Mitch Gagnon spares the details of his past. He knows where he comes from. It’s where he is going that matters.
Since taking up mixed martial arts combat six years ago, Gagnon has turned his life around and put himself on the right path. It has brought about big change in Gagnon over the last two years. He is of healthy mind and body and it’s exactly what he wants.
“This sport has changed my life,” he said. “I have always had a lot of energy. I didn’t always use it to the best of my advantage. This sport has me on the right track and given me mental stability. I don’t party and I haven’t had a drink in more than a year. I focus on taking care of myself and being a better person all-around.
“I am doing something with my life that is going to mean a lot. It’s the purest feeling I can have.”
The 27-year-old has always been a competitive combatant. He started wrestling in Grade 5 and kept with the sport right through high school. When MMA competitions and companies such as UFC began to rise, Gagnon was drawn to the sport. He was “fascinated” by the energy and intensity of the fighters. Gagnon knew it was the sport for him and he wanted to dive right in.
He began to take judo and other martial arts to round out his wrestling skills as he tried to find people in the area that could help him train. In 2005, Gagnon was at a MMA event in Ottawa when a Greater Sudbury athlete charged into the cage and fought. He couldn’t believe it. The fighter was Dan Grandmaison. Gagnon didn’t hesitate to reach out and speak with Grandmaison and his trainer, Yves Charette. From that moment on, Gagnon was all in to become the best fighter he could be.
Gagnon’s home club is Team Shredder. He also trains in Oshawa and Hamilton at Bruckmann Academy of Martial Arts and Para Bellum MMA respectively. Gagnon is pushing himself to his limit year-round, six days a week and a minimum of three hours each day, split between two work-outs for strength and conditioning and sparring.
Gagnon spends a lot of time away from family and friends. This is the way it has to be. There is no other way. The sport has given him everything, so he gives everything he has back.
A lot of fighters think it’s a big sacrifice to compete. It’s a blessing for me. It’s not a burden.
“Every session, work out, fight — I put everything I have into what I do,” he said. “I’ve dedicated my life to this sport for a better future. A lot of fighters think it’s a big sacrifice to compete. It’s a blessing for me. It’s not a burden. I don’t do this for fame. I am doing this for what the sport gives me and that is everything. I wanted a healthy lifestyle and it has given me it.”
It has been a learning experience. He still remembers his first fight and how he felt prior to all hell breaking loose in the cage. Gagnon enjoys the process of becoming experienced and feeling more at home in the cage, ready to go toe-to-toe with an elite competitor.
“Let’s not sugar-coat what it is — it’s two athletes trying to impose their technical skill on one another … it can be tough,” Gagnon said. “My first fight, I remember thinking ‘What the hell am I doing?’ I was scared. Now, the feeling is a premium rush. In my last fight, I remember thinking ‘I shouldn’t be this calm.’ It has come with experience. I love the experience.”
Team Shredder coach Yves Charette has seen immense change in Gagnon since the two first joined forces.
“Mitch has an aggressive style and pushes the pace,” Charette said. “It reflects his training and dedication to the sport. He is physically and mentally tough. He is a determined man with a big heart who puts it to good use.
“Mitch doesn’t quit,” the coach added. “He has never been knocked out. It shows how resilient he is.
“I met Mitch during a hard time in his life and he has done a 180. It is amazing to see how far he has come, and he has a bright future ahead of him.”
Gagnon (8-2) takes on Walel Watson (9-4) in a bantamweight fight at UFC 152 in Toronto at Air Canada Centre Sept. 22. It’s his first MMA bout in Ontario. Gagnon expects close to 200 family, friends and supporters to make the trek from the two communities he calls home — Sturgeon Falls and Greater Sudbury. Gagnon last fought at UFC 149 in Calgary, making his UFC debut in a loss against Bryan Caraway that earned the fighters “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
Having the shot to showcase his skills in his own province means a lot, but he isn’t putting any extra pressure on himself. “I’m doing the same thing I always do and that is a high-paced fight from start to finish,” he said. “It’s a fight. It’s another chance to prove I belong there.”