One Punch: UFC 138's Brad Pickett is looking to live up to his nickname with a knockout of Renan Barao

Photo via Robert Swann Photography

People talk about Michael Bisping, but it may be the unheralded bantamweight Brad Pickett who's got the best shot at becoming the first British UFC champion.

Training out of American Top Team, Pickett holds significant career victories over the likes of Demetrious Johnson and Ivan Menjivar and has won 10 of his last 11 fights with his only blemish being a "Fight of the Night"-winning decision loss to Scott Jorgensen in 2010.

Originally scheduled to take on Miguel Torres earlier this summer with the winner potentially earning a title shot, Pickett suffered a back injury in training and was forced out of the fight. In his place stepped his former opponent Demetrious Johnson who would defeat Torres and earn a shot at the belt.

Now fully recovered, Pickett will take on top bantamweight prospect Renan Barao in the co-main event of UFC 138 this Saturday night (November 5, 2011) in his home country of Great Britain. Barao has gone 27 fights without a defeat so if Pickett can hand him his first loss in over six years, he could stamp his name as one of the next top contenders for the UFC championship.

Pickett took some time out of training to speak with MMAmania.com about his upcoming fight with Barao, making his UFC debut in his home country and how he plans to earn a victory this weekend.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're fighting at UFC 138 in Birmingham. How does it feel to be making your UFC debut in the UK? I know you haven't fought there in a couple years.

Brad Pickett: Yeah, it's gonna be great for me. I haven't fought there in a while. My last fights were with the WEC in America and I've got a lot of friends and family who all love to watch me fight who couldn't really afford to pay for plane tickets to come and watch me fight in America. Obviously, my brother came out and stuff like that but now, fighting back in the UK, it gives a lot of opportunity for all my friends I went to school with to come and watch me fight and they haven't seen me fight in a long time.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you kind of see this, you're the furthest up the card as a UK native. Do you almost see yourself as a main event for the die-hard fans back home?

Brad Pickett: Maybe, yeah, yeah. I don't look at it too much like that but yeah, you know, it's good to, for me, I feel proud that the UFC would look at me in that way. They put me so high up the card and obviously, it makes me feel like I want to repay them with a good fight. I have to show them that this is where I belong.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The bantamweights haven't gotten a lot of love thus far with the UFC, usually they're lower down the card. As a fighter in the co-main event, do you feel that this is an important opportunity for you to showcase the division and showcase yourself?

Brad Pickett: Yeah, it means a lot to me. Fighting in the WEC was good, but obviously now back in the UFC now it's a lot higher level of exposure so it gives me a much bigger audience to show my fighting style. A lot of people who followed me before know what I'm about and people could watch me in America but some of my fights in the WEC didn't get aired in the UK so a lot of people getting into the sport if they're new in the sport wouldn't know who I am if they're just UFC fans and stuff. Part of me, I might actually have more support from Americans. There were a lot Americans watching WEC fights and they really enjoyed them and I got a nice little fanbase in America so it would be nice to build it back in the UK as well.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You were scheduled to make your UFC debut earlier in the year against Miguel Torres but you had that bad back injury. Can you talk about how frustrating that was and, is it really difficult to recover form a back injury like that? Was recovery slow?

Brad Pickett: I was really looking forward to that fight with Miguel Torres but obviously it wasn't meant to be. I got injured and it sucks being injured. Being a fighter, all you want to do is fight and being injured, you don't want time off. Your job is MMA. In theory, I haven't had any income for 11 months so taking that time off is not always good for you. You want to get back in there. I feel I'm good now. I had a great camp. I had really good treatment from a guy in England, a guy named Neil who did wonders on my back and a doctor in America when I was out there training there. In my eyes, if it wasn't for them, maybe I wouldn't be fighting today so I owe a lot to them and I'm very grateful that those men helped me out and I'm fighting. I'm very happy.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You just celebrated your 33rd birthday. Was it more difficult to recovery from an injury at this point of your career compared to say, when you were 23?

