just keep training and keep getting better. It wasn’t my best performance, and hopefully I’ll put on a better performance this time and get a knockout and let people know who I am and earn that respect.”
Clark’s talent level is at a point where yes, there will be more spectacular performances in the future, but it was important to go three hard rounds and show that he can win a dogfight at the highest level of the sport.
“It shows your character,” Clark agrees. “I took some hits in that fight and people didn’t think I could take a hit after that fight at 185 (against Nicholson). So it showed a little bit of my character, and I could go with anybody for 15 minutes, but now that I’ve proved that, it’s time to touch him up a little bit and show people what I can do. I want a finish.”
The always exciting Collier won’t be hard to find for Clark, making this a potential barnburner. But with Collier making his first UFC trip to the light heavyweight division, there’s always a question of what happens when those 20 pounds are added on. Clark, who lost to Nicholson in a middleweight bout, knows how both halves live.
“I’m not really sure what he expects, but I know he’s not ready for the speed and the pressure,” he said, and with a win, his march will continue in a positive manner. At this point in a prospect’s career, it’s all about those incremental steps, and there’s no talk of titles or big paydays yet. Having said that, it’s even more impressive that Clark is teaming up with Reeve’s Tees to produce a t-shirt that will raise money and create awareness about Down syndrome.
“My friend and part of my management team, Kevin Kroger, his youngest son Camden has Down syndrome, so it’s close to me,” Clark said. “I know Camden and I met a lot of people with Down syndrome, and it’s one of those things that I think is really important to raise awareness about. With the platform that I have, it’s a great thing to be a part of. If I can help someone just by fighting and using my platform, that would be great to raise money and raise awareness.”
It’s a prime example of the class of the 27-year-old, who knows that these days, athletes can be painted in a bad light and not exactly carry themselves as role models. As a father himself, Clark wants to walk a different road.
“It’s very important, especially with this generation,” he said. “A lot of kids are doing stuff for the wrong reasons. There’s nothing wrong with playing the villain like some of the fighters do, but I’ve chosen to be the hero and give these kids someone to look up to and set a good example. There’s no reason not to help other people. It goes back to my parents – that’s just the way I was raised.”