You know you’re talking to The Cody McKenzie when you call him and two minutes into the conversation he says, ‘Uh, Frank, I gotta’ go now. I got a cop in my rear view mirror.’ Being the consummate professional that he is, the shaggy-haired crowd favorite called me back later and spoke at length about his evolution as a fighter, particularly a light bulb moment that occurred when he journeyed to train with the Diaz brothers (Nate and Nick) a few months ago. McKenzie noted how meticulous and disciplined the Diazes were with their diets and how it prompted the Washington state Wildman to rethink his anything-goes indulgences at mealtime. While admittedly still a work-in-progress, the 24-year-old McKenzie’s newfound consciousness could be coming at just the right time as he is dropping to the 145-pound weight class to battle Chad Mendes on the UFC’s July 7 mega-card.
Curreri: Have you ever trained with Mike Chiesa, recent winner of season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter??
McKenzie: Yeah, he lives with me in Spokane. He (Chiesa) is actually out running amok right now celebrating winning the show and getting out of that house, so right now I’ve got Lyle Beerbohm and some of his fighters, lots of guys from Spokane training together. (TUF 15 alum) Sam Sicilia was here the other day and we have a few others who deserve to be in the UFC but just haven’t been discovered yet.
Curreri: You and Chiesa look like twins! I mean, if you ever make it big in Hollywood and needed a stunt double you could always get Chiesa. Is that just like the look up there in Spokane or something?
McKenzie: (laughs) I don’t know, man, me and Chiesa are a lot alike. We have similar tastes in everything.
Curreri: So one of you is not copying the other?
McKenzie: Nah, nah, he’s a little older than me. We actually didn’t like each other when we first met.
Curreri: That’s what happens sometimes when you initially meet someone that’s so much like you!
McKenzie: Yeah, but we get along now.
Curreri: So when I last saw you on Las Vegas soil two months back, we were at Whole Foods and you sat next to me with a big old plate of salad … and you were talking about how you went and trained in Stockton with the Diaz brothers and they helped you see the light about eating healthier. How is the dietary reform working out for you?
McKenzie: My diet is great. I’m obsessed with nutrition now. I never really dieted right or ate right before. I was just brainwashed like everybody else – eating cheeseburgers, pizza, dairy, bacon and ham and believing all these meats were good for you. I’ve learned that meat is fine for you, but I eat a lot of fish, fruits, nuts, vegetables … things that people have been eating for a long time. I drink a lot of clean water now and stopped drinking that crap water. I gave up pops (soda). I take probiotics and enzymes now. I still drink a little alcohol and wine, whatever, but moderation I guess is the word for that.
Curreri: When you were training with the Diaz brothers this past spring, what made the light bulb go off and inspired you to change how you eat?
McKenzie: The Diazes were just real healthy. It wasn’t just one thing. It was people explaining to me why it’s better for you and what it does for your body. Nathan (Nate Diaz) and his roommate, Dave Humphries, helped me out a lot. They definitely opened my eyes. They were eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. It was very basic, eating stuff that’s been around for hundreds of years. They taught me a lot about diet and once I started eating right I felt a lot better mentally and physically.
Curreri: You spent a lot of your childhood in Alaska, renowned for its seafood. What did you grow up eating?
McKenzie: I ate a lot of seafood because we were commercial fishermen. We would catch halibut, shrimp, crab, salmon. I ate a lot of rock fish and sea bass. We would pull it right out of the ocean and it was so fresh. You could eat it right there if you wanted; just cut it open and grill it right there if you are sport fishing. If you are commercial fishing then usually you wait until the end of the day and then pick a real good one and eat it. Anytime you put something in the freezer you change the taste of it. But I also ate a lot of junk food, you know? Just like anywhere else, there were stores with junk food and I ate it. I love ice cream and eat junk food all the time.
I’ll always eat seafood because it’s so good for you. But I believe in it because I grew up on it.
Curreri: You’re also an avid hunter.
McKenzie: Yeah, I like to hunt a lot. I eat a lot of wild game like venison, duck, geese and birds.
Curreri: How often do you get to hunt these days?
McKenzie: I don’t get to hunt nearly as much as I’d like to. Fighting keeps me so busy, I don’t get to get out to the country as much anymore. Fighting is a full-time job and I’m trying to make a living at it.
Curreri: What is it about hunting that appeals to you? What do you enjoy about the process of hunting?
McKenzie: The appeal to hunting? It’s not really ‘appeal,’ it’s just what I grew up doing, you know? A lot of people in California are like, ‘Oh my goodness, you hunt?’ People have been hunting for hundreds and hundreds of years … for a million years. It’s in our nature to hunt and somebody’s got to go and kill the animal. You know, I’d rather go and kill an animal that has been living its whole life out in the wild and eat that than one that’s been cooped up on a farm and shoved next to a bunch of other animals and slaughtered.
Curreri: But there must be something you enjoy about the process …
McKenzie: It’s real nice being in the woods and away from everyone. Now that I’ve moved into the city I still have to get out every once in a while, otherwise I go crazy. I’m definitely a country boy; I like the country a lot more than the city. But the city has its pluses, too. You can’t go to a club with a bunch of pretty girls in the country (chuckles).
Curreri: What’s the most time in a day that you’ve spent hunting?
McKenzie: That all depends on what you’re hunting. Me and a buddy went and caught a mountain goat one time and that was a 14-hour hike and hunt. But if you’re just going out to hunt some birds, ducks or something you could hunt for just an hour or two.
