BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Rory Singer's travel arrangements were different than those of most of the fighters who are competing in UFC 72 on Saturday at Odyssey Arena.
Most of the fighters stressed about the travel time from the U.S., calculated the impact it would have on their training and nutritional schedules and made elaborate plans to minimize the impact of jet lag.
Singer, though, intentionally made his travel time longer. And, he says, he loved it.
"Awesome. Absolutely awesome," he said of a decision to fly into Dublin, Ireland, instead of directly to Belfast.
Once he reached Dublin, he took a two-hour train ride to Belfast, where he was able to enjoy the scenery.
"The countryside was gorgeous and getting to see that was worth the trip in and of itself," said Singer, a middleweight with title aspirations who will face Jason MacDonald in a three-round bout Saturday on the pay-per-view card.
Singer holds a degree from the University of Georgia in biological engineering and was working toward a degree in nursing when he suddenly switched gears.
He'd likely have comfortable six-figure a year job had he stayed in the work force and used his education, but something would have been missing in his life.
Despite the burgeoning popularity of mixed martial arts, the fighters aren't paid nearly what the top boxers make and only those at the very top can make a living solely off their fighting income.
But that didn't matter to Singer, who needed to find out if he could compete. He had been training in martial arts since he was 11 – "Nonsense stuff, really," he said – and later began to dabble in boxing and Muay Thai boxing once he became an adult.
He was good at both – he won a novice Golden Gloves championship – and then learned jiu-jitsu. At that point, it dawned on him that he had an outlet for it.
"I was doing all these things and I kind of decided, well, if we're doing all this stuff, let's put it all together and see what this whole MMA thing is like," Singer said.
He made his amateur MMA debut in early 2001 and, by the end of the year, he was a professional.
And as he talks about that fight, it's clear why he's different than nearly every fighter he shared the dais with at a local pub for a pre-fight news conference Thursday.
"My debut was in South Africa," he said excitedly. "Can you believe that? In Johannesburg. That's one of the things I love about this sport, is that it's a truly world-wide sport and it's offered me so many opportunities.
"I've fought on four different continents. I debuted in Africa, I fought in Japan, I've fought in the U.S. and now I'm in Europe getting ready to fight in Northern Ireland."
Singer is a close friend and frequent training partner of UFC light heavyweight contender Forrest Griffin. Griffin despises the travel and said during a recent interview, "I'd be happiest if I never had to leave my house to fight."
But Singer views the trips as a way to broaden his horizons, which is another reason he flew to Dublin instead of directly into Belfast. It gave him an opportunity to explore another country fairly easily.
He said he always makes it a point to see the country he's fighting in and learn something about it, despite the hectic schedule he has on fight week.
"No one likes the plane trip, but once I've arrived and I'm acclimated, as long as I've packed up everything I need, I can't believe how fortunate I am to get to see some of these places I've been," Singer said. "It's all part of the life experience. These are the kinds of things you can always talk to people about.
"Not only did I fight in the UFC, but I got to fight in the first show ever in Northern Ireland. I have an engineering degree and I was on my way toward getting a nursing degree, but I put my life on hold to do this. And this is what it's all about."
Singer, who co-owns "The HardCore Gym," in Athens, Ga., with his brother, Adam, hopes to one day get a shot at the UFC's middleweight championship.
He's one of the division's most entertaining fighters and will move up the ladder with a victory over MacDonald. But Singer doesn't want to look at the fight in terms of what will occur if he wins. He's convinced MacDonald is making that mistake and he doesn't want to fall into the same trap.
"He believes he should be back at the top, as opposed to me, who just wants to win this fight and prove that I belong," said Singer, who competed on Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter" after working the corner for Griffin in Season 1. "Whatever that next step will be for me is what it will be. I don't care about where this puts me. I just want to win."
And he wants to have fun and enjoy his life while he's doing it.
But he also feels an obligation to the sport that has, in his view, provided him so much.
MMA is still a young sport – modern MMA began in 1993 with UFC 1, though a form of the fighting was around for years – and despite its rapid growth, it still faces many challenges.
"We need to be bigger and better ambassadors for our sport than boxers are for theirs, because this sport is still in its infancy," he said. "It's still not accepted by everyone. There are still a lot of misconceptions out there, that we're a bunch of gorillas and that it's an anything goes, fight to the death type of thing. Some people still have that perception, that old, UFC 1 stigma.
"We need to be better promoters for the sport so we can help it grow. And that's only going to make money one day for our students, who are coming behind us. We'll leave the sport better than it is when we came into it and that’s why so many of us are so willing to try to educate people about what a great sport we have here."
- Rory Singer