Mark Hominick's ultimate homecoming

Mark Hominick has done his part to put Canadian MMA on the map. Sherdog.com

In 1993, Joe Carter stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning for the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 6 of the World Series. Eleven-year-old Mark Hominick lived an hour-and-a-half’s drive from the SkyDome, where the game was taking place. Like all of his friends, Hominick was a hockey kid who was soon to become obsessed with martial arts.

No matter the forum and throughout his life, Hominick has been able to recognize a big moment, an opportunity waiting to be seized. So, he was a baseball fan that October night and cheered when Carter ripped an unforgettable home run to clinch the series.

“The Joe Carter home run was definitely an iconic moment for Ontario,” Hominick says in a telephone interview from his home in Thamesford, where he was raised. “[SkyDome] is an iconic building for Ontario, and [UFC 129] is going to be a historic event. To be on the biggest UFC in history, fighting for the inaugural 145 belt, you couldn’t paint a better picture. This is what I’ve worked towards for the last 15 years.”

It may be a short distance from Hominick’s hometown to SkyDome, which today is the Rogers Centre, but the road to the venue is long on significance for the veteran. He will challenge featherweight champion and pound-for-pound ace Jose Aldo in the UFC 129 co-main event on April 30, hoping to extend his lifetime of overachievement and draw the explosive cheers of 55,000 fans under the Rogers Centre’s retractable roof.

It would be Hominick’s “Joe Carter” moment, a chance to captivate his home province and introduce to it a new point of sports pride.

From hockey to MMA

Hominick was born to a father who sold high-end kitchen and bath products and a mother who worked admitting patients at the hospital where he was born. Thamesford is a community of about 2,800 nestled amidst the Great Lakes.

“Small town; the same guys I grew up with are the same guys I’m buddies with still now,” Hominick says. “It’s one of those towns, you know. There’s one gas station, one Tim Hortons, you name it.”

There is also hockey in Thamesford -- lots of it; in the street, every day after school with friends or on the ice as part of organized league play. A right wing and goal scorer, Hominick was not much of a fighter on the ice, but he was not afraid of getting into corners or taking and administering open ice hits. He remembers freezing the first time an opponent dropped the gloves on him, despite regularly practicing the time-honored invitation to a hockey brawl with a friend on his farmland.

Hominick was never the biggest player on the ice. He was less than 130 pounds in high school; other kids were reaching 185. It was the first hint for Hominick that his size would complicate his quest to be recognized as the best at what he did. The Ultimate Fighting Championship did not host its first fight in his ideal weight class until December 2010. To capitalize on an opportunity, Hominick fought at 155 during his first UFC stint in 2006.

In ninth grade, Hominick’s class visited a local martial arts studio for orientation classes. He signed up under instructor Brad Hudson, a tae kwon do stylist who had also dabbled in Jeet Kune Do and jiu-jitsu.

This was like the stuff Hominick saw on a UFC 3 video he had watched covertly to dodge parental disapproval.

“[Hudson] basically trained everything, so it was a good introduction to the sport,” Hominick says. “It definitely took over my life.”

At 13, Hominick began competing in grappling tournaments. Later, he would take part in Pankration meets, essentially MMA bouts sans strikes to the head. He traveled to Greece for a Pankration tournament, fighting on the same Canadian team as former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton -- a teenage idol of Hominick’s -- and opposite American MMA luminaries like Shonie Carter.

“I was definitely the youngest on the mat,” Hominick says. “Even as a 16-year-old, I was always competing in the adult division, and I always felt I was ahead of the game there. I was always the smallest [and] youngest on the team.”

After four years with Hudson, Hominick met and began working with noted Canadian striking trainer Shawn Tompkins. It was not until that meeting that Hominick, a renowned striker his entire career, actually began to develop his bent toward kickboxing. He competed in muay Thai, racking up a 25-0 amateur record, and on the traveling kickboxing circuit in the American Midwest.

“We’d do kind of like weekend trips; we’d rent a van and bring a team of eight,” Hominick says. “It would always be Canada versus USA.”

Tompkins remembers when the two first met. Hominick had recently gotten his driver’s license, and the trainer was impressed by his maturity.

“He’s always been way ahead of most of the kids his age, growing up with a maturity,” Tompkins says. “Mark has never been the ordinary guy to walk into the gym. He always sets his expectations very high, and Mark’s not a guy to get involved in something to be second place. It was always a very natural thing for him to be at that level and to maintain that level.”

Tompkins shepherded Hominick into amateur mixed martial arts. In that arena, Hominick mostly discarded his leg kicks, which he had used to great effect in kickboxing, but too often set up opponents’ takedowns. He focused on developing his boxing and footwork.

By 2002, when the perennially boyish-looking Hominick made his professional debut, a solid MMA infrastructure had sprouted in Montreal. The Universal Combat Challenge was putting thousands in arenas, had a television deal and was making stars out of local talent.

