By Jared Jones
After the WEC merged with the UFC in early 2011, most MMA fans were quick to write off the competitors in its lightweight division, claiming that they would simply be outmatched by their UFC counterparts. The success of current lightweight champ Ben Henderson, along with that of guys like Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis quickly disproved this notion, but one fighter who has gone almost completely unnoticed at 155 has been that of Danny Castillo. The Team Alpha Male standout’s record currently stands at 3-1 in the UFC, including a win over former number one contender Joe Stevenson in his promotional debut. On the heels of a split decision victory over noted striker Anthony Njokuani at UFC 141 in December, Castillo will be looking to build on his current two-fight win streak against Strikeforce veteran and submission savant John Cholish on the preliminary card of next weekend’s UFC on FOX 3 event. We were recently able to snag an interview with “Last Call,” who dished on everything from TRT to his stance on teammates fighting teammates. Enjoy, and make sure to follow Danny and all his Alpha Male cohorts on Twitter.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: Thanks for interview opportunity, Danny. I was wondering if we could first talk about your UFC 141 victory over Anthony Njokuani. How would you assess your performance in that fight?
Danny Castillo: “I would rate my performance about a D+. It wasn’t the best fight of my career. I was able to get a victory on four weeks of training, and I had just fought prior to that in November against Shamar Bailey. I pretty much went in there with the gameplan to wrestle the whole time; I knew that that was one of the flaws in [Njokuani's] game. He’s a dangerous fighter. He was one of the most exciting fighters in the WEC, and he’s probably one of the top five strikers inside the UFC. On four weeks notice, I wasn’t prepared to necessarily stand with him or to sit in the pocket against his strengths. His ground game was greatly improved, and now that I’ve done some training with him I understand why; he’s got a phenomenal Jiu-Jitsu coach in Sergio Penha. As far as I’m concerned, I think I won the first and the third round. I probably had about six takedowns throughout the fight, and I think I did enough to win the fight.”
Let’s move on to your upcoming fight with John Cholish at UFC on Fox 3. Do you see yourself as the underdog coming into this fight, and if so, are you the type of fighter who relishes that role?
“I’m not really sure if I like the role of being the underdog, but I’ve been the underdog my whole career so I’m kind of used to it. As far as John Cholish is concerned, I view him as one of my toughest fights to date, mainly because any fight that I have is my toughest fight. For someone who doesn’t get a lot of respect from the UFC, a loss could be detrimental to my career, especially to an unnamed guy like Cholish.”
How do you prepare for, as you said, a relatively unknown guy like Cholish?
“I know he’s a tough dude; he’s a solid wrestler, he comes from a great Jiu-Jitsu background, he’s got great foot work, and his striking doesn’t seem to be that bad. Losing to him would be horrible for my career, so I view it as a really tough fight. I’ve only got footage of two of his fights; one of his fights was two years ago. It seems like young fighters have huge changes in their careers from month to month because they’re still learning and improving. From his fight against Marc Stevens to his last fight in the UFC, I’ve just seen a huge improvement in him. I’m sure the pressure’s on him to step his game up, so I guarantee he’s been training like this is the toughest fight of his career, which it will be.”
Without revealing too much, how do you see this fight going down?
“I’ve been working a lot on my stand up. I got booed for wrestling in my last fight, so I’d like to repay the fans with a standup fight and sit there and bang with this kid. I think it might be one of his holes in his game. I don’t think he has a lot of power and I think I got a lot of power. I don’t see any knockouts on his record and I have a few knockouts in my career, so I’d like to stand with him. How I see the fight going is [Cholish] attacking my legs for fifteen minutes and me stuffing the takedowns, you know, just sprawlin’ and brawlin’.”
Granted you are successful, are there any specific opponents at 155 that you’d like to face next?
“There’s no one in particular that I’d like to face, but I’ve got four losses to UFC opponents, and two of them are in the top ten. I’d like to have those losses back; a lot of those losses were earlier in my career and I feel like I’m a completely different fighter. I know my identity, so getting those fights against those opponents I lost to would be good for me. That would be a fight that I’d be fired up for, but as far as I’m concerned, any fight that pushes me up the lightweight division is a fight that I want.”
Being one of the select guys brought over from the WEC, do you feel any additional pressure going into a fight, like you have something to prove on behalf of the promotion that you built your name upon?
“I can’t speak for the rest of the guys, but for me there was a lot of pressure. My first fight was against one of the UFC vets in Joe Stevenson. Fighting a tough veteran that I had been watching before I even thought about getting in the cage was really tough for me. Not only being my first fight in the UFC and all that pressure mounting up, but fighting a tough veteran like [Joe], the pressure was really high. But I was able to pull out the victory against a really tough dude, so I was happy with that and I’m happy with the way that my career has gone so far in the UFC.”
Dana White has been adamant in the past about the willingness of teammates to fight one another. Guys like Jon Fitch, however, have repeatedly stated that they would rather retire than fight a teammate. Where do you stand on this issue?
“Fortunately, in team Alpha Male there’s only a couple lightweights, and none of them are in the UFC, so I don’t have to really worry about that. I have some training partners that I’m good friends with, like Nate Diaz, and I don’t see myself fighting them. I know the hot topic is ‘teammates should be able to fight teammates,’ and Dana White hates when teammates don’t fight each other, but I view my friendship with Nate and his brother and everyone at Cesar Gracie’s, you know, I value that friendship more than a few thousand dollars.”
While we’re discussing some of the current hotbed issues in MMA, what are your thoughts on the TRT controversy that has seemed to divide fans and fighters alike?
“I think it’s terrible. I’ve never cheated at anything in my life, sports-wise at least, and I don’t see myself doing that. I’m 32 years old, I know a lot of guys that are doing HGH and testosterone, it seems like everyone in the sport is doing something. I’m just not that guy. I’ve been able to train my butt off and get great results in terms of being strong and not having to use performance enhancing drugs. I’m totally against it. I think random testing for steroids would be the way to go and I’m all for it. You can test me year round and I have nothing to worry about, and I think that’s how the fighters I fight against should be as well. It’s only fair.”
You hold a victory over Dustin Poirier, who could be looking at a future title shot at 145 is he is able to defeat Chan Sung Jung. How would you asses the current featherweight landscape and who do you think presents the biggest challenge to Jose Aldo?
“Dustin Poirier is a tough, young, hungry kid. I fought him earlier in his career; it’s a big win and I’m happy to have it. I would say I’m friends with Dustin after the fight. My girlfriend and his wife are friends as well, so I like the kid and I know how hungry he is. As far as him getting a title shot, I think it’s deserved, but in terms of anyone that can beat Jose Aldo; the only person in the world that can beat Jose Aldo is Chad Mendes. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t really get to see the fight play out; Chad was taking him down, he grabbed the fence, and right after that Chad got knocked out. I think that takedown could have changed the whole dynamic of the fight, but we’ll never really know. I think Chad’s the number two dude at featherweight, and the number three, four, and five guys, not sure who those guys are, but I think Chad’s light-years ahead of them and he’ll just smash anyone of those dudes.”
Thanks for the interview opportunity.
“Thanks for having me. After I beat this dude up, I’d definitely like to come on again.”
Make sure to swing by CagePotato this Saturday, as yours truly will be liveblogging all the UFC on FOX 3 action, starting at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.