You could see it on Andre Winner’s face. Pinned against the Octagon fence by Nik Lentz while thousands of fans voiced their displeasure, Winner’s Boston debut on August 28th was going far from the way he pictured it.
After back-to-back victories over Rolando Delgado and Rafaello Oliveira, the Leicester, England product was on the verge of a breakthrough in the crowded UFC lightweight division if he could defeat Lentz, a Division I wrestler who was unbeaten in his previous three Octagon bouts. But it wasn’t meant to be on this night, and while losing the unanimous decision was bad enough for Winner, having his attack completely nullified for three less than compelling rounds was even worse.
“It was very boring,” said Winner of the bout. “When you’re in a fight like that and you’re not really getting hit, and they’re not really making you fight or pushing the fight, you’re kind of like comatose in there. You kind of fall asleep and you’ve only got three rounds. Even though the rounds are five minutes, you’ve only got three rounds and it’s not like boxing, where you’ve got 12 rounds, so if you lost the first three, you can start to work back in the later rounds. Once one round’s down, you’ve got to win the next two and then by the time you’re waking up and saying I’ve got to start doing something, you’ve lost another round, and then you try to do something in the third and you’ve lost the fight. So it can slip away from you very easily if you’re not careful. That’s kinda what happened to me, and it was a very frustrating type of fight.”
When it was over though, Winner didn’t sulk, didn’t cry to the MMA Gods for justice. He simply spoke to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva and asked to get back in action as soon as possible.
“I talked to Joe after the fight and I was obviously frustrated and I wanted to get straight back in there,” said Winner. “So I just asked for another fight.”
And he got one, as he’ll return to the Octagon this Saturday night to face Germany’s Dennis Siver in what should be a polar opposite to the Lentz fight for Winner. Needless to say, that’s music to his ears.
“I’m happy with it,” said Winner. “It’s gonna be an exciting fight. He’s a good kickboxer, he’s got a good ground game also, he’s pretty tough and he’s well-conditioned. But I’ve got a good gameplan, and if all goes to plan, then it should be a comfortable night. But I never truly believe that because nothing ever quite goes exactly the way you want it to. So I’ve prepared myself mentally and physically for a tough fight, and I’m gonna go out there and give the crowd what they want. Obviously from the last fight I’ve got some pent-up aggression. A lot of people see me as the underdog in this fight and they expect Siver to beat me, so it’s really motivating me to go out there and just put a whupping on him.”
For Winner, it’s his third straight bout on foreign soil, with this fight in Oberhausen following the Lentz match in Boston and the Oliveira bout in Charlotte. But if the Ultimate Fighter season nine finalist isn’t feeling homesick – in fact, he’s enjoying his world travels as he introduces himself to the rest of the globe.
“Wherever I go there’s a lot of support, and I love the fans wherever they are,” he said. “The great thing about MMA and the UFC is that the fans are always pumped and they give the fighters a hundred percent support. I’m grateful that we’ve got great fans like that. I love going abroad and meeting different people and seeing different parts of the world, and it’s very important because the more popular you are, the more tickets you sell, and that’s what I want to do. Obviously first and foremost I want to go in there and win my fights in an exciting fashion, so I get that notoriety. And when people come to the fights, I want them to think ‘yeah, Andre Winner’s on the card; that’s gonna be a good fight.’”
He knows that wasn’t the case in the Lentz fight, yet he hasn’t taken a defensive posture about it. On the contrary, he’s accepted the result and done everything in his power to make sure his tools are never neutralized like that again, because someone somewhere will look to replicate the gameplan that issued him that defeat this past summer.
“I’ve always been working on my all-around game,” said Winner. “(UFC vet) Paul Daley’s been getting ready for a fight and he brought over Kenny Johnson, so it’s always good to work a little bit with him. He’s worked with the likes of BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, and those kinds of guys. I’ve also been working with Victor Estima, a very high-level jiu-jitsu coach, and I’ve been trying to improve my wrestling and grappling game, and hopefully I can get out to the States after this fight and really work on some of my wrestling.”
Wrestling has been the Achilles Heel for many British fighters, the notable example being Dan Hardy against welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in March, and Winner admits that it’s not the easiest task to find world-class wrestling instruction in the UK.
“The toughest part is just finding the coaches for it and finding the time to get it all in,” he said. “You need to find someone of a good caliber and obviously in the UK it is tough. There are places, but to find the wrestling in particular, there are not as many high-level wrestling guys out here. It’s about finding the right people and finding the right camp that you can go to, and getting out there, training, and spending that time.”
But truth be told, Winner did take some positives from the fight with Lentz that he plans on building on this weekend.
“I had a Division I wrestler trying to take me down for the most part and I was able to stop most of them or get back to my feet,” he said. “So I think Dennis (Siver) will have a lot of trouble if he tries to take me down. There are some things I didn’t do well in that fight as far as my cage craft and my footwork, and for whatever reason I neglected them in that fight. It woke me up to those things and you’ll definitely see those things in this fight.”
If he puts it all together and gets back to the form that got him on the UFC map in the first place, it will be a positive end to 2010 and a harbinger of what he hopes will be a big 2011 campaign.
“I’d like to keep active like I did this year,” said Winner of his goals for 2011. “I’d like to get four fights in and I’d love to get a matchup with (fellow 155-pound prospect) Cole Miller at some point. If he’s free to fight and I’m free to fight, and he’s up for it, then I’d love to get a matchup with him because obviously he had that impressive win over Ross Pearson and I’d like to try to get one back for the team and kinda throw my name right back up there also. But I just want good matchups and exciting fights.”
And to forget August 28, 2010.
Andre Winner - One Motivated Underdog
"Obviously from the last fight I’ve got some pent-up aggression. A lot of people see me as the underdog in this fight and they expect Siver to beat me, so it’s really motivating me to go out there and just put a whupping on him.”