ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- In the days leading up to his last few fights as a UFC middleweight, Kyle Noke began to notice a trend:
He just wasn’t hungry enough -- literally.
“I was still eating pasta the day before weigh-ins, eating breakfast the day of weigh-ins and cutting a little bit in the sauna,” Noke recently told Sherdog.com. “It was really before my last few [fights] that I decided should get down to 170. The last [two] losses really made me think about it, and I decided to go back to 170.”
And with that, Noke makes his first Octagon appearance as a welterweight against Charlie Brenneman at UFC 152 in Toronto on Saturday night. The 170-pound tussle is one of three bouts scheduled to air on Facebook -- the other four preliminary contests will be broadcast on FX, with the main card set for pay-per-view.
So why did Noke spend so much time -- he says he hasn’t competed at welterweight since 2006 -- in a weight class where he was clearly undersized? When the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product fought primarily in his native Australia, middleweight was where competition intersected with convenience. There simply weren’t enough quality fights for Noke at 170 pounds at the time.
“I decided to go up to 185 for more competition. I guess I just got comfortable at that weight,” Noke said. “I was getting lots of wins so I didn’t even think about going back down.”
Of course, Noke has been victimized as much by bad luck as anything else in recent fights. In a unanimous decision loss to the then-unheralded Andrew Craig at UFC on FX 2, the Aussie injured his right knee late in the first round while attempting to put his hooks in for a rear-naked choke. Noke was clearly not same fighter over the final 10 minutes of the contest, and Craig capitalized for a unanimous decision victory.
“Obviously, I wanted to do more than I could do. It was frustrating for me not being able to move like I wanted to move,” he said. “I can remember at some points when he took me down I was telling him to hit me so he’d open up a little bit more and hopefully make a mistake, but he kept his composure.”
Noke noticed that the knee had begun to bother him a few weeks prior to the bout -- the product of an old injury resurfacing. At that point, the “TUF 11” alumnus decided he was already past the point of no return.
“It was so close to the fight I had no option but to put it at the back of my mind. I didn’t really tell the coaches about it because I didn’t want to change my game plan,” Noke explained.
While Craig was able to celebrate a triumphant UFC debut, Noke was left to mull the ramifications of the first two-fight losing streak of a professional career that has spanned nearly a decade. The 32-year-old suffered a Grade 2 sprain in his left knee after being submitted by an Ed Herman heel hook at UFC Live 5. Although UFC President Dana White publicly commended Noke on Twitter for battling through the knee injury in his loss to Craig, the fighter knows he has little room for error against Brenneman.
“I don’t feel like I have any leeway. I think every fight’s pressure,” Noke said. “I think every fight you have that pressure to perform in the UFC. They’ve dropped guys after just one loss. If you go out there and put on a great show, perform to your best and lose, you have a better chance of them not getting rid of you.”
Similar pressure will be placed on Brenneman, who has lost two of his last three bouts. Most recently, the AMA Fight Club member lost to rising talent Erick Silva via rear-naked choke in June. Despite Brenneman’s struggles, Noke is well aware of his opponent’s skills.
“He’s gonna try and close that distance and try and take me down,” he said. “The thing about Charlie is he’s relentless, and he’s just gonna be on me all day. I have to be in the best shape of my life.”
Noke expects to reap the benefits of fighting at a lower weight come Saturday night: “I feel like I’ve got more energy than I ever have. I feel faster; I feel stronger. I’m very excited about this fight,” he said.
It’s probably safe to assume that, at least for a few hours before weigh-ins, Noke will be just a little bit hungrier, too.