ST. CLOUD – Maurice Greene’s occupation isn’t for the faint of heart. Quite frankly, he punches, kicks, wrestles and chokes people, hoping to knock them out or force them to submit. He is a mixed martial arts fighter and a rising star in a tough business.
Outside the Octagon, however, Greene’s fists go from leather to lace. This 6-7, 258-pounder relaxes by crocheting — the craft of using a hook to interlock strands of yarn. Greene’s specialty is making stocking caps, and he’s even created some for opponents.
“I’ve been crocheting longer than I’ve been fighting — for about 10 years,” said Greene, who estimates he has crocheted more than 500 items, including headbands and hats for babies. “… I make some dope stuff. This doesn’t look like your grandma made it.”
His hobby and vocation intersect, too. He’s taken the nickname “The Crochet Boss,” and his fighting skills will be on display Saturday at Target Center as part of “UFC Fight Night on ESPN.” Greene (7-3), who fights out of St. Cloud, faces Brazil’s Junior Albini (14-5) in a heavyweight bout that opens the preliminary card at 5 p.m. Saturday’s main event features No. 3-ranked Junior Dos Santos, a former UFC heavyweight champion, against No. 2 Francis Ngannou.
To say Greene is excited to open the Minneapolis card is an understatement.
“First one,” the 32-year-old said while rubbing his hands together. “Set the tone, baby!”
Starting a career
Greene’s path to mixed martial arts wasn’t a straight line. A native of Broadalbin, N.Y., Greene dabbled in high school sports but wasn’t serious about them. After moving to Chicago in his early 20s, Greene admits he enjoyed the nightlife and his weight reached 330 pounds. He joined a kickboxing gym on the suggestion of a friend.
“It was a good workout to lose the weight,” he said. “It gave me something to focus on versus trying to go out and party all the damn time.”
He agreed to his first fight, starting a path to the UFC. “Thirty days later I hopped into the cage for my first fight and won by third-round TKO,” Greene said. “I thought I was taking one fight and be done, but now eight, nine years later, here I am in the UFC.”
After moving to St. Cloud about six years ago, Greene began training at START Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy. He works with former UFC fighter Brock Larson, who co-owns the gym and eventually became Greene’s coach. It took some cajoling to get Greene to buy in.
“When he moved here, I told him, ‘Look, if you’re committed and want to do this, I’ll get you to the UFC, but you’ve got to buckle down and get serious,’ ” Larson said. “We’ve had a couple good opportunities pop up, and it’s worked out.”
The big break
No opportunity was better than the reality TV series “The Ultimate Fighter.” Greene was selected for Season 28 of the show, and that move brought him exposure — and notoriety.
After losing to Jeff Hughes in Legacy Fighting Alliance title bout in April 2018, Greene returned to St. Cloud and took an order from Larson to fly to Las Vegas for the show.
And with him, Greene took his crocheting hooks and yarn to pass the time during auditions. That hobby, coupled with his personality, became the hook.
“To be honest with you, that and just me being me, got me on the show,” he said. “There were a lot of talented guys there, but they need more than just talent.”
During the six-week training camp for “The Ultimate Fighter,” Greene advanced to the semifinals and became a controversial figure on the show, clashing with other fighters, often after sessions of drinking. The experience, along with a tough training camp, landed him a promotion to UFC. He has won both his UFC fights so far.
Focused on the fight
In preparation for Saturday’s fight, Greene spent seven weeks in Colorado, training at Factory X under respected coach Marc Montoya to hone his all-around skills.
And when it came time to relax, Greene took out the needle and yarn.
“In fight week, I’ll be crocheting because it takes my mind off the fight,” said Greene, who estimates it takes him 1½ hours or so to crochet a cap. “When you’re crocheting, if one stitch is too loose, you’ll get a hole. You have to focus on where you’re going to put the stitch.
“Some guys go golfing. I crochet.”
Added Larson, “It’s awesome because a lot of people do other things to unwind that are maybe unhealthy or destructive.”
Greene acknowledges his crocheting has been good for exposure. Previously, his nickname was “The Pirate,” and his tattoos show his affinity for those characters. But in Seinfeldian fashion, he decided he didn’t wanna be a pirate, and The Crochet Boss was born.
“If you hear The Crochet Boss, you’re going to want to know what it is,” he said. “… Now, I’ve got to go out and perform to show them I am a world-class heavyweight. If I don’t perform, I’m just crocheting.”
The next step comes Saturday against Albini. Greene carries the requisite bravado for a fighter, but it isn’t overboard.
“Somebody said, ‘You should crochet Junior Albini a pillow after you put him to sleep,’ ” The Crochet Boss said. “I’m not that super-cocky. He can get knocked out, but I can get knocked out, too. I guarantee I’m going to bite down on the mouthpiece and fight as long as it takes to for me to win the fight.”