To call Eddie Wineland's UFC run a roller coaster ride would be putting it lightly.
The former WEC Bantamweight champion entered the promotion on an incredible run of momentum, having won "Knockout of the Night" twice in his final two WEC bouts. He was immediately thrust into a number one contender bout against Urijah Faber but found himself on the receiving end of a decision loss.
He didn't fare any better in next bout against Faber's stablemate Joseph Benavidez, surprisingly getting outstruck by the current top flyweight contender en route to losing his second straight bout and moving his UFC record to 0-2 overall.
Never one to take things easy, the powerful slugger took a fight against top 10 fighter Scott Jorgensen with his back firmly against the wall and despite having a nasty cut opened up on his forehead, he dug deep and put "Young Guns" away with a huge right hand to not only end his skid, but take home "Knockout of the Night" honors again.
With a follow-up victory over perennial top 10 bantamweight Brad Pickett, Wineland went from having his back against the wall to being named number one contender. He'll be challenging interim champion Renan Barao this Saturday night (Sept. 21, 2013) in the co-main event of UFC 165 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Wineland spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about his mustache, his incredible punching power and the shift in fighting mentality that turned it all around in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Eddie Wineland: (laughs) It got to a point where I just wasn't feeling like myself and I started second guessing things. I'd never fought with a mustache before, so why should I start now? There's too much on the line to change things up. A friend of mine put it best. He said, 'Listen, when you get in the cage, you ain't no gentleman, so unleash the beast." We shaved it off and that's what I plan on doing. It's all good and fun and makes for good pictures, but when it comes down to it, I'm not that type of fighter. I'm a gritty, in your face-type of person and when I face off with somebody, I'm not leaning back with my fists in the air, I get in your face and let them know I'm there to fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now you were the first ever WEC bantamweight champion. Back when you were first challenging for that WEC title, did you understand the significance of it at the time?
Eddie Wineland: At the time I had no clue. It was just me. I was a young kid and I wanted to fight in California. When they told me I was fighting in California, I didn't realize it was right in the middle of nothing. I always wanted to go to California so I took the chance and they told me it was going to be for a belt. As far as my understanding goes, I was brought in to lose, but to at least put up a good fight. Ultimately, I fought Antonio [Banuelos] 20 miles from his hometown on Cinco de Maya and everything was stacked up against me.
It didn't hit me until I got home and I saw my picture on the front page of Sherdog. I started realizing, "Maybe this was a big organization? Maybe that meant something?" You see all these promotions claiming they have the world title, and of course it is because it's the only one in the area. I had no idea what I'd done until I got home and turned on the computer.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well now you've got a UFC title fight. Is the feeling just on an entirely different level?
Eddie Wineland: Absolutely. Now I know it's UFC, it's not a random organization people don't know. This is the gold medal, the top of the top, it's every fighters' dream to one day get to hold that UFC belt and I'm one of the fortunate ones to get to fight for it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Dana White came out last week and said this will be the last interim bantamweight title fight. Does that add any significance knowing that the winner of this fight is either going to unify the titles with Dominick Cruz or be named the UFC bantamweight champion outright if Cruz can't defend in time?
Eddie Wineland: Absolutely. To me, you still get a belt if you're a champion but in order to be the quote/unquote champion, there's another belt out there. I think it's great knowing that either you'll be champion or the two champions are going to fight. That's huge. It's great for the division, not that the division hasn't moved on without Dominick, but it's hard to define the division if it has two champions.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about the Barao fight. I went back to the UFC 161 announcement press conference, and you mentioned wanting to bully Renan Barao. You're a counterstriking-based fighter so how do you bully someone when you're primarily waiting for them to make the first move?
Eddie Wineland: Even though I'm a counterstriker, I still press forward. After my counter, after I throw it, I still have constant forward pressure. It's not a counter and then backing off, it's a counter and I'm still right there in your face. I'm not afraid to stand in the pocket and trade and that's actually where I'm most comfortable. I have confidence of my ability to trade in the pocket because that's where I know I can land my punches. I know once I'm in range, as soon as my right hand lands clean, somebody's hitting the canvas. The pressure I put is constantly forward and I'm offensive when I need to be. I'm a better counterstriker though and I don't think that's a secret.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you find the balance between wanting to put on the most exciting fight possible with making sure you get the win? Sometimes those are counterproductive.
Eddie Wineland: The majority of my fights have been fairly exciting. Besides from a couple fights, I mostly just do me. I try to make sure I'm not fighting "not to lose." If you're fighting not to lose, you're being too safe and cautious. Not that I'm not being safe and cautious, but I'm using my head, doing what I know works and what I'm capable of. I don't try and throw spinning stuff and jumping off the cage stuff. I possess all of that and I'm capable of doing all that. I do it in practice, but I don't want to throw something spinning, have the guy bull rush you and all of a sudden he's got your back. There's too many variables. I'd rather stick to the point, stay in your face and fire it straight down the line rather than jumping around and getting caught possibly.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The UFC Canada twitter account brought up an interesting statistic saying you had the most knockouts combined of any UFC/WEC fighter in bantamweight history. Now the big question is, do you think you're the most powerful bantamweight fighter in UFC?
Eddie Wineland: I personally think I am. Whether I am or not, it's hard to say. Michael McDonald hits hard, Barao hits hard. There's hard punchers in the bantamweight division, however I feel I have more one-punch knockout power. A lot of the bantamweights, they have knockouts after throwing five or six punches. I have the ability to land one punch and put somebody out.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of McDonald, he landed a big shot against Barao and had him in trouble during their fight. Did seeing that give you confidence knowing that McDonald was able to hurt him on the feet, even if he didn't put him away?
Eddie Wineland: Absolutely. Anybody can be hurt. It's about the right timing, right positioning, the right punch. If you hit somebody in the right spot, you're gonna hurt 'em whether they're ready for it or not. That being said, I've got a very good feeling that if my right hand lands anywhere near Barao's chin, he's going for a ride.
You can follow Eddie on Twitter @EddieWineland.