As members of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight elite wait for the title picture to clear up, others are looking to stake their claim for a shot at gold.
Patrick Cummins (8-2), who is currently ranked No. 9, will take on former title challenger Glover Teixieira (23-4) at UFC Fight Night 77, which takes place inside Ibirapuera Gymnasium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Nov. 7, 2015.
"Durkin" made the climb into the Top 10 of the division after first taking a short-notice tussle with current 205-pound ruler Daniel Cormier in Feb. 2014, then reeling off wins over men like Rafael Cavalcante and Antonio Carlos Junior.
This will be his second crack at an opponent in the Top 10 -- Cummins was previously stopped in April by Ovince Saint Preux.
The 34-year-old All-American wrestler from Penn State University spent some time speaking with MMAmania.com ahead of his co-main opposite Teixieira in Brazil on matters such as weight cutting, his relationship with Michael Bisping and Phil Davis, plus much more!
Can you give us an injury/health update?
PC: I feel super healthy. I think lately we've kind of gotten it down to -- I'm used to the whole training camp situation. I started without a real training camp. I think over the past five fights we've shaken out all of the cobwebs and really come up with a good plan and what we need to do for 7-8 weeks. It's been very helpful and it's been keeping me healthy. I think that's a big part of it -- you know you see all the guys who pulled out this weekend [UFC Dublin] -- the most important thing is being healthy.
How do media obligations factor into your preparation? You recently made a trip down to Brazil I see.
PC: The trip to Brazil was kind of -- the timing was pretty perfect. The way it worked -- I think it was seven or eight weeks out. We kind of just got right to work. It wasn't an issue. It was actually nice because I've been training up until that point and [because of] all the media obligations down, there wasn't really much time to work out. It was a hectic three days, but three days of no working out and recovery for my body.
There's no difficulty in cutting weight per say, because, well, you're not really cutting weight that far out...
PC: My weight is pretty good. I usually pull it down in the last couple of weeks and it's not really an issue. I've got a pretty high metabolism. This'll be my third fight in Brazil so I've got it down.
We might start calling you "The Brazilian Killer" now...
PC: [laughs] I know. Somebody else said that to me. Well, we'll see. I want to say this is the last Brazilian I really need to fight down there. I feel like three is kind of a lot. Whatever it takes to get myself up to the top, I'm willing to do it.
Can you talk about the wrestler's approach to weight cutting? I'm not sure if you use a nutritionist, but what has been factoring into a guy like Johny Hendricks' weight cuts?
PC: I think there's two schools when it comes to wrestlers and cutting weight. There's the kind that like to yo-yo and that's been Johny at least in the past. Then there's that kind of guy who's pretty diligent about it -- keeps his weight within reach at all times. For me, I've kind of been almost what you'd call an enthusiast about my own diet. I never really felt the need to have a nutritionist. When I was in college, we had a nutritionist for all the sports teams and I used her quite a bit. That's not to say I'm more educated I feel, just because.
I think that's kind of the issue with Johny -- he's just not used to it. He's kind of had this thing of -- I'm not fighting, so I'm taking off. I'm not working out and I'm not going to work on my diet. Now that he's going up in age, I think it's starting to catch up with him a little bit. It's unfortunate because I consider him one of the best fighters out there. He's just a tough, really tough guy and super athletic. He's not phased by going up against all those monsters in his weight class. It's a shame, I'd really like to see him get a handle on everything and make 170. I think he's really too small for 185. That might not be the best fit for him.
What's up with all of the peppers you've been growing ... or rather the sriracha?
PC: [Laughs] Well, my brother is a chef and we share that love for the culinary world. He's influenced me quite a bit. We're constantly bouncing ideas off of each other and I just -- I'd say for maybe the past two to three years, I've been experimenting with my sriracha recipes. That's my thing with that. Before going on "The Fighter and the Kid," I just happen to make a batch and I thought I'll bring gifts to the show.
What's your signature dish?
PC: I'd say of all things, I'm a real pancake man. I think that's probably weird for someone who's into cooking. I love making pancakes. I like making a really healthy version of them. They surprisingly still taste good. I have couple of Hawaiian friends, Kailin Curran and Keanu Asing. They're my Hawaiian connections and the other day I made Hawaiian pancakes with pineapple and coconut. A whole bunch of other good stuff in there. They enjoyed it.
Do some wrestlers come into UFC and think they're invincible and let their weight balloon out too much?
PC: There's definitely a fine line. What I think is, if you train around the weight you're going to be fighting at, and so you have 24-hours after weigh ins before you fight. So whatever weight you can get back up to during that period, I feel that's where you should train and where your body should feel comfortable, moving your body and not feeling like you're any heavier or lighter. That's kind of my philosophy.
As far as a wrestling background, I think it's very important to have that kind of understanding about how your body functions. I also think there's a flipside to that coin. When you're cutting weight and some guys are just cutting their leg off to make weight in wrestling season and that's like eight months; it's a real drag to keep your weight like that and some guys have been wrestling -- by the time they're through with college -- they've been wrestling since they were four years old. Having to manage your weight for a really long time, when they get out of college, and make the UFC transition, there's all of a sudden time between fights and not having to make weight for such a long period of time. I think they kind of relax. They say, "Oh, it's no problem. I've lost this much weight before."
