This Saturday’s UFC 138 event in Birmingham, England, marks the organization’s sole stop in the UK this year and, as expected, the anticipation is already at a feverish level. The card is a mixture of home-grown talent and international mainstays, and is headlined by the first five-round non-title main event in the promotion’s history between Chris Leben and Mark Munoz.
The co-main event features one of the most dynamic fighters to come out of the UK who, after a career spanning twenty-five fights with multiple appearances in the WEC and Cage Rage, is finally making his UFC debut. Brad “One Punch” Pickett meets Nova Uniao prospect Renan Barao, after a back injury forced Pickett to withdraw from his UFC 130 bout with Miguel Torres, in a potentially incendiary affair at 135lbs.
Brad took the time to chat with CagePotato.com about his preparations for this fight and his plan to snap the insane win-streak of his dangerous opponent…
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Renan Barao has twenty-six straight wins, and his only loss was a split-decision in his professional debut, six years ago. Do you think you’ve got the skills to be the first one to finish him?
BRAD PICKETT: Stats are stats. Everyone loves them but I don’t care about them. I’m going to go in there and throw hard and try to knock him out. If I can knock him out then I’ll be the first person to do that which would be brilliant, or the same if I was to submit him. I don’t look at his record and go “look at how many fights he’s won.” There’s no point in breaking it down like that because you just go into it all too much.
I honestly think I’ve fought a lot higher competition than this kid has. I’m not saying that he’s not good because you beat the people that are put in front of you but I don’t think he’s fought someone of my calibre yet. Honestly I believe I’m a better athlete and I’ve got the tools to win it. It’s my fight to throw away.
Do you think this is a riskier fight for you than your fight against Torres was because Barao doesn’t have a big profile and name value?
Miguel was, in my eyes, an amazing match up. I loved that fight and he was a huge name for me to take on but that’s done and dusted and I’ve got to put it behind me. Barao’s a more dangerous opponent not entirely based on skills just because he hasn’t got that huge name that Torres has.
It’s like when I fought Demetrious Johnson — nobody knew about that kid. I had to fight him and he was 12-0 or 14-0 at the time and I beat him and he went on a tear and now people know just how good he is. If I beat him now, I’d get a lot more praise than I did for beating him then, but it is what it is.
It’s the same as when I fought Ivan Menjivar. He was a big name back in the day, I mean he fought GSP, but he was coming back after a four-year break and he’d had one other fight. It was a really tough fight and risky for me but you’ve got to get in there and do your job. Some match ups you like and some you don’t but you’ve just got to get on with it and act professionally.
As a fighter with a reputation for staying busy; how hard has it been for you to miss the bulk of 2011 through injury?
As any sort of athlete in any sport you want to be active, especially at my time in my career. I know I haven’t got long left in my career so I want to be as active as possible. When I retire, that’ll be that, so I need to know that I’ve put everything into it and I’ve been fighting for as long as I can. Being injured at any point is not great, so I’m happy that I’m back in shape, feeling good and I’m ready to go.
My back was pretty bad and it’s thanks to the guys and both in England and America who’ve helped me a lot. I’m there now; I’m in touching distance of the fight. I’m very happy to be ready with everything. My camp’s done, I’m in shape and all I’ve got to do is not fall down stairs or anything like that and I’ll be fine.
So this has been the first complete training camp you’ve had this year obviously with the cancellations to your other fight; has it been harder to get back into it?
This camp’s been better because I’ve trained a lot smarter and listened to my body a lot more. I had Conan [Silveira] running my camp with Mike Brown over at ATT and we’ve all spoken a lot about how I’m feeling physically throughout and making the training work better as a result. We’ve still done a lot of training but it’s been more sensible because of my injury and coming back from it.
There’s certain things, with an injury, that you don’t want to do too much of and I’ve done a much better job at responding to my body as a result. It’s been a really good training camp with some great sparring partners. I had Sirwan Kakai come out from Sweden who’s a great young fighter and obviously Mike Brown and all the other guys at ATT and it’s been the best camp I can remember.
Obviously training at American Top Team has been a massive help to your development as a professional. Do you think that training abroad is the only way that a UK fighter will be able to compete on the highest level?
American Top Team have helped me with my wrestling so much and the quality of sparring partners there is amazing, but obviously the level of competition in America is much higher in general. I don’t just mean MMA athletes either — there’s a lot more high level grapplers and strikers to train with over there than in other areas.
If you’re in your gym in London or somewhere and you don’t have as big a team then you really miss when you’ve got fighters out with injuries or on holiday or preparing for a fight because there isn’t the depth. American Top Team has so many fighters that you get good sparring all year round and, for me personally, I live in the UK so when I fly to America for a camp I know that all I have to think about is nothing but business.
When you’re at home the distractions of being at home are everywhere and it’s really hard to work around them or shake them off sometimes. It’s so true about that because there’s always something happening when you’re at home and, if you’re not careful, it impacts the way you train. As soon as that plane lands in America I’m all business. I know that the next few months are going to be all about training hard and playing video games.
This is not only your first fight in England for two years but it’s also your UFC debut and it’s a co-main event. How much pressure do you feel under going into this one?
I always put pressure on myself coming up to any fight but, before, all I focused on was how much I needed to win and I wouldn’t care how I got myself through it as long as I came out with the ‘W’. My focus now is to put pressure on myself to make sure I perform well and I’ll be happy. I’m happy to be fighting; I’m probably happier about that than anything else.
I’m not going to go in there and be happy to be there and not care about the result though; that’s not my style. I’m going to go balls to the wall and try to get this win. If I can perform like I know I can perform then there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll win. It’s a fight though. He’s going to want to beat me but if I fight the way I can then I can beat him.
I don’t think the stage will get to me because I’m quite mentally strong at this point in my career. I get nervous for my fights, everyone does, but I’m in a really good place and I’ll go out there and give it everything I have.
This fight is a big opportunity to show your skills to a much larger audience. What do you want to show to these new fans who may be watching you for the first time?
There are a lot of people in the UK who may not even know who I am because I’ve been fighting in the American circuit for the past few years. They may not have seen what I do because the WEC wasn’t really televised in the UK so unless they’re hardcore fans they’re not going to know who I am.
It’s exciting to show some of the newer fans what I’ve got to offer not just in the UK but all around the world. If you haven’t seen me fight before then I’m game and I always seem to get myself into really good fights. I’ve not been in many boring fights at all if any really.
So let’s say that you’re able to get the victory here; where does this win put you in the bantamweight division?
I really don’t like looking past an opponent and I’d be really stupid and naive to look past someone like him because he’s dangerous. Where does it put me after though if I do beat him; only in a good position. Winning at the level that I’m at can only put you in a good position. If you keep winning in the UFC then good things happen. If I win this and someone says that my next one is for the belt then that’s brilliant but as long as I keep winning then I’ll keep fighting this high level of competition and eventually a title shot will come. My goal is really simple for this fight; I’m going to go out there on Saturday and put on a great performance and come away with the win.
The best of luck on Saturday Brad, thanks again for the time. Any messages for anyone to finish?
Thanks to everyone who’s helped me out for this one both over in ATT and in the UK. I’d like to say thanks to my sponsors Headrush, Hayabusa, V.I.P Services, Venum and also the Institute of Human Performance who’ve helped me with some conditioning elements of this camp. Thanks for all the good wishes from everyone and all the support.