On the morning of May 1, 2011, Mark Hominick awakened with a smile on his face, despite a massive hematoma on his forehead that looked like a bad Halloween costume.
The night before, Hominick had pushed UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo Jr. farther than anyone ever had, nearly taking the title from him at UFC 129. Hominick took a beating, but also delivered a beating and won Fight of the Night honors before a massive crowd in excess of 50,000 in Toronto, close to his training ground in London, Ontario.
Though he was disappointed by the loss, it was a good time for Hominick. His wife, Ashley, was pregnant and about to deliver their first child any day. And professionally, despite the loss, his stock as an athlete was never higher.
"There's no question," Hominick says now, "that my life, my career, started that night. I guess what happened is that I became a 15-year overnight success."
As the pages fell from the calendar, though, life became decidedly more difficult for Hominick. There were, of course, the highs of fatherhood. His first child, Raeya, was born May 14.
"You know, the bond between us grows and every day I love her even more than I did the day before," he says.
But just three months to the day after Raeya's birth, Hominick was devastated by the news that his long-time coach, mentor and close friend, 37-year-old Shawn Tompkins, died of a heart attack.
Four months later, Hominick suffered a stunning seven-second knockout loss to Chan-Sung Jung, aka "The Korean Zombie."
And then in April, Hominick won another Fight of the Night award, this time at UFC 145, but he lost a split decision to Eddie Yagin.
As he prepares to return to the cage for the first time since losing to Yagin, the 30-year-old striker isn't overcome by worry. He's not paralyzed by fear, though about 99.9 percent of UFC fighters who lose four fights in a row lose their jobs.
Hominick, who will face Pablo Garza at UFC 154 in Montreal on Nov. 17, is one of those guys who finds the positive in any situation. And though losing one of his best friends is something he'll never forget, he's choosing to look at the loss from a different vantage point. He's attempting to live his life in a way that would honor Tompkins, a revered figure in the MMA community who would routinely go out of his way to help those in need without asking for anything in return.
Hominick and his buddies, fellow fighters Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki, ran a charity golf tournament in Tompkins' memory. They got Tompkins nominated to be in a local sports Hall of Fame and, together, they operate a gym in Ontario in which they espouse Tompkins' philosophies.
"Shawn is someone in my life who is never going to be replaced," Hominick said. "There's no one who can come in and fulfill the role he played in my life. He was definitely more than just a head coach. He was the best man at my wedding. He helped me a lot in a lot of my most important life decisions. That's someone who is impossible to replace."
Long-time fighter Jeff Curran, who has been working with Hominick for a while as a coach, said Hominick isn't the typical fighter coming into a match on a three-fight losing streak.
Hominick understands the consequences of a loss, but Curran insists he's prepared to deal with it.
"In my opinion, Mark knows where he's headed with a loss, but he's not ready to head there yet," Curran said. "He's not putting that added pressure on himself, because he's a smart guy and understands how things fit together. He knows the Korean Zombie fight was a fluke. He knows he's the only one to go the distance with Aldo and in our eyes, and many others, we know who won the fight with Yagin."
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He's as optimistic as ever. His wife is pregnant again, expecting to deliver daughter No. 2 in January. He expects to defeat Garza and begin the long climb back to title contention. Mostly, he's committed to being the role model for others that Tompkins had been for him.
"Part of life is dealing with death and dealing with sometimes difficult circumstances," Hominick said. "Life can be like a fight. Not everything is going to go your way all the time and you have to adjust and find a way to deal with it when it goes against you.
"My mentality is that I'm really happy where I am in life and in my career. There is a part of me that feels my back is against the wall, but I like that kind of pressure. I feel I perform under those situations, so I look forward to it."
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