OAM. The Canadian Gangster. The Quebec Kid. Canada’s Olivier Aubin-Mercier has plenty of nicknames, but there’s one more name that has him feeling pretty good these days: Champ.
Aubin-Mercier (17-5) has not lost a fight since exiting the UFC in 2019, on a skid that saw him suffer defeats to future stars in Gilbert Burns and Arman Tsarukyan. OAM has since won six straight, defeating UFC alumni in Marcin Held, Darrell Horcher, and in last year’s PFL lightweight championship, Stevie Ray.
“Feels pretty great,” Aubin-Mercier told Cageside Press about being called champ after winning gold (and a million dollars), in a recent exclusive interview. “I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish in my career. So if feels great, but it’s always weird— you have a goal, and then you get to the goal and you’re like, ‘that’s it?'”
And so, OAM admitted that “I’m happy, but still some mixed feelings. I think sometimes we think when you’re going to get to that goal, everything’s going to be awesome. And it is awesome, but not that awesome.”
Maybe that’s why “The Canadian Gangster” has returned to the regular season. Last year, the prospect of another PFL season was still up in the air for Aubin-Mercier, who told Cageside Press in September that he wasn’t sure if he’d return should he win it all.
“I was planning to take a year off and then come back, but I decided I’d come back this year and see how I feel for next year,” Aubin-Mercier told us of the change in plans.
Some of that is the different feel fighting has coming off winning his first major championship. “There’s not too much pressure this year. I just want to have fun and enjoy this year. Last year was a lot of stress, a bump in the road. So I hope this year is going to be better, and if it’s not better, I accomplished what I had to accomplish. So that’s it.”
It’s hard to imagine a season that saw OAM go undefeated and capture gold in one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world being called a bump in the road, but for Aubin-Mercier, 2022 was not without its difficulties.
“Mentally it was pretty exhausting to fight every two months, and sometimes it was a month and a half,” he explained. “And the other thing, it’s injuries. So that was really hard, to train, to know that you’re going to fight against someone— the guy was probably hurt too, but it’s hard mentally to think that you’re hurt, you cannot go 100% in training.”
OAM noted that he was able to win two big fights in the regular season last year, but admitted that at the same time, “sometimes the athlete in us wants to train a little too much, and that’s what I did in the second training camp.”
With that in mind he’s approaching training this year more like he did during his second two fights last season. “Based on cardio and not a lot of hard sparring. You don’t want to get hurt. So not a lot of hard sparring, cardio, move around a little bit. That’s pretty much it.” Aubin-Mercier also added a professional to his training camp focused on injury prevention.
Asked if he saw the upcoming season as a victory lap, the Candian replied “yeah exactly. Like I said last year was a lot of stress, so this year is going to be more fun.”
Aubin-Mercier is not the only returning fighter this season — there are plenty of familiar faces in the lightweight division, plus an incoming star in Shane Burgos. However, the Canadian pointed out that for champs and returning finalists, the road back to gold is a little tougher.
“It’s harder for the champ to come back the year after than anybody else. It’s going to be harder for me and it’s going to be harder for Stevie Ray to come back this year. Because everybody else had a bigger vacation. We didn’t,” Aubin-Mercier explained. “Personally, I had like two months, and I had to go again, and it was really hard for me. So that’s why at some point I thought maybe I’m going to take this year off, and come back next year. I decided something else, but I do think the first fight for every champion is going to be harder. Not only because, okay you won it, you made it, but the fact that you passed a big year like that last year and you have to come back right away, I think it’s really hard.”
Shane Burgos is a match-up OAM is up for, however. He even sees something of himself in his PFL 3 opponent.
“I like the match-up. He’s a really fun fighter and a really good fighter. He just quit the UFC, and I think he did well. I think it’s going to be better for his career. He just has to be careful to not fall in the trap that [Anthony] Pettis and [Jeremy] Stephens fell in, like he has to be motivated.”
Both Pettis and Stephens have faltered in their PFL runs, and neither man is booked for the regular season, instead taking part in Gamebred Boxing 4 on April 1 — though Pettis at least is expected to feature in the league’s super-fight division.
“He reminds me a little bit of myself. He’s not at the end of his career, he’s in the middle of it, and he still has a lot of miles to do,” Aubin-Mercier added on Burgos. “Looking forward to fighting him. I think I have to be careful, because we saw a lot of big 145’s switch to 155 and do really well, and I think it’s going to be the same thing for him.”
Olivier Aubin-Mercier also touched on the addition of Jake Paul to the PFL this year— a left-field signing of a Youtube creator who has polarized the boxing world.
Asked if he believed Paul was serious about MMA, Aubin-Mercier replied by saying “I think he’s serious about money. So I guess so. I don’t know what else he has to do. But I think now that he lost in boxing, he’s going to maybe concentrate in MMA.”
“The thing with MMA too, there’s a good match-up for him, because he has a background in wrestling, and like ‘superstar’ fights, I think he could beat anybody. Maybe he’s going to fight Tommy Fury in MMA. Who knows. If he’s fighting a real good MMA fighter, I don’t think he has a lot of chances, but other people, I think it’s going to be good. And I think that’s going to be the goal too, make him fight someone else known.”
In OAM’s opinion, “people are more interested in an MMA fight than in a boxing fight. If I had to watch Tom Cruise against Brad Pitt, I would prefer an MMA fight. I think boxing is hard, it’s not the same thing. It’s hard, it’s a sport. MMA is a fight.”
Watch our full interview with returning lightweight champion Olivier Aubin-Mercier above. OAM faces Shane Burgos at PFL 3 on April 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, NV.