Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Mike Malott’s UFC debut resonated in the MMA community more than he ever expected.
The veteran welterweight captured the sport’s attention when he scored a first-round knockout of Mickey Gall at UFC 273 then used his post-fight interview time to point fans toward the GoFundMe for Angie Rodriguez, the 15-year-old daughter of Team Alpha Male striking coach Joey Rodriguez who is battling Stage 3 lymphoma.
“It’s been really an emotional couple of days,” Malott said on The MMA Hour, “because a lot of the fans that have reached out, or a lot of people who watched the interview or the fight have reached out and told me their stories too. Like, ‘Hey man, that meant a lot to me because my mother’s been going through this,’ or, ‘I lost my brother or my uncle.’
“So it’s just been like reading these emotional messages — it’s heavy stuff, but it makes me feel amazing that I’ve been able to kind of make those people feel heard as well, or make those people feel understood like that. That’s made me feel really incredible, almost as much as the win itself.”
Malott is a fellow coach and fighter alongside Rodriguez at Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male.
Following his win over Gall, Malott pledged to donate his entire $10,000 show purse to Angie Rodriguez’s cause — a gesture which ignited an immediate groundswell of momentum toward to the GoFundMe. UFC president Dana White also vowed in his post-fight media availability to cover the cost of Malott’s original $10,000 donation.
Approximately $54,000 in funds had been raised prior to UFC 273. Today, less than a week after Malott’s successful promotional debut, that number stands closer to $113,000.
“It immediately earned way more than I thought it would,” Malott said. “And I think it’s up like $60,000 or something like that, up a lot, so I did not expect this kind of response.
“We’ve just been texting a little bit [with Joey Rodriguez]. He’s seemed grateful,” Malott added. “I’m not trying to pester him or anything — I know he’s going through a lot. It’s tough to be excited about this. You know what I mean? As much as it’s going to help, it’s still like, ‘OK, now we’re preparing for the biggest fight of his family’s life.’ You know? It’s not like, ‘Oh, OK, we’ve solved everything.’ But the people helping with the donations have really stacked the odds in that family’s favor, so I think he’s quite grateful for everybody’s donations.”
It was a magnanimous way to end an emotional weekend for Malott.
The 30-year-old welterweight’s road to the octagon has been a long one since his debut as a professional in 2011, and it hasn’t always been a smooth journey. Malott admitted Wednesday that there was a moment in his career in 2017 when he became burnt out by MMA and “lost drive.” The dream of being a UFC fighter he’d held onto for years no longer consumed him, and it was only by a stroke of luck that he wound up landing the coaching role at Team Alpha Male that ultimately kept him engaged with the fight game.
“I was singularly focused throughout [age] 13 to 26,” Mallot said. “Even when I was in college, I joke about how I got my Bachelor’s degree in business but I got my Master’s in fighting. I skipped class almost every day to go to the gym, go in and spar with Gavin Tucker in the mornings, go hit mitts, go hit the bag, and then come back and train at night. I was not a good college student at all. I got through, but I was studying fighting while I was in college. And things changed. I had some injuries at the time that had been worrisome.
“I got to the point where fighting in the UFC didn’t excite me anymore. It was just like, the next thing to do, because this is what I do. So I talked to Urijah [Faber] and Danny Castillo about it, and I was like, ‘Look, I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. I don’t know if this is a break or if I’m done.’ And they were like, ‘Well, one of the head coaches [of Team Alpha Male] is leaving. No one knows it yet. But he leaves in a month,’ after I think Cynthia Calvillo fought. After her fight, he was leaving. And he’s like, ‘Well, he wants that guy’s fighters, you’re a good kickboxer, you’ve got a good well-rounded game. If you want to just jump on as a coach, we’ve got you.’
“It just fell into my lap at the perfect time,” Malott continued. “And so I was able to stay heavily involved in MMA, spending all day at the gym either training jiu-jitsu and wrestling for myself or holding mitts for my guys or sparring with the guys, whatever — I was still heavily involved in fighting. And that time kind of gave me the opportunity for my MMA IQ to grow, for me to mature, for me to get more comfortable with with fighting and traveling and these big events, and see how things go on in the background.
“The time I spent coaching prepared me so much for this debut, in that, I had really already done that week 20 times. It was my debut, but I had already done that week probably 20 times, right? So it didn’t feel like some new thing where everything was overwhelming. I’m at these events saying hi to people I already know. I knew exactly what to expect. I felt like a veteran in there even though it was my first [UFC fight], my debut.”
Malott has certainly made the most of his opportunity. After earning a UFC contract with a 39-second knockout on the UFC’s Contender Series, he blew through Gall in less than a round to announce his presence in the UFC welterweight division. All eight of Malott’s professional wins have ended in stoppages, and the Canadian up-and-comer carries a fan-friendly style that could take him far in the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
So regardless of whatever comes next, Malott is ready.
“I did not expect a Mickey Gall right off the bat,” Malott said. “I expected a Mickey Gall like three fights in. I thought it’d be another Contender [Series] kid or an Ultimate Fighter veteran or something like that, right? A newer guy kind of like me. I did not expect a Mickey Gall right off the bat. So I’m like, I don’t know what they want for me.
“This is ahead of where I thought I was going to be, so I don’t have an opponent picked out right now. I just have that dream of fighting in Canada and carrying the Canadian flag into the arena and getting another either big knockout or big submission.”