McCall’s decision win in February against Brazilian Jussier da Silva, then ranked No. 1 in the division, wasn’t a fluke.
When he’s focused and determined, a guy known as “Uncle Creepy” might be the best 125-pound mixed martial artist in the world.
Based on the looming possibility that Zuffa will adopt the weight class by the start of 2012, his ascension could not have come at a better time.
“Right now I feel like I am the [flyweight] torchbearer and that means so much to me,” McCall said following a dominant performance against 23-year-old Montague (9-2). “I can be the guy that everyone looks at and says he's the best -- look at him. If I don't have some sort of magnetism now I want to figure out how to get it because I want to make people fall in love with me.”
For various reasons, flyweight agrees with the 5-foot-5 McCall, who shed 10 pounds and joined the improving cast in that particular division earlier this year.
"At 125 the guys are his own size,” observed McCall’s trainer Colin Oyama. “At 135, he cuts about five pounds. Those guys like Dominick Cruz are humongous. At 125, at least the guys won't have that significant weight advantage.
"He's a lot more focused now than he was then. Becoming a parent, looking at some of the legal problems he got into, realizing jail is for real and mom and dad can't save you if it goes wrong, kinda scared him a little bit to where he knew he had to grow up. Even at 135 I think he'd be OK, maybe not as dominant because of size. But the effort he's put in, the stuff he does now, trying things instead of just taking guys down. He's learned a lot of things."
McCall’s skill was on display in the main event of the final night of outdoor fights at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino, a Vegas-style oasis in the middle of Nowheresville. Originally the host venue for World Extreme Cagefighting, a pioneering promotion in its own right, Tachi crowned and hosted a featherweight champion by the name of Urijah Faber in the early part of his career. Business shifted and eventually Faber matriculated over to the UFC. McCall said he thinks “all the time” about his chance to do the same, taking every opportunity to prod UFC president Dana White on Twitter or text Strikeforce matchmaker Sean Shelby, which he did tonight after winning.
TPF matchmaker Richard Goodman expects to promote one more fight with McCall this year, and if Shooto obliges he wants to match the new champion against Yasuhiro Urushitani (19-4-6). Otherwise, a rematch against da Silva (10-1) could be next. The 26-year-old Brazilian grappler also out-pointed veteran Mamoru Yamaguchi on Friday.
Da Silva bulked up after the loss to McCall, and seemed much more prepared for the physical style he knows he’ll encounter in the States. After sweeping the cards, da Silva relaxed and watched McCall and Montague live up the expectations as they put on the best bout of the evening.
"Ian fought really well,” said da Silva. “He had the right strategy, was patient to take [Montague] down at the right time. He didn't rush into it and get caught in something."
McCall, in fact, overwhelmed Montague. He dropped the younger man with a right straight at the end of the first round, and battered him on the floor in second before sealing the choke victory.
“I felt a lot stronger than he is,” McCall said. “I felt him break.”
The performance against Montague was a marked improvement on his effort against da Silva, which though successful included moments of uncertainty.
"I didn't go all out with Jussier,” he said. “I felt guarded, nervous. I gave him too much respect. He deserves it, the guy is a stud, but you gotta throw caution to the wind sometimes and I didn't go all out in that fight. Obviously he won tonight so we'll probably fight again. Next time it will be different."
Defeating Urushitani or da Silva would secure McCall’s top spot at 125, which presumably makes him first in line for a UFC flyweight title shot when Zuffa gets around to promoting one.
"Who knows, when the UFC merges I'm sure Demetrious Johnson and those guys will move down,” Oyama said. “They're all good wrestlers as well. I think Ian has a wide array of weapons and keeps adding new things. He's going to continue learning. Fighting here has been good for him, to get his confidence back and to expand the toolbox a little bit and test it out on people, good people, not chumps."