Brad Pickett: Well it's hard to say if it would be more difficult at 33 compared to 23. Science may state that that's the case but, unless I had this injury when I was 23 compared to having it now, it's hard to compare. My body actually feels in great condition. I know this might sound really cliche but I actually do feel like I'm in the best shape of my life because I've had a bad injury and now I've go to start looking after my body a lot more and eat the right food, take the right supplements and all that stuff and actually feel like I'm alright. I actually feel like, "Okay, right. I am 33, I'm not 23 and I need to do the right things. I'm an athlete and I need to start eating, sleeping, drinking and training like an athlete." I think that's working well for me. For me, I feel in phenomenal shape. I'm a lot bigger than I used to be, muscle-wise. For the weight, I feel much stronger and faster. I feel very good.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You brought Mike Brown with you to the UK to train and when I interviewed him a while back, he was talking about how he does a ton of sparring when he's training, that's the primary thing. Is that something that you do too? Is that kind of a similar style for your training since you both train out of the same gym?

Brad Pickett: Yeah, I like in theory, I like a lot of sparring but you can't do too much sparring at American Top Team, they kind of reigned me back a little bit and maybe didn't let me do as much sparring as obviously I would like to do but I did do a lot of sparring. I did nine five-minute rounds as part of my camp and then we had to start to wind down a bit, not do those long, long nine five-minute rounds because you're only fighting three fives so you don't need to do them for that long. I just made sure to tone it down a bit and I feel like my training has been perfect. It's been great and I feel like I'll peak just in time for the fight.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Ok, let's talk about your upcoming fight against Renan Barao. He's kind of an unheralded guy, but he's coming in with a ridiculous 26-1 record. He had a decent showing in his UFC debut against Cole Escovedo. Do you feel like this guys is coming in under the radar against you?

Brad Pickett: Yeah, of course he is. I think he's legit. He has a very good record but in my eyes, he hasn't really been tested. Cole Escovedo is a really good fighter, but he's a completely different style to how I fight. To be honest, I believe I would beat Cole Escovedo too. It's not like he's been fighting the likes of people I've been fighting, Scott Jorgensen, Ivan Menjivar, Demetrious Johnson, he hasn't fought those guys so I believe I've been fighting a lot higher level of competition and in saying that, you can only beat what's been put in front of you and he's been beating up what's been put in front of him and I guess we'll see how good he is when he fights me because I'm gonna be the highest ranked fighter that he's fought so we'll see how good he is after next Saturday.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Where do you think a victory on Saturday would put you in the division? There is a dearth of title challenger at the moment. Hell, the next guy that 's expected to fight Dominick Cruz for the title is the Brian Bowles vs. Urijah Faber winner and that would be a rematch for either guy. They're looking for fresh faces.

Brad Pickett: Of course, I don't like looking beyond my fight and I try not to do that but obviously winning puts us both in a great position. If you win fights, only good things happen from winning fights so you can only put yourself in a better position. If I win this fight, I'll get closer. If it is automatically afterwards or if I have another fight with another top contender, all I have to do is keep winning and if I keep winning, good things will happen for me so that's what I'm prepared to do.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've got big wins over Demetrious Johnson and Ivan Menjivar but you caught them during their WEC debuts so you were getting these great fighters but people didn't really know them that well yet and now since you've beat them, then they've gone on and done really well. Is that kind of frustrating that you're getting these really tough guys before people know how good they are?

