Powell River’s Michael Hill has made a name for himself as a competitive mixed martial artist, however, the title he said he feels most proud of is that of father.
“It’s the best job in the world,” said Hill. “The day your child is born is the best day of your life.”
The Brooks Secondary School graduate became involved with mixed martial arts (MMA) eight years ago and has excelled in the sport.
“It’s the art of eight limbs,” said Hill. “We wrestle, do jiu jitsu, muay thai; we focus on all of it.”
Hill is currently ranked number one in Canada in his weight classes, welterweight and middleweight, outside the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC.)
“The UFC is the big league of martial arts,” he added. “That’s the goal.”
With his current ranking, Hill figures he is one or two fights away from obtaining a UFC contract.
“I’m so close to it,” he said.
For the past two years, Hill said his main focus has been on helping raise his daughter, Blythe. That has seen him split time between Powell River, where she lives, and Victoria, where he trains.
Hill said the hope is to relocate to Powell River full time, but for now he needs to train elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, Powell River has no real training environment for elite athletes,” he added. “When you get to a certain level in any sport you have to leave town if you want a chance at a future in your sport.”
Professionally, Hill said he has had a few harrowing adventures over the past few years. In July 2017, he travelled to Ulan-Ude, Russia, to take on the top Russian prospect in his weight class, Maksim Butorin.
“I grew up watching martial art movies and everyone’s favourite, Rocky Balboa,” he said. “You never think you’ll get the call to travel to Russia and take on an Ivan Drago yourself,” he said referring to Balboa’s infamous Russian opponent in Rocky IV.
Aside from the language barrier and overall culture shock, Hill experienced a last-minute setback.
“They didn’t let my coach on the plane, so I had to go alone,” he said. “That was the scariest time of my life. I was brought to Russia to lose.”
The fight ended in a draw; a first for both athletes. The Russia experience was a huge mental test, said Hill.
“Experiences like that make you realize what’s really important in life, what’s special,” he added.
To prepare for his next fight Hill travelled to Phuket, Thailand, known as a training hotspot for martial artists from all over the world.
“I trained hard three times a day and in the end was awarded a sponsorship,” said Hill. “I came away feeling confident I can compete with the best in the world.”
Hill’s most recent fight took place in Grand Prairie, Alberta, against Canadian veteran Cody Krahn.
“I moved up a weight class for that fight,” said Hill. “It’s been tough finding me fights at welterweight.”
Hill ended up breaking his right hand in the first round.
“I battled through and got the win with one hand,” he added.
Now Hill’s focus is on healing his hand, working toward his goal of obtaining a UFC contract and spending even more time in Powell River. He said he hopes to bring a mixed martial arts event to Powell River in the near future to build the profile of the sport in the community and shine a light on local talent.
Growing up, Hill said he remembers some elite athletes in the community who inspired and helped him visualize professional possibilities for himself in sport. This is something he said he believes is lacking in the community now.
“When kids here get to be 14, 15 years old and start asking ‘how do I make it to the next level in sports?’ Who do they have to ask that question to?” said Hill. “I want to be here for these kids to tell my story and share my journey.”
Hill said it would be a dream realized if he were able to achieve his UFC goal in his hometown.
“How cool would it be to have my fight getting into the big show be right here in my home barn?” he added.
Before this though, the focus is on family and celebrating Blythe’s third birthday in June.
“I’m excited for my future,” said Hill, “both as an athlete and here in Powell River.”