Curreri: Do you have any venison, deer, or duck in your freezer at home right now?
McKenzie: I wish. No, I don’t have any venison or deer in the fridge right now. I just have a lot of halibut and Copper River Red Salmon from my parents.
I want to go get a moose this summer and get some moose in my freezer, but that depends on my next fight and whether I can make it to Alaska this summer or not.
Curreri (Stupid question time): How does moose taste?
McKenzie: Moose is delicious. All wild game is so much tastier.
Curreri: You’re dropping to 145 to fight Chad Mendes. Is this your first time fighting at that weight?
McKenzie: No, I’ve been to 145 three different times and made weight just fine. I’ll make weight this time just fine, too. I’m 3-0 at 145 (pounds).
Curreri: What weight do you normally walk at?
McKenzie: It depends on what you mean by “normal.” If I don’t have a fight coming up I can get up to 190 pretty easily. But for a fight at 145 pounds I’ll walk around at about 160.
Curreri: So was dropping to 145 your idea or did the UFC approach you about fighting there?
McKenzie: I approached the UFC and asked for a fight as soon as possible and then going to 145 came up. I’ll fight at whatever weight class.
Curreri: Now you are what, 6 feet 1?
McKenzie: No, I’m 5’11”. I don’t enjoy it. I have to diet my a— three weeks before the fight and lose a little bit of muscle and a lot of fight. It’s not enjoyable but I’ll do it.
Curreri: What do you have to eat and drink to make that weight?
McKenzie: My weight is down to about 158. Now I’ve got to start cutting more. I eat berries, fruits, a lot of water, a couple of eggs in the morning. I’m eating a lot of salmon lately. I bake it and maybe add a little seasoning. I eat Copper River Red Salmon, which is the best salmon in the world. It’s real expensive but all of my family fishes it so they ship it to me. They put it in a wet lock box, freeze a bunch of ‘em and then ship ‘em to me. They stay frozen while they’re being shipped down.
Curreri: What do you do for carbohydrates?
McKenzie: Just the vegetables I eat and a little bit of rice. Brown is better for you, they say, but I eat white rice, too. I haven’t noticed a big difference.
Curreri: What was the worst weight cut of your life?
McKenzie: Shoot, I used to weigh 215 pounds or so back when I was wrestling in high school. So fresh out of high school I moved and started training with Team Quest in Portland, Oregon and was getting ready for a grappling tournament. The weight class was 160 and under and 160 and over. I weighed like 175 pounds at the time, so I quit drinking water three days before the tournament and was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – thinking those were healthy for me. I had no clue how to cut weight. I got down to 161 and I was toast. I was so dehydrated … for all I know I could have almost died. I went through so much pain trying to lose that one last pound.
It was some dumb grappling tournament and I almost killed myself trying to make weight. Finally I made weight at the weigh-in and had a day to recover before competing.
Curreri: How did you do in the tournament?
McKenzie: I did good. There were like 25 people in my bracket and I took third. I lost by points. I went against a college wrestler and he kept hitting a fireman’s carry on me and just holding me down. I subbed everyone else that I went against. I’m a finisher, you know, I don’t do that decision crap. I don’t like decisions.
Curreri: So even when you were just eating whatever you almost made weight?
McKenzie: Oh yeah, that’s the professional thing to do. I could almost make weight. If I had to quit eating some foods then I quit eating them. I’m tough, I’ve just never been too smart! (laughs). But I’m learning little by little.
Curreri: So for this particular upcoming fight with Chad Mendes, when did you actually start eating “clean”?
McKenzie: Probably two weeks before my last fight (on May 15, UFC on Fuel TV, a submission win over Marcus LeVesseur). I went off the diet right after that fight and started eating junk food and ice cream. I still go off my diet a lot, I don’t stick to it all the time. But it does make my weight cut a lot easier when I eat cleaner.
Curreri: Have you noticed any improvement in your cardio or strength since the dietary upgrade?
McKenzie: I’ve always had crap cardio, man, I’ve gassed in a couple of fights. My cardio has always been known for being crap because I’ve partied and stuff. But it’s getting there now, for sure. I’m figuring it out. I just got into a rhythm where I didn’t believe cardio had anything to do with a fight, but I’m learning it obviously does have a lot to do with it.
Curreri: Stupid question: You seem like a very flexible guy. Have you ever eaten anything that you think helped your flexibility?
McKenzie: I used to be naturally flexible until my injuries started to rack up. Now I stretch all the time in the sauna. Bikram yoga – I definitely endorse that stuff, even though I don’t do it because it’s too hard, haha! The girls can tear it up at Bikram Yoga, but it kills me (laughs).
Curreri: So you were a skeptic with regards to diet. I’m sure a lot of people around you were always harping on you to eat better …
McKenzie: Oh yeah, people were always telling me what to do but I was always like, ‘Why, I can beat you up!” (laughs). So why would I listen to your diet idea when I’m in better shape than you? Why would I listen when my health teacher in high school was 200 pounds overweight and I’m eating pizza and cheeseburgers everyday (and in better shape than him). So you can never listen to everybody else. You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. That’s what I have always believed.
I started trying things and finding things that work for me.
Cody McKenzie Curbs Hunger, Not Enthusiasm, For Drop to 145
Read on for the latest installment in UFC.com's weekly series of articles on proper nutrition from the biggest names in mixed martial arts...this week, Cody McKenzie