Off to Russia to face his Drago
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.”
Josh Hill leaves for Moscow Saturday to continue his MMA career.