Josh Clark pictured this week in Dublin. Dolly Clew/Cage Warriors

'I never expected that the biggest fight of my life would be happening in Ireland'

Josh Clark is hopeful that a win tonight at Cage Warriors 81 in Dublin can set him up for a run in the UFC.

IT’LL BE A case of better late than never for Josh Clark when he fights this evening at the 3Arena.

The Kentucky native was keen to fight at the Dublin venue back in 2014 when he had just emerged from the 19th season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Cathal Pendred featured on the same season of the UFC’s reality TV show and did enough to earn a promotional debut as a middleweight at UFC Fight Night 46, which was headlined by Conor McGregor’s facile victory over Diego Brandao.

Clark (10-3), who had been eliminated from the light-heavyweight bracket on TUF 19 by eventual winner Corey Anderson, would have been available for a 185lbs bout on the Dublin card, but the UFC’s door remained shut as the opportunity went to Mike King instead.

“I remember when Cathal Pendred and Mike King fought out here. I was like, ‘Man, I would love to go to Ireland and fight’. It didn’t happen then but here I am now,” Clark told The42 this week in Dublin ahead of Cage Warriors 81, which he’ll headline tonight in a bout for the vacant light-heavyweight title against Belfast’s Karl Moore.

After his run on The Ultimate Fighter failed to yield a UFC contract, Clark decided that changes needed to be made in order to allow him to take the next step.  He and his wife sold their home in Kentucky and moved their lives 2,000 miles west to Las Vegas, where Clark now trains full-time at the renowned Xtreme Couture Gym.

“I’m training at one of the top gyms in the world with some of the top fighters. We’re always pushing each other,” says Clark, whose training partners include the likes of current UFC stars Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson and Brad Tavares.

Brazil UFC Brasilia UFC heavyweight Roy Nelson, who's a team-mate of Josh Clark's at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Mixed martial arts came into Clark’s life just over 10 years ago when he won a six-month gym membership. From there he won a couple of amateur fights and hasn’t looked back since. As well as competing on The Ultimate Fighter, the 32-year-old has fought for top US organisations such as Bellator and RFA.

“MMA has changed my life,” he says. “I was a factory worker 10 years ago but people always saw the potential in me. That’s what got me up at 4am to train and go to work. People would always tell me that MMA is a hard sport to make it in but I knew I didn’t want to work a normal job anymore.”

Clark has also boxed professionally. His most notable win came in 2013 when he knocked out Jonathan Hamm, who was a US national champion as an amateur and an alternative in the super-heavyweight division for the 2012 Olympics in London. A few months later, Clark lost via decision to Charles Martin, who went on to become IBF heavyweight champion before losing the title to Anthony Joshua.

Securing a UFC contract is now Clark’s aim and becoming the first Cage Warriors light-heavyweight champion will certainly help him to achieve that. In the past, Cage Warriors gold has unlocked the UFC’s door for the likes of Conor McGregor, Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy.

“This is definitely the biggest fight of my life,” admits Clark, who has never fought outside the US before. “I sure as hell never expected that it would be happening in Ireland, but this is a huge opportunity which I’m prepared for. It gives me chills even thinking about it.

UFC 204 - Manchester Arena UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping was the last man to hold the Cage Warriors light-heavyweight title. Pete Byrne Pete Byrne

“I was planning on taking some time off but this was too good an opportunity. It’s a chance for me to get back in the mix for the UFC. I couldn’t pass it up. Having a title with an organisation like this is something that will stay with you forever.

“I don’t know if you can hear it in my voice but I get emotional even thinking about it. Whatever it takes, I’ll get my hand raised. I really feel like this is my moment. This is my biggest fight yet. This will determine everything for me.”

Karl Moore is likely to have the backing of a raucous Irish crowd tonight at the 3Arena. As a Las Vegas resident, Clark has had first-hand experience of fans from this part of the world, having witnessed the sizeable impact of Conor McGregor’s fights on the Nevada city.

“When they start chanting that ‘Ole, Ole’, it just does something to me. It motivates me,” says Clark, whose last outing resulted in a second-round knockout victory over Brent Knopp in Washington back in October. Seven of Clark’s 10 wins have come via (T)KO.

“I definitely can’t let him [Moore] come out and get a big headstart on me by hurting me early, because that will get his fans going. But you can use their energy in two ways: you can let it zap you or you can let it fuel you. I plan on letting it fuel me for the fight.

17021618_1469109033109259_5651656123690849997_n Karl Moore and Josh Clark at yesterday's weigh-ins with Cage Warriors president Graham Boylan.

“It’s got to be a dominating performance. This fight can’t go to a decision. I know that. They’re not going to give me a decision over here against the home guy. But it’s not going to a decision. I’ll go down on my shield before I let that happen.”

Josh Clark had planned to be in the UFC by now, but the delay hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm to achieve that aim. With the landscape changing in MMA, other organisations are providing alternative options for fighters to make a living. But Clark still has his sights set on only one destination. Better late than never.

“If you want something great from life you have to make major sacrifices,” says Clark, who also works as a personal trainer to supplement his income. “My wife and I are both doing that. It’s still a struggle but each day I can see it getting better and better. It hasn’t been easy but that’s what motivates me.

“For me, the UFC has always been a dream of mine. I’m sure a guy like me could probably make more money in Bellator than the UFC because of the sponsorship. But the UFC has been a dream of mine for 10 years now. I’m not going to stop until I get there. I’m not settling for anything else.”

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