Mark Hominick is just two steps away from what could be a storybook chapter in his career. Step one is fighting and beating a friend and sometime trainer partner on Saturday night. If he is successful, step two is a matchup against the man he says is the best pound-for-pound fighter on Earth.
Hominick (19-8) was going through his normal training routine early last week when he read the big news. UFC president Dana White said that if Hominick beats George Roop (11-6-1) – whom he faces Saturday night in UFC's Fight for the Troops special on Spike TV from Fort Hood, Texas – he would get a title shot at featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. on April 30 in the UFC's debut at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
"No, I didn't know he was going to say that," said the 28-year-old Hominick. "I read it [online] like everyone else."
Hominick would go into a title fight as a heavy underdog for the first big show ever in his home province of Ontario, which is expected to draw the largest crowd ever to see the sport in North America. He grew up and still lives much of the year in London, Ontario. Like so many kids from the province, he grew up playing hockey. But in ninth grade, as part of a school field trip, Hominick was taken to a martial arts academy. And for the most part, it's as if he never left.
"It became my passion," said Hominick, who is on a four-fight win streak. "I was always thinking about it. I never thought at the time it would be a career. I went to university and studied business and was taking fights."
For close to a decade, he trained in kickboxing in London under Shawn Tompkins, before Tompkins had made his name as a big-time MMA trainer. He also competed in jiu-jitsu tournaments.
Hominick started fighting professionally at 19, while in college, driving to Quebec to fight on small shows which included the likes of Georges St. Pierre and former UFC middleweight title contender David Loiseau. He can also remember long car rides to such places as St. Louis and Toledo, driving all day to pick up fights while the sport was banned in his home province.
But back home, things changed in a hurry, as Ontario went from a place where the sport was unknown to being where MMA may be more popular mainstream than anywhere else.
"No matter where you go in the province, every bar has people out the doors on UFC fight nights," Hominick said.
He said he really noticed it in his UFC debut on March 4, 2006, when as an unknown fighter too small for the lightweight class – he walked around under 155 pounds – he upset Yves Edwards with a triangle in the fight where he really made his name. In a UFC 58 card in Las Vegas, on a card billed as "U.S.A. vs. Canada," Hominick saw maple-leaf flags flying in he audience and figured probably 25 percent of the crowd was Canadian.
But the real turning point came a few months later, when St. Pierre beat Matt Hughes to win the welterweight title.
"I don't know what it was exactly," Hominick said. "There was a set of things: I think GSP played a big part in it in Ontario. He was a Canadian star and he represented the country so well."
The irony is that with pay-per-view and bar business booming, MMA was still banned in the province until a few months back. With all the red tape settled, the first Toronto show is only a few months away. But if Hominick doesn't win on Saturday, he's not going to get his hometown title shot.
Roop, who at 6-foot-1 and 145 pounds presents a reach problem for virtually everyone he faces, is probably the UFC fighter Hominick knows best.
When Tompkins relocated to Las Vegas a few years ago, Hominick remained in London, Ontario, but conducted his fight preparation at Xtreme Couture under Tompkins – and later followed Tompkins when he switched affiliation to the Tapout gym.
Roop, a cast member of Season 8 of "The Ultimate Fighter," hails from Tucson, Ariz. After finishing the season in 2008, he became affiliated with Tompkins, who has served as his main trainer and been in his corner for his past several fights.
Hominick noted that since that time, for a few months each year, the two have been regular training partners.
"He's definitely a friend; we spar. It's not like we go out to dinner and to the movies, but we are training partners," he said. "We've put that aside for this fight."
"He's really big for a 145-pounder – it's really awkward dealing with his reach," Hominick added. "And he's very durable. I have to continue to attack and work the body. But what you do in sparring isn't necessarily how things will go in a fight."
When the fight was proposed, Hominick said he had no qualms about taking it, unlike a number of fighters who make it clear they won't fight their friends and teammates. Because of Hominick's tenure and an association with Tompkins which dates back 15 years, it was Roop who had to change training facilities for the fight.
Roop has had an up-and-down career but has looked his best in his past two fights, which followed an ill-fated decision to get down to 135 pounds for his first fight of 2010. He looked too drawn and listless in a fight with Eddie Wineland which he lost via decision. Roop got a draw with Leonard Garcia on March 6 in a fight most figured he had won. He followed by becoming the first person ever to finish the unstoppable "Korean Zombie," Chan Sung Jung, with a spectacular head kick on Sept. 30. Hominick notes that Roop has never been finished by strikes in his career.
Having just arrived at Fort Hood, Hominick talked about his excitement in fighting on a military base. But, being a Canadian fighting an American, he figures the people in town who have been so nice to him so far will turn into a hostile audience once the fight starts.
Hominick sparked reaction in recent days by saying he thought he would beat Aldo Jr. standing, a style where no one has even been competitive with Aldo since he came to the United States.
"I can't really think about him because I've got a fight on Saturday, but I do think he's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world," Hominick said. "But I feel I'm the superior kickboxer and he's never faced anyone with my skills standing."
- Mark Hominick
- George Roop
- Shawn Tompkins