Off to Rus­sia to face his Drago

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SCOTT RADLEY

There’s a se­quence in “Rocky IV” in which our hero trains by fire­light in a spar­tan cabin in the outer edges of frozen Siberia. As su­per vil­lain Ivan Drago works out on the most-mod­ern equip­ment for his up­com­ing fight — while be­ing shot up with var­i­ous steroids — Rocky chops wood, lifts boul­ders and runs in the snow.

You prob­a­bly know it. Josh Hill does. He’s seen it count­less times.

“‘Rocky IV’ is prob­a­bly my favourite (of the Rocky fran­chise),” the Bin­brook fighter says.

This could be help­ful. Be­cause for his next bout, the mixed mar­tial artist and one-time con­tes­tant on TV’s “The Ul­ti­mate Fighter” is head­ing to Rus­sia.

A place he ad­mit­tedly knows lit­tle about. A place that might sound a lit­tle fright­en­ing.

“It’s not like I’m go­ing to some un­der­ground dun­geon in Rus­sia,” he quips.

No, he’s not. On Satur­day he’s fly­ing to Moscow where he’ll train for a week or so. Then he’ll fly three hours east to the fourth-largest city in the coun­try. “I don’t know how to say it,” the 30-year-old ad­mits af­ter try­ing a few times to pro­nounce Eka­ter­in­burg.

It’s an in­dus­trial city of 1.5 mil­lion with beau­ti­ful 18th Cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture. This is not quite the mid­dle of nowhere, in other words. Even so, it’s a long way from home and he com­petes in a sport that does have in­juries.

So has he checked into what kind of med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties are avail­able if he did get hurt?

“I try not to think about that,” Hill says. “It’s usu­ally my mom who thinks about that.”

The pro­mo­tion has some money be­hind it and he’s watched some of the events on­line so he knows it’s le­git and treats its fight­ers well. Still, does he ex­pect things will be as strictly mon­i­tored as here? “I doubt it.” OK, what ex­actly does he know for sure?

His op­po­nent is a home­town guy with 35 pro fights — Hill has 17 and is 15-2 — who’s won the vast ma­jor­ity of his fights in the first round by strikes or sub­mis­sion. The fact that he’s fac­ing a lo­cal means he knows he has to win by knock­out, tapout or so con­vinc­ingly the judges have no choice but to award him the win is, too. Be­cause if it’s close, he loses. He knows that.

So why do it then? Why go all that way and put him­self at risk?

If you’re a fighter and you want to com­pete, you re­ally can’t do it around here any­more. The pro cir­cuit that took off about six or seven years ago has al­most com­pletely dried up. Fight­ers and pro­mot­ers say that’s be­cause of over­reg­u­la­tion, ex­ces­sive costs and be­cause fan in­ter­est has faded in some cor­ners pos­si­bly due to the re­tire­ment of many of the sport’s big­gest stars.

“There’s noth­ing,” Hill says. “It’s hor­ri­ble. Canada sucks for MMA.”

He can’t live off fight­ing. So he started his own gym and works at the LCBO part-time to make ends meet. But where he’s go­ing they pay well, he says. Which is why he inked a three-fight deal with Fight Nights Global.

If things go well he’d love to land back in the UFC where purses are bet­ter and recog­ni­tion can help launch spinoff ca­reers. But that means win­ning this fight first. Maybe a few more, too.

On top of all the other chal­lenges, he’s also had to be pre­pared for his reception. “I’m fight­ing a Rus­sian in Rus­sia,” he chuck­les. “I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to be the bad guy.”

True. But don’t for­get the end of “Rocky IV.” As the gutsy un­der­dog stood toe-to-toe with his chem­i­cally en­hanced foe, the nor­mally stoic mem­bers of the Soviet Polit­buro found them­selves so moved by his courage and tenac­ity that they all even­tu­ally stood and be­gan chant­ing “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky.”

That’s plau­si­ble, right? The Rocky movies never stretched credulity, did they? The same thing could hap­pen in real life to him?

“Ya,” Hill laughs, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “Put Drago down.”

MIKE ROACH/ZUFFA LLC, GETTY IMAGES

Josh Hill leaves for Moscow Satur­day to con­tinue his MMA ca­reer.

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