Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Despite little buzz, high stakes for bantams
By Brett Okamoto
In 2004, Eddie Wineland basically paid money to have his jaw broken.
A 10-year career in mixed martial arts is going to come with its share of highs and lows. Wineland, 29, hopes to enjoy his best moment in the cage this weekend, when he meets UFC interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao at UFC 165 in Toronto.
If you want to talk about lows, though -- Wineland’s occurred during the winter of 2004, after he suffered a broken jaw in a loss to Brandon Carlson during a regional show promoted in Wisconsin.
Wineland remembers the hospital bills for his injury far surpassed his fight purse for that bout. In his mind, there was really no positive way to skew it. He was sipping meals through a straw -- and had paid money from his own pocket to do it.
"I quit in 2004 after I broke my jaw," Wineland told ESPN.com. "It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. I was fighting for $600. I had $15,000 in medical bills. The ends didn’t really meet there.
"I traveled four hours and ended up spending money to get my jaw broke."
The "quit" Wineland refers to didn’t last long. After attending several local shows in his home state of Indiana, the itch for combat returned in full force. By August 2005, Wineland was back in the cage in a submission win that evened his win-loss record.
It makes for a good story -- an athlete willing to stick with the brutality of the fight game, purely for the love of it. As Wineland points out, he never even considered fighting for a UFC title when he started. One didn’t exist in his weight class.
The strange part is, it feels like the good story is being relatively ignored.
Wineland (20-8-1) earned a shot at the interim belt with wins over ranked opponents Scott Jorgensen and Brad Pickett, but he's about as long as long shots come when it comes to his next fight.
Oddsmakers opened Barao (30-1) as a 7-1 favorite. That almost makes Wineland seem like a hurdle (a short one) for Barao to hop over, en route to a unifying title fight against Dominick Cruz, who is recovering from knee surgery, early next year.
The line on the fight, and the fact so much focus has surrounded Barao’s tag as an "interim" title, has not dampened Wineland's spirits. He believes Barao is the division's best, which makes his belt more significant than the one Cruz holds.
"He does everything well," Wineland said. "You don’t get to the be the No. 1 guy if you’re just OK at things.
"I think Renan is the No. 1 guy in the division. He's defended the belt and he's the one fighting. If I win, I get a belt. That makes me a champion, too. It if it's interim, it's interim. It still makes me a champion."
For his part, Barao says he's not ignoring Wineland and promises to look as good as he has in two interim title fight wins against Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald.
Ranked the No. 9 pound-for-pound fighter in the world by ESPN.com, Barao admits he hasn't made a formal request to the UFC to strip Cruz, who hasn't fought since October 2011, of his title but it appears his patience is slightly running out.
That said, the Brazilian believes he's reaping all the benefits of an undisputed UFC champion. If he compares his status to teammate and UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, the perks are the same.
"The [UFC] treats me like the champion, they treat me very well," Barao said. "I travel first class [like Aldo]. It's pretty much the same thing.
"I don’t actually mind it. I guess everyone wants to know about the [interim title], but I'm very cool about the whole thing. I just think it's important the UFC makes a decision soon and settles this. I've considered myself the champion from the first time the belt went into my hands so yeah, I feel like [Cruz] needs to take this belt from me."