EXCLUSIVE | Eddie Wineland on Title Shot at UFC 165: ‘It’s been a long, long road to this fight’
This Saturday, Eddie Wineland will step into the Octagon to face UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao. For Wineland, who was originally set to face Barao in June before a foot injury forced the champion to delay the fight, this opportunity has been a long time coming and the challenger is ready for five tough rounds to claim the UFC title.
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
This Saturday, fans will be treated to what promises to be an exciting fight as Eddie Wineland challenges Renan Barao for the UFC interim bantamweight title. With less than a week left before fight night, Wineland took some time out to check in with BJPenn.com’s own Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio to talk about Saturday night’s bout.
For Wineland, this fight carries with it a sense more of relief than pressure or nervousness. He was announced to fight Barao in the spring at UFC 161, but a foot injury forced the Brazilian interim champion to postpone that fight. Then news broke that champion, Dominic Cruz, could be returning to fight Barao in a title-unification bout- rumors that hinted Wineland may be skipped over for the fight he so passionately fought for. Wineland talked about all that and how good it feels to be less than one week away from his dream fight.
“I knew that the longer it went on, I wasn’t sure that the title shot was going to happen. I wasn’t sure that nobody knew what was going on with Dominic [Cruz] and this and that. I stayed in touch with Sean Shelby and tried to get updates as needed. I stayed in the gym, I was always in the gym not pushing it so hard, just keeping things sharp, getting stronger, getting faster, just fine-tuning everything. That’s how I always do it, even when I’m not training for a fight, just always trying to improve. As the days went by, I didn’t know if Dominic was going to come back, if they were going to fight, there were so many different factors that you just didn’t know. Then I finally got that call, it was just a huge relief, it was awesome… We’ve bee training for this fight since April basically. We had a couple months in there, again, where it was just light, fine-tuning kind of stuff. I’ve had two training camps for one fight. It’s been a long, long road to this fight next weekend.
“It’s a dream come true. Anybody who fights MMA, their end-goal is a UFC title bout, and I’m just blessed to be one of the few who gets to step into that cage and fight for one.”
With the opportunity, Wineland made the decision to return to his old self. That meant a return to the gritty, in-your-face aggressive style that earned him so many fans in the days of the WEC. It also meant, to the chagrin of a few of his fans, that Wineland would shave the mustache he had been growing.
“It was fun taking pictures, and it was fun having a mustache, you know, it was an epic mustache, don’t get me wrong. I had never followed a moustache before, [but] there was too much on the line to change anything. I think a friend of mine, he said it best when he said, ‘Listen, when it’s time to get in that cage you’re not bringing a gentleman, you’re bringing a beast. So let’s unleash the beast.’ So that’s exactly what happened. We shaved it off, and as weird as it sounds, I came home one morning from the firehouse, I looked at my fiancé and started shaving it and her jaw dropped to the floor. We went to the gym right after that, and I felt faster, I felt stronger, I just felt like the old me. I felt like I was back, everything was back into place, I guess the moons were aligned.”
With everything back to square-one for Wineland, he reflected on his opponent in Barao.
“With Barao, like you said, he kind of flew under the radar for a while. I think when he first came in, everybody was like, ‘Oh yeah, look at his great record, but who has he fought?’ Then he came and he fought Urijah Faber, he fought Brad Pickett, he fought Scott Jorgenson; and he beat them all. So I mean, that right there, that says a lot about how good the guy is. We have similar opponents in Pickett, Jorgenson and Faber; I think Pickett gave him problems, I think Jorgenson gave him problems. Neither one of those gave me problems. Faber gave me problems, obviously, you know, but he never hurt me. He never did any damage. I think in the opponents we have similar, I’ve given them a lot more problems than he has. I don’t think he’s dealt with anybody that’s going to press the pace like I have, he’s never dealt with somebody who’s going to make it an ugly fight and that’s exactly what it’s going to be. It’s going to be an ugly, dirty, nasty fight. I’m assuming both of us are going to bleed. In order to win, you’re going to have to bleed. I don’t think I’m fighting until I’m bleeding. I don’t think he’s ever fought somebody with that kind of mentality, and I think it’s going to be an eye-opener.”
It’s precisely that mentality that Wineland has driven him to win a number of fight night bonuses, to become the first WEC bantamweight champion in 2006, and now, to fighting for the UFC championship. And Wineland is counting on that mental toughness to stifle the gameplan of Renan Barao.
“As far as ‘If I’m not bleeding, I’m not fighting,’ that’s just- a fight is ugly. Yeah, there’s an art to it, and this and that, but when your average person hears fight, they think dirty, they think bloody, they think you know. I’m that guy, when I’m bleeding, I fight better. I don’t mind bleeding, I don’t mind getting hit in the face, it’s what it is. It is what it is. You’re going to get hit in the face; You’re going to bleed. You have to accept it. Once you’ve accepted it, you punch a guy in the head, you hit him as hard as you can, and he continues to come forward with blood gushing out of his face, it breaks someone mentally. If you can mentally break somebody… then they got to kind of rethink their gameplan and go, ‘Oh, what do I do from here?’
