A pair of fighters from Windsor, Ont., will carry Canadian colours on Saturday's UFC card in Las Vegas.
Strawweight Randa (Quiet Storm) Markos and featherweight T.J. (The Truth) Laramie are at different stages of their mixed martial arts careers.
The 35-year-old Markos (10-8-1) makes her 15th appearance in the UFC while the 22-year-old Laramie (12-3-0) debuts just 39 days after winning his UFC contract on Dana White's Contender Series.
Markos takes on Mackenzie Dern (8-1-0), an accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who is ranked 15th among 115-pound contenders. Laramie faces veteran Darrick Minner (24-11-0) at 145 pounds.
The main event at the UFC's Apex production facility pits former welterweight champion Tyrone Woodley, currently ranked No. 5 among 170-pound contenders, against No. 2 Colby (Chaos) Covington.
Covington won the UFC interim welterweight title in June 2018 with a victory over Rafael dos Anjos but was later stripped of the title. He lost by TKO to champion Kamaru Usman at UFC 245 last December.
Laramie is the only Canadian to earn a UFC contract on Dana White's Contender Series, now in its fourth season. He won his way into the promotion Aug. 11 when injured opponent Daniel (Agent Orange) Swain was unable to come out for the second round.
"(An) absolute savage ... I love savages. I love guys that fight like this kid fights. Welcome to the UFC, kid,'' White told Laramie after the bout.
Laramie wept in the cage following the victory, which came on his late mother's birthday.
After the bout, Laramie spent a few days in Winnipeg with his girlfriend before heading to Las Vegas — after finishing quarantine — to resume training when the Minner fight was offered.
He welcomes the short turnaround.
"I more than likely would have went home, relaxed a little bit, celebrated maybe too much," he said.
Laramie has endured hardship. In 2005 his older brother and mother both died. He and his younger brother moved in with his aunt, who subsequently died of cancer in 2009.
He subsequently moved back in with his father and started training 10 years ago in MMA. His father got him into it as a fan and that interest turned into a passion after he took a class.
"Honestly it was like I got hooked on it," he said.
He says the sport helped him get through the bad times.
"I honestly couldn't even tell you what I would be doing without it," he said.
Laramie had his first pro fight at 17 — in Japan as part of an MMA reality TV show. He needed just two minutes 33 seconds to stop Koji Obata, a veteran of 28 bouts.
"A dream come true," said Laramie, whose younger brother Tony is also a pro fighter.
When not fighting, Laramie moonlights as a barber. He taught himself from YouTube videos during high school. He brought his set of clippers to Vegas and has already done some cuts. He says it allows him to escape fighting.
Laramie believes there was more pressure on him when he fought last month on the UFC feeder series. The experience of fighting at the Apex is also valuable.
"Getting used to the no crowd thing, it's huge. It definitely makes a difference. Having experienced all that, I feel like I'm even more prepared coming into this."
The 30-year-old Minner lost his UFC debut on short notice as an injury replacement in February when he was submitted in the first round by Grant (KGD) Dawson. Minner was slated to fight Jordan Griffin in June but had to pull out after getting sick during his weight cut.
Laramie rates Minner as a fast starter with plenty of submissions and a penchant for Hail Mary punches.
"A live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword type of fighter," he said. "I feel like with my fight IQ and the way I go about fighting that it's going to be a long night for him — or a short one."
He sees Minner as a similar opponent to Swain.
Markos, meanwhile, is looking for some consistency. While 6-7-1 in the UFC, she has yet to post back-to-back wins in the promotion.
She did not feel herself last time out in a decision loss to 12th-ranked Amanda Ribas in March.
"My last fight, the coronavirus stuff had just started and everything was kind of up in the air and nobody knew what was going on. We might fight, we might not fight," she said. "Everything was just craziness.
"So now, since we've had so many fights since then (in the UFC), I feel more confident and stress-free going into this fight."
One lesson learned is she has to push forward more.
She will have to do it with care against Dern, a former BJJ world champion who has won five of her nine MMA fights by submission.
"I like to be smart. When I find somebody who's got a strength somewhere, I like to take that away from them and take it to my game and what I'm strong at," said Markos.
"If it goes to the ground, you know I'm no stranger on the ground. I've been doing this for a very, very long time ... If it goes there, I'm ready for it but I'm not going to purposefully try to go to the ground."
Dern is coming off a first-round submission win over Hannah (Shockwave) Cifers in May. She suffered her lone loss prior to that, dropping a unanimous decision to Ribas last October just four months after giving birth to her daughter. It's her only loss in four UFC outings.
The 27-year-old Dern, who is married to pro surfer Wesley Santos, is the daughter of BJJ great Wellington (Megaton) Dias.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.
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