Grappling for Success

Aussie fight-game veteran Kyle Noke seeks UFC domination.

Growing up in the remote NSW town of Dubbo, Australian UFC standout Kyle Noke developed mental and physical toughness on rugby league fields and in many an outback brawl. While relocating to the Sunshine Coast at the insistence of his mother prevented Noke from experiencing more of the latter, the move did nothing to dampen his desire to get physical, with footy aspirations inspiring a willingness to further expand his physical capabilities.

However, a chance meeting with Australian bodybuilding champion and MMA competitor and trainer Tony Green redirected Noke’s sporting focus and provided an outlet for the fighting skills he had learned years earlier. Required to pack on solid muscle for the upcoming league season, Noke took Tony up on his offer and the two trained together.

“I wanted to bulk up a bit,” says Noke. “But as it turned out it was an MMA class run by Tony and his brother [founder of Integrated Martial Arts] Mick Green. Well, after that first class I was hooked.”

Proving himself a formidable fighter and quick to learn, the newbie Noke began attracting interest from some of the world’s best MMA fighters and coaches. As his burgeoning cage skills flourished, he partnered up with renowned trainer Dan Higgins. Noke has subsequently worked with many skilled coaches, including the USA’s Greg Jackson, who has trained such cage luminaries as former UFC champions Rashad Evans and Jon Jones.

After winning his MMA debut in November 2002 over Peter Robbie – with a brutal barrage of punches in round one – Noke convincingly continued his ascent with three successive wins by KO. With a record of 22 victories and one draw in 29 fights, including devastating wins over past and present UFC notables George Sotiropoulos (at Warriors Realm 5), Brian Ebersole (at XFC 12), Rob Kimmons, Charlie Brenneman, Peter Sobotta and Josh Bryant (on the Ultimate Fighter finale in June 2010 – Noke’s UFC debut), Noke, 35, has established himself as one of the UFC’s best and has continued to improve with each professional outing.

“My greatest strength would have to be my all-roundedness.” says Noke. “ I was lucky to hook up with Dan Higgins, a complete mixed martial artist, early in my career. Dan didn’t emphasise one fighting style over the other, but combined them all and was a great teacher of every aspect of the game.”

Early in his MMA career, Noke found a new use for his combat skills and turned to security work, serving as bodyguard for late Aussie icon Steve “Crocodile Hunter” Irwin. Protecting the tough-as-nails Irwin eventually led to Noke training the wildlife warrior, thus helping Irwin to become an effective MMA fighter in his own right.  Other influential figures in Noke’s life include MMA legend Chuck Liddell, Noke’s coach on 2010’s Ultimate Fighter Season 11.

“What I like most about Chuck is his attitude,” says Noke. “He’s a humble person and a great coach. Chuck has always been one of my favourite fighters and to be on his team and picked first was an honour.”


Fighting on

Judging by Noke’s successful run following his Ultimate Fighter foray, it appears the former UFC light heavyweight champion Liddell’s tutelage was well-placed.  A well-rounded welterweight southpaw – who has also fought at middleweight – with an advanced ability to both box and wrestle, the six-foot, 77kg (fighting weight) Noke regularly uses a combination of grappling strength and pugilistic prowess to subdue his opponents.

Being multi-skilled, he’s also dangerous on the ground, as his eight submission victories – the rear naked choke being a particular favourite – readily attest. Throughout his evolution as a fighter Noke’s rise has been obvious for all to see, but one fight convinced him that he had the skills to make it in the world’s biggest MMA organisation, the UFC.

“It was after my fight with Brian Ebersole that I knew I had the potential to win against the world’s best,” says Noke. “He was the first American I fought. He had a world of experience and at the time was trained by Frank Shamrock. It was a fight that people didn’t think I could win so, to prove people wrong, I went out there and dominated the fight and won.”

Though Noke says his biggest victory is yet to come, he’s quick to note one of his most enjoyable: “That would be UFC 127, back home in Australia. I won by submission in the first round [against Chris Camozzi], and the crowd was amazing. Everywhere I went in Sydney around this time, the fans blew me away. It was a great honour to fight for them.”

It’s often said that a true champion is one who can come back stronger, more focused and with renewed determination following adversity. While he experienced success with his knockout win over Charlie Brenneman at UFC 152, losses to Ed Herman (in 2011), Andrew Craig (2012) and Patrick Cote – following the filming of The Ultimate Fighter Nations in 2014, on which Noke coached the Australian team and Cote coached the Canadians – and a shoulder injury in 2012 (which sidelined Noke for 2013), marked an unprecedented career slump.

Like most great sporting champions, Noke has known defeat and has suffered his share of bad luck. However, despite his advancing age and the heavy toll an MMA career places on all its athletes – even supremely tough competitors like Noke – the Aussie champ continues to fight on, and win. In May 2015 Noke won a hard-fought split-decision victory against rising star Jonavin Webb at UFC Fight Night (Hunt versus Miocic). Most recently he demolished the ultra-tough Octagon veteran Peter Sobotta with a devastating front kick to the body to finish his UFC 193 (Rousey versus Holm) bout in the first round. Considering the fighting spirit and desire to win that has kept him learning and growing as an MMA athlete, one suspects that Noke will soon be out-striking and submitting further victims as his career enters another, more fruitful phase.

To be included among the UFC’s pantheon of elite fighters is not to be taken lightly, and Noke does his part to honour this opportunity by staying at the top of his fighting game. He considers competing among the world’s best Octagon warriors an honourable pursuit, one that requires “courage, heart and, above all else, hard work.” Noke adds that, “Skill and athleticism will only get you so far in MMA. If you don’t have the courage and heart to push yourself, you’ll never succeed.”

With his impressive resume and ever-evolving game, Noke is a sure bet for future success in the world’s biggest and most prestigious MMA promotion. “My long term goal is to be the first Australian to win a UFC belt and bring it back home,” he says. “And I would like to defend it multiple times.”