“I think he’s coming in, he’s going to try to take me down. I think I’ve probably seen the same interview you did. He talks about how I like to stand and trade but his ground game is better than mine and he’s gameplanned for that, and yada, yada, yada. That’s fine. Once he feels the strength of my hips, once he feels my core strength and that he can’t muscle me, he’s going to have to rethink that, because he’s not going to be able to get me to the ground. He’s going to lock up with me and go, ‘Wow, this guy’s real strong.’ There’s only one way to find out who the stronger man is, and that’s to get in there and lock ‘em up. I’m swinging for the fences knowing that he’s coming in to take me down; I’m still swinging for the fences, because when he gets in on me, my hips are going to stop it.”
That confidence in his takedown defense come from the extremely difficult training through which Wineland puts himself.
“We like to call that that’s my boxing coach, Bob Hemmerich, that’s his baby. He likes to call that the Gable-Roach. Obviously you have Dan Gable and Freddie Roach. The wrestler becomes ‘Dan Gable’ and the guy holding the pads becomes ‘Freddie Roach.’ He came up with the name ‘Gable-Roach, and that’s just kind of getting me comfortable throwing punches while somebody’s shooting on me. You got two fresh guys, the guy holding the pads and the guy shooting the guy shooting is fresh all the time. It just gets you comfortable staying in the pocket and throwing, knowing that shot is always there. You don’t react and you don’t deal with it until he’s sunk in on your legs, and then you party from there.”
This allows Wineland to push the action fearlessly. In all his fights he looks to push the action and the pace in a way that nullifies his opponents’ intentions.
“That’s why I train my strength and conditioning so hard. I’m very religious about my strength and conditioning; I think it’s just as important as getting in the gym and hitting a bag. If I can be stronger than you for the duration of the fight, I’m going to beat you. If I can keep coming forward for the duration of the fight, I’m going to wear you out, and I’m going to have my way with you. That’s my mentality, that’s the way I see things, that’s why I push forward. I continue to come forward. When you have a guy leaning on you, even for five minutes, you have a guy lean on you for one round, it’s very tiring, it’s very taxing, and again, you got to rethink your gameplan of how you slow this guy down, how do you get him to quit coming forward.
“When I train in the gym, I find the most deep, dark, uncomfortable place that I can find, and I live there for the entire time I’m in the gym. It sucks and it’s miserable; but when you’re done you know that that’s the hard part the hard part’s over, the fighting is the easy part. You don’t have to endure that anymore, because you just went through hell and back training… I think once I started working with my strength coach it’s been four, almost five years now that we’ve been working together he introduced me to a whole different type of training. I started working with him and the guys at New Breed almost at the same point in time, but through working with both of those guys, they strengthened my mental game. They told me, ‘Hey, you’re hurting here, but while you’re hurting here you’re not going to be hurting in the cage.’ You learn to embrace it.
“It’s something that I don’t know if it’s something you either have or you don’t- I mean it’s hard to teach somebody that. It’s hard to teach somebody to be mentally strong like that, and it’s hard to teach somebody to be comfortable where they’re uncomfortable. It’s either you’re going to bite down, grin and bare it, saying, ‘I’m going to do this,’ or you’re going to mentally break yourself and give up.”
Of course, even though his training pushes him to mental and physical extremes, Eddie Wineland has been enjoying his life as UFC fighter and fireman. He and his fiancé are enjoying a new pet, Wineland has built himself a dream car, and the couple is looking to build a house in the near future.
“It’s funny,” Wineland begins talking about his new pet, “I was not a cat person by any means. It kind of stemmed from Jon Jones, we kind of have him to thank for that. I got on Twitter one morning at the firehouse, and I saw him post a picture [that read], ‘Oh hey, this is my African Serval.’ So I kind of researched them a little bit and thought, ‘Well that’s kind of neat, it’s an African cat.’ I didn’t want a jungle cat, you know, like a pure jungle cat. I got to researching, that led me to a Savannah cat, and from the Savannah cat, that led me to a Bengal cat. Next thing I knew, that night we had a Bengal cat. She always gives me grief about having these big, large-headed dogs, you know, ‘Can’t we get a small dog?’ Well I don’t want a yappy dog, so I figured we’ll get a large cat. I’d rather have a large cat than a small dog.”
When talking about how he’s been enjoying life lately, Wineland laughed and remarked, “I’m just a good, old hillbilly having a good time!”
Of course, the only thing that could help Wineland have a better time would be a victory this Saturday and to hear Bruce Buffer shout the words, “And new UFC bantamweight champion of the world, Eddie Wineland!”
“I’m not much for belt buckles,” he joked about the thought of wearing the UFC gold, “but that’s one I would wear proudly!”
Be sure to catch Eddie Wineland take on Renan Barao as the co-main event at this Saturday’s UFC 165: Jones vs. Gustafsson. The event will take place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, airing on Pay-Per-View at 10pm/7pm ETPT. Preliminary bouts will begin as early as 6:15pm/3:15pm ETPT, streaming first online and then broadcasting on FOX Sports 1.