Before you ever see one of Dominick Cruz’s workouts, you hear it. More to the point, you hear Mike Easton, who is a little like MMA’s version of the magical talking mirror in “Snow White.”
LAS VEGAS — Only instead of telling you who’s the fairest in the kingdom, Easton tells Cruz — and anyone else within earshot — who the baddest 135-pound man in the entire world is.
Better yet, Cruz never even has to ask in order to get the answer he wants to hear.
“Yeah, that’s right!” Easton shouted as Cruz shadow-boxed himself into a sweat inside the MGM Grand on Wednesday afternoon. “He can’t take you down! He ain’t faster than you! He ain’t ready for this!”
The way Cruz floats across the mat during these sessions, you can hardly tell if he’s listening. But Easton — a short, stocky bulldog of a man who looks a little like a fire hydrant that someone slapped a t-shirt on — knows that he is. He also knows the value of what he provides the champ during the tough times.
“I’m his hype man,” Easton explained. “Also his training partner, but his hype man too. Just like how Muhammad Ali always had somebody talking to him, that’s what it is. You always need somebody in your corner that’s going to talk you up. It makes you feel good.”
It also, according to Cruz, makes you feel not quite so horrible during the necessary evil of the weight cut. That’s why as he works to slim down to 135 pounds to defend his UFC bantamweight title against Urijah Faber at UFC 132 this Saturday night, he likes to have Easton right there, reminding him that this particular pain is only temporary.
“When you feel the weakest is when you’re cutting weight,” said Cruz. “It’s very important to have someone in your ear, telling you how strong you are when you’re feeling the weakest.”
But even though it looks like the easiest job in any champion’s entourage, it takes more than a big mouth to be a good hype man. You don’t just walk in off the street, tell a guy how great he is, then get a free plane ticket to Vegas out of it.
First, you have to make your hype mean something. And the best way to do that, according to both Cruz and Easton, is to have a personal role in beating down the champ before you build him up. That’s where Easton — who is 10-1 as a pro himself — really excels, said Cruz.
“Mike Easton’s my hype man, but on top of that, he’s a sick fighter. The reason he can be my hype man is because I have respect for his fighting abilities. He understands the game. He understands what it takes to win.”
A good hype man can even help you off the mats. As Cruz prepared to defend his WEC title against Scott Jorgensen last winter, it was Easton who stood off to the side during Cruz’s pre-fight interviews and added a little emphasis behind each one of his answers.
Was Jorgensen ready for Cruz’s speed and rhythm? Cruz shrugged at first. No, probably not, he told reporters.
“That’s right he’s not!” Easton shouted out from behind the media scrum. The effect it had on Cruz was visible and immediate.
Had Jorgensen really figured out his style, or was he just talking himself into thinking so? This time Cruz fired right back. Of course he was talking himself into it, said the champ.
“Yeah, he is!” shouted Easton. “He’s got no idea!”
Suddenly, everyone in the room was feeling motivated. You could almost see reporters looking at one another and thinking, where can I get one of these hype men? Does he do parties?
But to hear Easton tell it, having a motivator in your corner isn’t just a nice little perk — it’s downright necessary.
“You remind somebody what’s going on in their life, what all the blood, sweat and tears are for,” he said. “You do that, you’ll have them ready to bite the back of a chair. I learned it from my father, actually. He’s the same way. That’s my hype man.”
And even though Cruz gives no outward indication that he’s enjoying it, he’s come to rely on it, he said.
“The point of it is that, a lot of it, you’re not even paying attention to it. But it’s still there. It’s still entering your subconscious. You can never overdo that. There’s times when I’m focused on other things and not really paying attention to it, but it’s still getting in there and jumbling around a little bit before it leaves.”
Maybe the most amazing thing is that, no matter how much he hears the constant barrage of positivity coming out of Easton’s mouth — and, oh yes, it is constant and it is loud — he never gets sick of it. He never feels like telling his hype man to take five and just sit quietly for a little while.
“I think everybody around me probably wants to say that sometimes,” said Cruz. “That’s without a doubt. But they’re not the ones going in there and fighting. Until they are, they’re going to have to deal with Mike Easton yelling.”
Which is just fine by Easton. Whatever he can do to get the champ in fighting mode, he said, it’s his pleasure. Even he has to shout himself hoarse before the weekend is over.
“That’s my brother. My brother from another mother. He helps me out, so I help him out. He knows I can talk to him, so that’s what I do. That’s my job. That, and to beat the sh-t out of him.”