Brad Pickett: Yeah, a little bit. Not frustrating, just like, I didn't even know how good Demetrious Johnson was gonna be. I knew about Ivan Menjivar because he'd been around for a long time and I'd been a fan of him for a long time and I'd always been a fan since I was heading into the sport so I knew how good he was. Yeah, I'm not mad, this is a tough fight and with Demetrious Johnson, I didn't know how tough he was but you can see how well he's done since fighting me. When I fought Ivan Menjivar, I knew how tough he was and I was like, "Man, this fight sucks," during that fight because I knew it was a really tough fight and if I win, people are gonna expect me to win because they don't know too much about him and if I lose, I lost to a really tough guy that no one knows about. It wasn't really a fight that I was really excited about. It's not like if you're fighting Miguel Torres like I was supposed to earlier this summer who's such a good name that if you beat him, it's brilliant and if you lose, he's got that name so people would be like, "Oh, you lost to Miguel Torres, well he's really good." My timing hasn't been so great with my huge wins, but I've just got to keep beating the people in front of me and good things will happen.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of my last questions here, Renan Barao, he's typically a ground fighter and you've worked with top guys like Marcelo Garcia, Ricardo Liborio, Marcos da Matta, you've got some terrific ground guys at American Top Team. Do you feel like working with those guys has done a good job of preparing you for what you're gonna see on Saturday?

Brad Pickett: About preparation for this fight, it's not just about this training camp. Just training five years at American Top Team, I've trained with a lot of good guys and a lot of high level black belts so my training has been done for a long time in preparing myself for a great ground grappler. I'm not looking at him as just a Brazilian jiu-jitsu guy even though he's got a black belt. When you look at a fighter nowadays, you'd be stupid to come in there with one angle or one game. You need to be a well-rounded athlete and that's what I'm concentrating on in my career to be a well-rounded athlete rather than just being a brawler or a boxer. I need to add wrestling to my game. I need my jiu-jitsu and he's the same. He's well-rounded and you can't go in there thinking, "Oh, it's gonna be easy. He's gonna just try to jump guard and armbar me," because he's not gonna do that. I'm well-rounded and he's well-rounded. He'll stand and try to punch me and I'm gonna stand and try to punch him. He's gonna try and take me down and I'm gonna try and take him down. He's gonna try to submit me and I'm gonna try and submit him. 

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you came into MMA with a boxing background. Would it mean a lot for you to win this fight with a knockout?

Brad Pickett: To be honest with you, I come from a boxing background but I actually have more submissions on my record, but frankly, a wins a win, but I always love to win by knockout. To me, that's the ultimate win. I think a win by any means, decision, submission, whatever, if the guy trips up and hurts himself, whatever, a win's a win, but if I had to choose a particular way to win, of course, knocking someone out, to me, that's the best. Especially with a nickname like "One Punch," you've got to try and get to it somehow.

Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been sitting on the sidelines visualizing how this fight is going play out for a while now, so how are you visualizing success against Barao on Saturday?

Brad Pickett: Just by being a better athlete. I think I'm more physical, I have better physical attributes than him. I think I'm stronger, faster and all that. Skill doesn't sometimes come into it. When you mix in punches and all that, sometimes it's just that the better athletes will beat each other and I'm skilled along with that. I think I hit hard and even mentally, I'm in the right place in my life for this fight and I don't think this is his time yet. He's young and I think you'll see my style of man beast will definitely come through. If you want me to say, knockout, submission, whatever, I'll be doing my best to keep my pace that I put on in the fight and I'll be in an, "I don't care, you hit me I'll hit you back," kind of attitude. You can break some people down mentally sometimes and I view this fight that way. Maybe it will be a fighter's fight, I can go in, throw a couple punches, slip over and roll into a triangle, it can happen, but if I fight like how I can fight and things go according to plan, I should definitely come away with a victory.

Brad would like to thank everyone who's been supporting him for his fight, Head Rush, Training Mask, Hayabusa and VIP Services. He'd also like to thank American Top Team and all his doctors who helped him so much with his back.

So what do you think Maniacs?

\With a dearth of fresh challengers in the division, how close will Pickett be to a bantamweight title shot with a victory on Saturday? Does the veteran have what it takes to halt the momentum of the top prospect?

Sound off!

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