Mike Wessel has been here before, but he'd like an opportunity to change his history.
A one-time UFC fighter, he lost his only bout in the promotion back at UFC 92 to renowned kickboxer Antoni Hardonk in 2008.
He got another opportunity at the spotlight when he was featured on the heavyweight-focused season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter with a chance to fight his way back into the UFC, but an armbar defeat to former NFL lineman Marcus Jones again set him back.
After some soul searching on the local circuit, Wessel felt like he finally was in a good place mentally and he showed it in his last bout, a hard-fought split decision victory over Ryan Martinez in his debut with Bellator Fighting Championships to earn a place in the upcoming heavyweight tournament.
Wessel is slated to compete against Richard Hale tomorrow night (Oct. 5, 2012) at Bellator 75 in Hammond, Indiana and he spoke to MMAmania.com about getting a second chance at the spotlight, the potential to become a champion and how he got over some major difficulties in his career in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What did you think of the tremendous opportunity that you had in your last bout to earn your place in this tournament, defeating prospect Ryan Martinez in front of your hometown fans?
Mike Wessel: It was good to be back home, to be back in front of people that I loved and cared about. I had people coming from Michigan, Ohio and more for that fight and those same people are coming to this fight. I'm very lucky to have people that care about me. That being said, I never want a win by decision. I'll take it, just like any other win, but you never want to win by decision. It was a great fight for both of us and it really showed how much heart we both had. I have a lot of respect for Ryan and it was a very tough fight. It could have went either way but luckily I won and got this opportunity and I think it showed Bellator that I do care, that I am in shape and I am ready to go. I'm just so blessed to have this opportunity and thank you to Bellator for giving me this chance. That's what it boils down to is believing in me and believing I can be capable of working.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about the state of the heavyweight division in Bellator. With Cole Konrad going MIA and retiring, that leaves a huge opportunity for the winner of this tournament. Is that something you've thought about?
Mike Wessel: Yeah, you want to be the typical athlete and say, "One fight at a time," but when it happened, I think every fighter in this tournament said, "Ohhh man. This means a lot more. This means a lot more." It's not that it didn't mean anything before because it was a huge opportunity for all of us but when the heavyweight title is vacated, now we're standing there realizing we can win three fights and be champion. By January or whatever, we could be the heavyweight champion of Bellator. That's a great thing and definitely something to be excited about. For a fighter like me, that made me train even harder because it means so much to everybody. I'm not trying to downplay the tournament before Konrad's retirement, but it just means we'll get the shot a lot quicker now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your upcoming opponent Richard Hale. He's basically a light heavyweight who's just not going to be cutting weight for this tournament. How much of a deal do you think size will be for this fight?
Mike Wessel: In terms of weight, I'm sure he's worked out with and sparred with heavyweights before. He's a big guy. He's 6'3 and has a long reach, but I don't know if he's rolled with a heavyweight quite like me. I would say this. I'm not unique in any particular way. I'm not a great boxer. I'm not a great ground fighter. I'm not a great jiu-jitsu guy. What I have is I have an ass that I've been doing power cleans since I was in sixth grade from football and everything else and I'm six foot tall so I've got a lot of leverage and a lot of power with 40 more pounds of weight.
The two main things I think I bring to the fight are my power and my heart. That's the only thing that's ever really gotten me wins I believe. I can throw a hell of a punch and I can take a hell of a punch and those are attributes I guess but it's one of those things where I think my power and my height could be an advantage if I can close the distance. If I do the things that I need to do, if I can close the distance to where he doesn't have that double jab pumping in my face all day, then I think I have the tools to be successful and make this a short fight. I think both of us can. It's not a disrespect to Rich because I'm sure he wants to knock me out as soon as he can too.
Mike Wessel: Well this doesn't have to do with just Rich. Every opponent I've ever fought pretty much besides Ryan Martinez and Scott Barret were all monsters. Dan Christensen was 6'8 and these were all huge guys. I know how to close the distance and I've had to do it my whole career. This isn't the first time I've fought a taller guy. The one thing I'll give to Rich is he is pretty slippery with his submissions. He's got some solid grappling and even when he gets knocked down he starts reaching for stuff that I have to be very aware of and very conscious that this is what he's gonna do. It's one of those things where we both are going into this fight looking to knock the shit out of each other but at the end of the day, win or lose, I have no beef with him. I have no beef with anybody. This isn't a, "I hate him, he hates me" thing. It's just me wanted to show the world and Bellator what I'm capable of doing. I want o represent myself as well as Bellator very well.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Since your time in the UFC and The Ultimate Fighter, do you feel like this heavyweight tournament opportunity is a great chance for you to get your name back and to give yourself a ton of exposure if you were to string together a few solid performances?
Mike Wessel: Yeah, yeah it is. People don't get many second chances in life and I have. I went through a really bad spot in my life when I had to take some time off. My fight with Scott Barrett, I just didn't care. I didn't even want to be in the cage. I was only there for the paycheck and I felt like I disrespected myself and the sport and everybody that followed me or cared about me. I had to take a step back for a while and regain my heart and the people that I was allowing to be destructive in my life, I had to get them out of my life. That was my fault. I allowed those people to be obstructive in my life and I surrounded myself with positive people like my wife and her family and my family and my good friends to be a good support system. I have a great support system now and my head's clear. I'm very grateful to Bellator that I got this opportunity, that they're giving me this second chance and they see potential in me. That speaks a lot about them. They didn't have to give me the chance to fight Ryan Martinez. They didn't have to do anything. I got this second chance and I'm trying to make the most of it. This to me is going to be an opportunity to be back where I belong and to show people that I do belong.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfect for you on Friday night, how would you like the fight to play out?
Mike Wessel: I would love to have it over in 30 seconds so I don't have to do a grueling three five minute rounds battle and have to fight a month and a half later. Of course I want to win but I want it to be done and over with very fast. I think we're both coming into it with the same attitude of going for the kill early. Let's beat the piss out of each other now and not have to deal with an extended fight. Whoever lands the best punch is probably gonna win. He's got great power and everything else but I can take a punch too. I'm hoping I can end it very quickly, be done with it and then sit down and enjoy the rest of the fights.
Mike would like to thank Max Bishop, Eric Kimble and Jamie Langstaff. He'd also like to thank Merciless Fighter, his wife and his family.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you give Wessel a shot against the heavy-handed Hale? Will he make good on perhaps his last opportunity to reclaim the spotlight?