Both fighters making weight doesn’t guarantee a fight. Devin Clark found that out the hard way.
The UFC light heavyweight fighter was set to face Ivan Shtyrkov at UFC Fight Night 149 in St. Petersburg, Russia, but Shtyrkov was hospitalized prior to the fight. The bout was scratched from the card, leaving the American in Russia without an opponent.
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Clark didn’t sulk for long. Instead, he signed a bout agreement to face Darko Stosic at UFC Fight Night 153 on June 1, continuing his pursuit of a number next to his name courtesy of the UFC rankings.
He spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about what went through his mind after his fight fell through, his upcoming fight and his ongoing climb toward the top 15.
Devin Clark’s “sketchy” experience in Russia
Shtyrkov actually wasn’t the original opponent slated to stand across from Clark. A month out from the fight, Abdul-Kerim Edilov was removed from the card for an undisclosed reason, opening the door for the Russian prospect to step in and make his debut against Clark.
Everything was in place before Clark received news saying his fight was off the card due to Shtyrkov’s hospitalization.
“I guess he got sick, but, you know, I don’t know, it was a little sketchy, little fishy,” Clark said. “It’s kind of on him at the end of the day. He chose to do that and not fight.”
Clark later learned that Shtyrkov was all right after the health scare. As for “Brown Bear,” he was left with the pain of losing an opportunity.
“I was heartbroken,” Clark said. “I’ve never had that happen to me before, and especially not on that level … It really was a dream of mine to fight in Russia against a tough Russian.”
With no chance of finding a last-minute opponent, Clark tried his best to enjoy his stay in St. Petersburg. He went running and sightseeing, but it didn’t fill the void.
“It was a cool trip,” Clark said. “But at the end of the day, we were there to fight and do a job and that was taken from us.”
Devin Clark vs. Darko Stosic
Clark and his team began discussing opponents as soon as they heard the news. It wasn’t long before Stosic’s name came up, and five days later, Clark announced on his Instagram that a deal was done for UFC Fight Night 153.
“They moved quick to get me re-booked and on another card,” he said. “We probably could’ve fought a little sooner, but this was kind of the perfect time.”
The new date of June 1 meant Clark had six weeks to get ready, despite just completing a full fight camp for his bout that fell through. Though back-to-back camps can be taxing on a fighter, he knew he had a good opportunity to face a strong opponent on a good card. Three-straight light heavyweight fights close the show, including a main-event bout between Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith.
“In my mind, that’s a good opportunity for me to be directly compared to a lot of these other guys,” Clark said.
Once again, Clark is leaving the country to face a foreign opponent. Stosic hails from Serbia and is a protege of Mirko Cro Cop. He sports a 13-1 professional record and won his UFC debut last July when he beat Jeremy Kimball by round-one TKO.
“He’s a good fighter, but good fighters can be beat, and that’s what I’m going to do to him,” Clark said.
Clark isn’t worried about facing a similar scenario as last time he was booked for a fight. Leading up to this bout with Stosic, he is preparing much of the same way.
“We don’t change a whole lot going out there,” Clark said. “Same goal, you know, same mindset, and that’s to kill this guy really. I mean, I’m going all the way across the country. I’ve got to hurt somebody.”
As for Shtyrkov, Clark has closed that chapter.
“I’ve totally forgot about that Russian dude,” he said. “This is my meal now.”
Maturation in the cage
Clark entered the UFC three years after making his professional debut. At the time of his signing, he was 5-0 and coming off a light heavyweight title win in Resurrection Fighting Alliance (now Legacy Fighting Alliance).
“Brown Bear” debuted at middleweight against Alex Nicholson. He suffered his first professional loss when Nicholson knocked him out in the first round, but has since moved back to light heavyweight.
“I’ve been learning at the highest level,” Clark said. “These guys that have, you know, more than 10 plus fights and I only had five going in, so I’ve learned a lot in there.”
Clark is 3-2 in his five UFC bouts at 205 pounds. He was submitted by No. 6 ranked Jan Blachowicz in October 2017 and lost to 11-1 prospect Aleksandar Rakic by first-round TKO in his most recent appearance at UFC 231.
By learning through experience, Clark is finding himself more and more comfortable each time he steps into the Octagon to go to work.
“I’m experienced now in the UFC, so I’ve done that walk many times, and it’s starting to get fun really,” Clark said. “Starting out, it is scary, there are nerves, but now it’s fun … I get excited about it now, and it didn’t used to be that.”
Knowing how much the process has helped him, Clark believes his opponent’s lack of time with the UFC will hinder him.
“It’s his second UFC fight, and he’s on a learning curve too, and he’s going to find that out,” Clark said. “It’s different when you get up here in the big leagues.”
He isn’t sure how close he is to cracking the top-15, but right now, Clark is focused on what he can control — his own performance.
“I’m ready for the top-15 guys,” he said. “I’m going to prove that and run through this guy.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.