Aleksa Camur had no idea he wanted to become a mixed martial artist.
The 23-year-old prospect, who looks to earn a UFC contract on Tuesday night as part of Dana White’s Contender Series, was an athlete growing up in Ohio but did not take the traditional route to discover combat sports.
He wasn’t a wrestler. He never got involved in karate as a kid. He wasn’t even a huge fan of the UFC outside of friends inviting him to watch cards with them in Cleveland.
While he wasn’t an avid follower of the sport, Camur couldn’t miss the attention being paid to a local gym near his home that started producing talented fighters like former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and recent UFC flyweight title contender Jessica Eye.
So Camur decided to go to Strong Style MMA to take some classes just to see what all the hype was about. At the time, he had no intentions of actually fighting because his athletic background was primarily in lacrosse and skateboarding but mixed martial arts seemed like fun to him.
“I never had any experience in any martial art before I started fighting,” Camur explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I just learned everything from the classes that they had at Strong Style. Just with the help off the amazing instructors they had, which were the fighters they had on the team so I got a lot of guidance that way.
“I started training down there and it slowly progressed where I started training with the professional fighters. It slowly progressed into a competitive aspect and it’s been awesome ever since.”
Standing 6-foot and weighing over 200 pounds, Camur was immediately targeted as a sparring partner for the bigger fighters in the gym, which included Miocic and fellow UFC heavyweight Jeff Hughes.
Even after working with fighters of that caliber, Camur still had no idea that fighting would be his future.
“When I started, it was just a hobby that I wanted to pursue,” Camur said. “I think seeing all the fighters at the gym kind of made me want to compete. I think over time watching those guys get ready for fights, cutting weight, I’d see the struggle, the reward, obviously there were ups and downs in careers but there was a family aspect that’s attached to training when you’re at a gym.
“Over time I just started to look up to everyone at the gym and it started as an amateur career. I realized I could make a career out of it if I put enough time and effort into the sport. It’s been amazing. The moment that I knew I could make a career out of it, I think I would have to give credit to my team because I looked up to those guys. They inspired me to make a career out of it.”
Camur says head coach Marcus Marinelli eventually took him under his wing with Miocic keeping a watchful eye on his progression.
As time passed, he began working with the former UFC heavyweight champion on a regular basis and it started to convince him that maybe this fighting thing was worth his full attention.
“I slowly started to become Stipe’s training partner and I looked up to him in that way,” Camur said. “I studied what he was doing. Spending all that time with them was an amazing thing. It got me to places I never thought I could get to.”
Miocic is well known for being soft-spoken and he never touts himself as a huge influence over the young athletes in the gym but Camur looks at him like a “big brother” who has always had his back from the first day he arrived at Strong Style.
“He’s an amazing guy,” Camur said about Miocic. “After sparring, he’ll come up to me and give me tips on what I did right, what I did wrong, what I should do to improve myself. I think he’s on such a higher level than I am but he’ll still look for advice like how did he do in rounds and sometimes I’ll tell him what I think. He takes constructive criticism. He’s really an amazing guy.
“He’s been a huge influence on me. He’s been a huge influence on my career just pointing me in the right direction. He’s been amazing.”
Camur steps into the Contender Series with four amateur fights and four professional fights and all eight have been finished by knockout or TKO.
He’s still very young in his career but Camur is confident that he’s ready for the next level — just like his teammate Miocic, who joined the roster with only six fights on his resume before eventually becoming the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history.
“I think I’m as ready as I’ve ever been in my life,” Camur said. “I think I was ready a year ago. Just because the training that I get with the team that I have at the gym with guys like Jeff Hughes and Stipe, just going with them has prepared me beyond what I could even imagine.
“I think over my whole career, I’ve become a real exciting fighter. I’m always putting on a show. I don’t try to put on a show, it’s just the way that I fight. I think it’s exactly what they’re looking for on the show. I think the show was built for me.”