Fighting runs in the family for Daron (Detroit Superstar) Cruickshank.
His mother was a boxer, kickboxer and black belt in taekwondo.
"When I was a little kid I used to tell people my mom could beat up your dad," Cruickshank said.
His father is an expert in several martial arts, serving as one of his son’s trainers today.
"I grew up around the sport," Cruickshank said. "I was always around the fight game."
But the UFC lightweight says there was no pressure to take up martial arts. He picked it up when he felt like it and now can’t get enough.
"I’m carrying on the tradition of the family and beating people up for money," he said dryly.
The 28-year-old Cruickshank is focused on training and fighting. After bouts, he rarely takes time off.
"MMA and training is kind of like the only thing I do," he said. "So if I don’t do it, I just sit at home and stare at a wall."
He now has his own gym — Michigan Top Team — and helps coach other fighters when he is between bouts.
Cruickshank (13-4) is back at it Saturday when he takes on Mike (The Wolverine) Rio (9-3) at the United Center in Chicago on the undercard of a televised event headlined by a lightweight bout between former UFC champion Benson (Smooth) Henderson and former Strikeforce title-holder Josh Thomson.
Henderson, who lost his crown to Anthony (Showtime) Pettis in August, is currently ranked the No. 1 contender at 155 pounds while Thomson is No. 4.
Cruickshank is coming off an up-and-down 2013 that saw losses to Montreal’s John (The Bull) Makdessi and Adriano Martins sandwiched around a split-decision win over veteran Yves Edwards. That dropped his UFC record to 3-2.
"It’s a brand new year and I’ve set some goals for myself," Cruickshank said of 2014. "I’m ready to get at it."
While Cruickshank believes he can beat anybody, he knows the smallest mistake can be costly in what he calls the sport’s toughest weight class.
A black belt in taekwondo, the five-foot-eight Cruickshank can be a whirling dervish — witness his head kick knockout of Henry Martinez on a televised card in Seattle in December 2012.
But he can also be frustrating to watch. He seemed out of answers against Makdessi at UFC 158, controlling the fight for a time and then failing to take the upper hand back when Makdessi rallied.
"I feel like I won eight minutes of that fight," said Cruickshank. "He was really good at stealing the end of the round and impressing the judges."
He had nose surgery after the Makdessi loss but was back in the gym the next week wearing a mask and was sparring two weeks later.
Cruickshank says the fight made him realize there’s a time and place to use his wrestling.
But grinding out a win can make for a dull spectacle, especially for a fighter like Cruickshank with plenty of flash in his arsenal.
"This is an entertainment sport," he said. "And if you’re not entertaining you won’t last long in it."
Of course neither do losers.
Both Cruickshank and Rio are coming off losses — Rio has been beaten in his last two outings. They are no strangers after sharing a roof for 13 weeks during filming of Season 15 of "The Ultimate Fighter" although they were on different teams.
While most fighters were going crazy by the end of being cooped up in a house on the show, Cruickshank said he loved it.
"You take away all the stressers of life — women problems, bills, just everything. All you do is just concentrate on fighting and training."
Neither friends nor foes, Cruickshank says Rio is a one-dimensional fighter who relies on his wrestling. He sees the fight going the same way as the Martinez bout. He stops Rio’s takedowns, roughs him up and ends it.
Chicago is a far cry from Brazil where Cruickshank last fought. He remembers the raucous fans and the armed escorts that took him to the arena,
He has felt quite at home in the Windy City, with its frigid conditions nothing new to the Detroit native.
Not so for the Rio camp, which calls Miami home.
"I ran into one of Mike Rio’s cornermen in the elevator and he had a like blanked wrapped around him. He was shivering," Cruickshank said with a laugh.
Outside of fighting, Cruickshank is a firearms enthusiast and recently got in to 3-Gun Competition which involves a rifle, shotgun and pistol.
Nothing like the movies, he says of shooting targets on the run.
"It’s way harder than you think."