Protecting the '0'
LONDON, February 19 – Demian Maia sat stoically at the dais during Thursday’s final UFC 95 press conference in the Docklands, the lone representative of the three man exclusive club that will be competing at this Saturday’s event at the O2 Arena.
That club, which includes Maia and newcomers Paulo Thiago and Evan Dunham represents the only undefeated fighters on the UFC 95 card – that’s only three out of 20 fighters, and a constant reminder of how difficult it is to keep an unbeaten record at the elite level in mixed martial arts.
No one knows this better than one half of Saturday’s main event, Diego Sanchez, who battled his way to 19-0 before suffering back-to-back losses to Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch in 2007. He even remembers how long he went in the sport without tasting defeat.
”Four years and six months,” he said. “It put me in check and brought out a better side of me. Of course there was a point where I wanted to go undefeated and retire. But the guys are good in this sport and sometimes you’re gonna drop one – it’s how you recover from a loss and how you come back.”
Sanchez’ opponent on Saturday, Joe Stevenson, agrees one hundred percent.
“I think losing makes you a better fighter,” said Stevenson. “Because you’re able to figure out why you lost and how to better improve yourself. Until you’ve been there in the trenches and know what it feels like to get pulled under, you don’t know how to come back from it.”
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, who has drawn the assignment of facing Maia on Saturday, has seen this issue from both sides of the fence, first as a 5-0 prospect with the world at his feet, and also as the man who is now fighting his third straight unbeaten opponent (following Paulo Filho twice, and Bryan Baker).
“An undefeated guy will go out and try more things,” said Sonnen. “A lot of times when you’re undefeated, you don’t think you can be defeated. Of course I’m talking about myself when I was in that spot at one point, and I think you’re a little bit better when you’re undefeated. I enjoyed that confidence and feeling invincible, so there is that added element that I’m gonna have to get through that and knock that down and try to beat him a little bit mentally before I can overcome him physically.”
And considering the successful runs Sonnen, Stevenson, Sanchez and the other stalwarts at today’s press conference have had, it’s clear that a defeat is not the end of the world, especially in the ultra-competitive MMA world.
“The thing that my losses taught me was the feeling I had after the fight, and three, four weeks after I’m still dealing with the fact that I didn’t come out on top,” said Dan Hardy, who battles Rory Markham this weekend. “You get all the people coming up to you, saying, ‘next time, next time’ – I don’t want to hear that.”
Hardy even goes as far as carrying video clips of his opponent with him and pasting his picture wherever he looks.
“I just see him as the person who’s gonna make me feel like that again if I don’t step up and train hard, and that’s where my motivation comes from.”
Adds Markham, “(Legendary wrestler) Dan Gable lost his last wrestling match and went on to be an Olympian. The other guy just went on to be the guy who beat Dan Gable. You have to be introspective and look inside yourself. It’s hard to find time to do that when you’re continually winning.”
Demian Maia just looked on, knowing that he will be just fine with postponing those lessons.
ENGLAND EXPECTS, HARDY HOPES TO DELIVER – Despite the presence of natives Terry Etim and Paul Kelly, as well as UK resident Neil Grove, the real star for the home fans this time around is welterweight Dan Hardy, who will be put to the test against Rory Markham. But ‘The Outlaw’ isn’t showing any signs of cracking under the pressure.
“Without a doubt there’s a little bit of pressure, but there’s also a lot of support and that’s gonna make a difference in my performance,” said Hardy. “I’ve got a tough opponent and I know all the betting lines and predictions are pretty much divided 50/50 on this one. He’s an exciting fighter, and having that crowd behind me, that British support, is gonna make a big difference in the later rounds, if it makes it that far.”
DIEGO’S MOUNTAIN SONG - According to new lightweight Diego Sanchez, the key to what he hopes will be a victory Saturday night over Joe Stevenson will be his decision to move his camp from San Diego to Lake Tahoe.
“I’ve always trained in high altitude in New Mexico before I moved to San Diego, but even in Albuquerque, you’re in the city,” said Sanchez. “I always dreamt about it but I was never able to do it. This time, me and a boxer friend of mine, Joey Gilbert (of Contender fame) - we went all out – we went up to South Lake Tahoe and trained there from the first of the year at 7,000 feet and I brought in all the people that I needed. I brought in Jake Shields, Saulo Ribeiro, Xande Ribeiro, and I had a lot of people who were willing to come up there and help me out.”
And while he’s not used to being away from the sun and high temps of the west coast, he expects to do just fine on Saturday in his maiden voyage to 155 pounds.
“There’s gonna be a lot of first times for me – first time making the weight, first time coming overseas, so I said if I could help myself out by training in high altitude, I figured that it would give me an advantage,” he said.