BILLINGS — Sometimes a minute feels much longer. Just ask Hunter Azure, who waited about that long after his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut on Saturday to learn if he won or lost.
Azure felt good about his bantamweight fight against Brad Katona as he awaited the judges’ decision at the Rogers Center in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. But he didn’t know for sure, and he was exhausted, so time slowed down.
The agonizing minute ended when the announcer said “blue corner,” followed by Azure’s name. The Poplar native defeated Katona 29-28, 29-28, 30-27.
Azure, 27, is still enjoying Saturday’s victory. He was trying to earn a UFC contract a couple months ago, and the time since was filled with uncertainty. His debut finally arrived on Saturday, and he didn’t waste the opportunity.
“I played that scenario out in my head probably freaking 1,000 times, getting my hand raised,” Azure told 406mtsports.com on Tuesday. “Once you hear ‘blue corner’ and they say your name, there’s no better feeling than that.”
Azure was a four-time Class B-C state wrestling champion at Poplar, thanks in large part to Indians head coach Howard Azure, Hunter’s father. Howard would make his wrestlers run stairs for about 30 minutes during practices. His timing mechanism was a playlist of six AC/DC songs, beginning with “Thunderstruck” and ending with “Back in Black.”
“I never wanted to work out to AC/DC anymore after that,” Hunter Azure said. “But I like hearing the songs, and it just brings back those good memories.”
“Back in Black” was the highlight of the playlist for Azure because it signaled the end of the stair running. UFC fighters get to choose a song to play in the arena when they walk out to the Octagon. Azure chose “Back in Black.”
Azure came away from Saturday’s fight with a ton of memories, perhaps none greater than the first, when he walked into the Rogers Center minutes before the fight began. He was struck by the roar of the crowd and the thundering music.
“Feeling the energy inside that arena was pretty sweet,” Azure said. “There’s no other feeling like it. You just want more of it.”
There was one slight problem: “Back in Black” didn’t play during his walk-out. A song from J. Cole was selected instead.
Azure didn’t notice the error until he stepped into the Octagon. He was disappointed, but it could hardly ruin his debut.
Katona recorded a couple takedowns early on and, ironically, outwrestled Azure for most of the fight, Azure said. After the bout, UFC.com’s Thomas Gerbasi wrote, “it looked like a takedown and ground control from Katona in the final 60 seconds would allow him to leave with the victory,” but the former Ultimate Fighter winner fell just short. Azure “had the heavier hands in the matchup,” Gerbasi wrote.
Azure spent much of that stressful minute worrying the judges might be swayed by Katona’s cage control. They ruled in Azure’s favor, and his professional record improved to 8-0.
That winning moment played out in his mind for years before it actually happened.
“I try to envision things and dream about them so much that nothing feels new once I’m in there,” he said.
This won’t be the last win Azure envisions, but he doesn’t know when he’ll get his next opportunity. UFC scheduling is fluid, especially for a newcomer like Azure, he said. All he can do now is train like he has for years, stay healthy and be ready when the UFC calls again.
This week, in his current home of Phoenix, Arizona, Azure is taking a break. He’s focused on healing his body and refreshing his mind.
“It feels weird,” he said. “Not going to the gym yesterday or today, I feel like I’m missing out on something.”
Azure has the luxury of taking time off without a loss playing over and over in his mind. He’s a UFC winner. He knows his next fight will come sooner rather than later.
Maybe next time, “Back in Black” will blast as he walks into the Octagon.