When Dana White has gone to Johny -- or to Kelvin Gastelum in the same weight class -- and said you have to go up to Middleweight next, do you think he should be allowed to do that?
PC: I think that's such a big part -- if you miss weight, there's absolutely no way, or if you have complications with your weigh in, there's no way to substitute a fight. Someone really can't step in and take that fight. Fans are losing out and of course the UFC's losing out because they're not putting on that show they've been wanting to do.
I think Dana saying, "You really need to prove to me that you can make this weight, or you need to fight at a different weight class for a minute until you've proved to me that you've got yourself together." I don't think it's totally out of the question for him to do that. At the same time, for a lot guys to move up 15 pounds, in competition weight, that's kind of a big deal.
Do you feel that all this weight cutting and dehydration lends itself to increased risk of injury or head trauma?
PC: I don't necessarily see a direct correlation between head trauma and weight loss, but definitely injuries overall. I think that risk increases to a certain extent. When you get guys in their 30s, their body just isn't reacting the same way it was back in their 20s. They were able to cut a bunch of weight and now, fast forward 10 years, their metabolism is slowing down and it's harder to cut weight. That increase in risk of injury is there. You can't really deny that.
Switching gears to your fight camp, are you focused solely on training at Kings MMA? Is that your camp for the time being?
PC: Yeah, for the most part that is. I have my private training sessions. I work a lot out of the RVCA gym in Costa Mesa, Cali. I bring my jiu-jitsu coach in there; he's up in Fullerton. I'm a little bit further down south. We meet in the middle and it works out really well.
Normally, Michael Bisping is one of my main training partners. He had the surgery on his elbow. I've missed him in this camp. He's a great guy to battle with. I have my crew and not a whole lot has changed. We pick up the intensity when we need to a couple of times a week. We've really -- we still have that technical aspect, really breaking things down and making sure I'm doing things without thinking about it. So drill the technique as much as possible. Drill it to death and pretty soon you start to do it without thinking about it. That's a big part of what I'm doing.
You talked about Michael Bisping being an integral part of your training sessions, what have you learned from him in terms of striking?
PC: Mike is a really talented striker. Every moment I can get in there and just pick up on some of his tricks. I find that when you're sparring you can kind of -- each guy rises to the occasion. You trade back and forth. It's kind of difficult to pick up certain things that your opponent is doing, but the biggest thing I see from him are those tricky, little veteran things.
Without you realizing it, he's cutting the cage off or slowly backing you into the fence. When you get in close quarters with him, he's able to keep your wrestling at bay and stick to striking. Those tricks of a guy who has been doing this for 15 years. If you can pick up any of that stuff, it's beneficial. I would consider my biggest weakness [to be] experience.
Do you feel it has been more difficult for you to pick up striking, as opposed to a striker trying to learn wrestling?
PC: If you single out one thing that you've done the best for a really long amount of time. That's what you know and that's when -- when the pressure is really on, that's what you're going to go back to. For me, any time I'm feeling uncomfortable, I'm going to get to a place that's comfortable so I'll start to wrestle. I think wrestling is probably more difficult to pick up. If you're facing a wrestler and try to outwrestle him with no wrestling experience; I think that's very difficult.
Striking is a little different because I can still threaten a takedown and set up my striking. I can kind of level the playing field that way more so than someone who decided I'm going to go out and beat you in wrestling; I feel like I can shut that down pretty quickly. I mean, of course, MMA isn't strictly one thing or another. It's a mixture of everything. If I were doing a kickboxing match, I'd definitely be at a disadvantage. I don't know.
I think keeping that threat is really important because I think if you took a poll of everyone in the UFC and asked them what's the biggest thing that you're afraid of, I think most people would say wrestling. When things aren't going well, if you have the ability to stop and control everything, I think that's quite a bit advantage.
That's what separates the top contenders from the middle of the pack don't you think? Because we've seen -- the first name that comes to mind is Rampage Jackson -- guys not evolve over the years...
PC: Some guys could win a whole lot more if they used their wrestling. I think part of that is they'll fall in love with that knockout. They'll get that one and then think, 'Man, I want to do that every single time I go out there.' They put their wrestling on the backburner and I think the most dangerous guy is -- look at Chris Weidman. He's so dangerous because he mixes things together so well. That's kind of -- that's the prototype. That's the kind of fighter every wrestler wants to be like.
Can you take us through the differences between the Reign and Kings MMA camps, as well as how much Mark Munoz meant to your career?
PC: Mark's been one of the great guys of the sport. I mean that in he's just been a great human being. He's one of the nicest guys; he cares about you and cares about everything going on around you and his community. I mean, he's a guy that you really look up to. I really want to be like him as an athlete and as a person. That's a hard guy to replace because now that Mark's moved on and he's out of the fighting world; I think we haven't really had to replace it, kind of keep him with us. His mentality; all of the the things he's taught me along the way. Think back on that and really take it as part of my MMA education.
