(Warburton vs. Ross Pearson, 9/22/07. Skip to the 5:20 mark to see some amazingly irresponsible reffing.)
Half of the guys on the UFC 120 preliminary card will be making their Octagon debuts, hoping to claim some TV time by smashing their veteran opponents — or at the very least not do so poorly that they’re immediately fired. Take a look at the first three today, and keep an eye out for them on Saturday…
CURT WARBURTON (LW)
Experience: 7-2-1 record in various British promotions, with 6 wins by first-round stoppage. Warburton fought TUF 9 winner Ross Pearson three times in the Total Combat UK league, going an even 1-1-1 in the series.
Will be facing: Spencer Fisher (23-6, 8-5 UFC)
Lowdown: Warburton is a Wolfslair MMA Academy product who "used to dig holes for a living" before discovering MMA. He described himself as "gobsmacked" by his four-fight UFC contract, and is humbled by the opportunity that’s been put in front of him. “I got butterflies when I was given [Fisher's] name," Warburton says. "It took me by surprise a little bit, as he’s a top fighter and very experienced. When you get used to seeing people fight on television, it becomes a little strange to then be told you’ve got to fight him. Like everyone else, I’ve enjoyed watching Spencer fight over the years, and it was a bit of a ‘wow’ moment for me when I discovered I’d be fighting him on my UFC debut…I’ve got to go out there and prove to everybody that I belong at this level. This is my chance to keep on doing something that I love. If I can’t perform on the night, and can’t do it on the big stage, I’ll have to give up on something I love and go back to work."
(Maldonado vs. Jessie Gibbs, 5/28/10)
FABIO MALDONADO (LHW)
Experience: 17-3 record (11 wins by KO/TKO), primarily competing in Brazilian promotions like Bitetti Combat and Predador FC. His 10-fight win streak includes a TKO victory over Maiquel Falcao, the guy Gerald Harris is fighting next.
Will be facing: James McSweeney (4-5, 1-1 UFC)
Lowdown: A Team Nogueira member from Sao Paulo, Maldonado comes into UFC 120 as a replacement for Tom Blackledge, and will be McSweeney’s first opponent at light-heavyweight. Maldonado is also a professional boxer in Brazil with a nicely padded 22-0 record, and 21 wins by KO. The 30-year-old will be giving up three inches in height to McSweeney, who says the Brazilian is "tailor-made" for his style.
(The end of Sass’s last fight, against Jason Young, 3/6/10)
PAUL SASS (LW)
Experience: 10-0 record (7 wins by triangle choke, 2 wins by heel-hook), competing in the Cage Gladiators and OMMAC promotions. Was formerly the OMMAC lightweight champion.
Will be facing: Mark Holst (8-2, 0-1 UFC)
Lowdown: Nicknamed "Sassangle" for his skill with a triangle choke, Sass fights out of Liverpool, England, and trains at Team Kaobon alongside Terry Etim, Paul Kelly, and Paul Taylor. The 22-year-old submission whiz stands in stark contract to the stereotypical British brawler: "I started off doing the ground game and jiu-jitsu, and then moved on to striking afterward," he says. "A lot of people in Britain have done it the other way round. I just happened to find my feet on the floor first, and that’s why I love jiu-jitsu so much…I did pure grappling for a couple of years, concentrated on nothing else, and then moved more towards striking as my career progressed. I always go into my fights with the intention of getting it to the ground and winning by submission. I don’t think that mindset will change.”
As for the fact that he finished his first seven pro fights by triangle choke? “It was almost like destiny that I was going to win fights by that method. The first time I ever took part in a grappling class I managed to pull off two triangles. The move hadn’t even really been taught to me properly at that stage. I think it’s just a natural submission for me.”