Hominick, then 19, got the call to fight as an injury replacement against veteran Richard Nancoo for the Canadian super lightweight title at UCC 10 on June 15, 2002.

“My first pro fight was for the Canadian title. It was in front of 6,000 people. I did a prefight interview that was up on the Jumbotron. It was filmed by the sports channel in Quebec,” Hominick remembers. “You were in the big show already. It was pretty amazing. Even before the UFC, I was fighting at the Bell Centre, where the UFC had their first [Canadian] show.”

Hominick beat Nancoo to take the title via third-round TKO. Also debuting and claiming a title that night was Georges St. Pierre, who won his fight via submission. Hominick notes the parallel with UFC 129, where the countrymen will once again fight for titles on the same bill.

“It brings it back to that moment,” Hominick says. “We’re both fighting for the belt.”

St. Pierre may have gotten higher billing at UCC 10, but the young striker was seen by promoter Stephane Patry -- who also promoted Hominick in the TKO organization -- as an equally bright star.

“Honestly, Mark meant everything to TKO,” Patry says. “Mark was by far the most exciting fighter in the history of the UCC and TKO. If you ever see a boring Mark Hominick fight, go for a checkup, because he is never boring. Even if you put him against a boring fighter, he’ll find a way to make it exciting. It’s his time now. It’s his time to shine, and it’s his time to prove what he was thinking and what I was seeing back when he was our champion.”

St Pierre, it turned out, took a cue from Hominick in those formative days on the Canadian MMA scene. Patry remembered Hominick, a university business major with a plan to work for his father’s sales company, showing up to his first pro fight in a suit.

“Do you know when GSP starting wearing his suits at press conferences? After he saw Mark Hominick do it,” Patry says. “The next press conference, St. Pierre was wearing a suit, telling the other guys [on his team], ‘We should always wear a suit.’”

At that stage of his life, Hominick had no choice but to be businesslike in his approach. His fight career was blossoming while he was pursuing his business degree, and he did not want to half-ass either pursuit. So, he would get up at 5:30 a.m. to train at a boxing club in Windsor, go to class and study in the afternoon, rest, train again at 6 p.m., study more, sleep and do it again the next day. On the weekends, he hopped a bus home to train with Tompkins.

“It was crazy. Looking back, I don’t know how I made it through those four years,” he says. “This training camp has been very similar to that. I’m training for this huge fight, the biggest fight of my life. All the extra media demands have been going on. My wife’s due within five days of the fight. It’s just one of those times where there’s no down time. Everything is on the schedule. Nothing can be missed and nothing can be put aside. I like being structured like that, and I feel I perform best on that.”

Tompkins, who came to Ontario from Las Vegas for Hominick’s latest training camp so Hominick could keep his domestic responsibilities, is confident that his longtime charge is on point for Aldo.

If it were a boxing match, Tompkins claims, analysts’ view of the fight would be speed versus power.

“I believe Mark has the fastest hands in the sport,” Tompkins says. “You could maybe say Vitor Belfort, but you’d have to go to Vitor back when he was 19 years old. If anything, [Hominick] has gotten more precise with his speed. Mark probably throws six punches to Aldo’s two, but Aldo’s punches are very dangerous because he throws with power.”

Hominick believes he has built off of each of his losses, particularly his swift submission defeat to Josh Gripsi in February 2008, which he followed with his current five-fight win streak. The key, he says, was in concerning himself less with defending his opponents’ strengths and more with visualizing what he was going to do in a fight.

“This is the best, physically and mentally, that I’ve ever been,” Hominick says. “I just needed the string of wins to remind people. I’ve been fighting since 2002, professionally, and I just think this is my time.”

Hominick and his wife, whom he met in high school, bought a house in Thamesford last year and are expecting their daughter to be born within a week of the fight. His father passed away four and a half years ago after a battle with cancer. His mother is ready to retire from her job at the hospital this year and lives around the corner with Hominick’s grandmother. His older sister still lives in Thamesford. He opened a gym, Adrenaline Training Center, in nearby London with Chris Horodecki and Sam Stout.

Now 28, Hominick is taking the helm on the home front, where he scrapped in street hockey, fell in love with MMA and defied the odds as a small kid in a developing sport.

He has earned many more accolades than he could have expected to back when he was sitting in university lecture halls with marks on his face from the past weekend’s fight.

To date, it has been all scrapping and hard work and perseverance for Hominick. But the beauty, the poetry, comes in the Joe Carter moment, when Mark Hominick enters what used to be SkyDome, 90 minutes from his home, with much more than just his individual aspirations riding on the outcome.

“I can say whatever I want. I’ve got to go out and prove it; that’s it,” Hominick says. “I know what I’m capable of doing.”