He's one of the guys that really I think -- one of the very first MMA trainings I've ever had at Reign was with Mark. Just the amount of excitement he expressed. He was just this wrestler and we had that common ground and 'I really want to see him do well. I want to help him every way possible.' That's the Mark Munoz mantra. He's been an awesome guy and also Reign was a great place because it brought together all of these guys that really looked up to Mark. It became a really great location and we made really great relationships at the gym. A lot of them we're still using today. I met Bisping at Reign and you can even go down the list. Most of the guys I train with now, I trained with at Reign.
Have you learned anything in terms of intangibles from Bisping that he's passed onto you for this UFC run?
PC: It's not so much the advice he's passed on, it's kind of his mentality. Every time I train with Mike, there's no quit in that guy. No matter what kind of adversity is placed in his way, if we're doing a strictly wrestling practice, where he's going to get outwrestled going with me, it doesn't phase him. He's still going to do everything possible to come up with a different way of making your life miserable. No matter how many times he gets taken down, he's going to keep getting back.
The will to win really makes all the difference and that comes from believing in yourself. Believing in your goals and that you can achieve what you want to. Not stopping until it's there. To me, that's the best advice Mike Bisping has ever given me. He's never said anything like that, it's just kind of what I've observed.
Having wrestled at Penn State University, also the home of recent Bellator acquisition Phil Davis, can you recall some of your early memories with Phil?
PC: I knew of Phil growing up and we probably grew up 45 minutes from each other. It was kind of like we heard of each other and when Phil came in as a freshman, we finally had a chance to meet each other and train a bit. I don't know if I can really remember the first time we worked out, or the first time we met, but Phil's been a great guy. He's a guy that to have in the room; he represents that style of wrestling that not a lot of people have. When it comes time and you're facing a guy that's long and has the really great grip strength and is tough on top -- finds a way to win -- that's the, you know. If you can train with a guy like that, you're covering all of your bases.
I also think Phil did a lot of good for Penn State. He's one of those guys that came on strong and won an NCAA title. I think he was probably one of the last guys to win under the old coaching staff. Before Cael Sanderson came in, I think he was probably one of the last guys to win NCAA's before that whole change happened. He was part of the resurrection of the team. I always give him props for that.
Did you catch his last couple of fights versus Emanuel Newton and Francis Carmont?
PC: Yeah. He did it very easily. A submission and then a quick knockout. I think that change can go one of two ways. You can become really confident in what you're doing, or you can kind of get slicked out from the change. He seemed to settle down and do some amazing things.
Have you remained pretty close with Phil?
PC: We speak quite regularly. We just recently got in touch with each other right before his fight. We were talking about training together because he's down in San Diego and most of my training is -- I don't usually go down that far south. We were like, 'Eh, maybe we could meet up and get some training in.' He was receptive to it and thought it was a good idea and I think the timing of our fights was a little tough. He fought maybe just a month ago and I fight in a couple of weeks. It didn't quite work out, but I think that's something we're going to go have to do and bring back the ol' Penn State days.
Do you think that you could challenge him?
PC: I don't know. I think very highly of Phil. I think he kind of thinks the same way. It would definitely be interesting to train together and I think we're probably right along the same page. It would be a very tight competition. Maybe over the next couple of months. I'll let you know how that goes.
Moving onto your preparation for Glover, what has been the focal point of your camp?
PC: I would say the focal point has been a lot of motion and varying my attack; mixing things up. Threatening with wrestling to striking, striking to the wrestling. Just really tying everything together and not getting sucked into just a slugfest. If there's one thing you can't deny, Glover is just a tough guy. He'll love to sit down and stand in the pocket and exchange. There's a much better chance of me doing well if I stay away from that situation. I just think it's all about being athletic, putting a lot of motion together, mixing up my attack and really pushing the pace.
I would say pushing the pace is always in my game plan, I always want to stretch a guy out as far as they can go. Really making them feel that 15 minutes because that's a long time to work. If you're able to increase the pace, it becomes tough on guys.
Do you see him having any success against you on the ground because he's faced the former champion Jon Jones before and taken down Ovince Saint Preux -- a guy you're familiar with? Does anything stand out to you in that regard?
PC: I think one of his best wrestling attributes is his takedown defense. He's a tough guy to take down. He's a savvy guy. He's able to use the fence really well. I think his takedown defense is pretty tough, but I also think that he catches guys just from reviewing tape a little bit.
He catches guys a little off guard and makes them think, 'Oh, this guy's not a wrestler. I can kind of do what I want. I don't really need to protect myself or react against his threat of wrestling.' You see him take guys down every once in a while with some surprising shots. I just think everything that I do -- every time I get into that wrestling situation, I'm going to have to earn it. It might take two or three attempts. Kind of sticking to it and really getting after it and keeping my numbers high. That will wear him down. At the same time, being ready for his attacks.
For more on the UFC Fight Night 77: "Belfort vs. Henderson 3" card and my recent article on Patrick click here.