With the exception of a brief lightweight hiatus from 2004 to 2006, fighters from 155 pounds on up always had the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in the Zuffa-era UFC, a goal that someday, if they won enough fights, they would earn a spot in the Octagon.
As for those whose optimum weight was 145 pounds and below, they were pretty much out of luck unless they were able to secure a contract in Japan. In England, the situation wasn’t any better. Just ask East London bantamweight Brad Pickett, who finally saw some sunlight when he signed with the Zuffa-owned WEC in 2009. But even that didn’t produce the kind of acclaim he has now, which includes UK newspaper columns, video game appearances, and main card UFC slots.
“Back a couple years ago, when I signed with the WEC, for me, that was the big stage for my weight class, and at the time, there was no inclination that the UFC and the WEC would merge,” said Pickett, who fought at featherweight in his pre-WEC days. “Obviously, being a fan of the sport, I always thought it would be awesome to fight in the UFC, but there was never gonna be that opportunity because they didn’t have my weight class. As soon as I heard the news that the WEC and UFC would merge, I thought, brilliant, it’s massive for me in terms of my exposure. Because there were so many people in the UK that didn’t even know what the WEC was, even though it was the best in the world for my weight class. So me going into the UFC now, the level of opposition is exactly the same, but my level of exposure has quadrupled. It’s massive for me.”
He’s handled it well too, and that’s not always the case when you go from relative obscurity to your phone ringing off the hook at all hours with various requests. But at 33, Pickett is a bit more mature than some 20-year old kid getting exposed to the spotlight for the first time, so the adjustments to becoming a UFC fighter were fairly minor.
“I have to manage my time a lot better now because you get a lot of different interviews and lots of stuff in the media, but with that, it’s good for every fighter,” he said. “It’s a way to show your personality and how you come across in interviews and stuff like that. I’ve never shied away from media, but sometimes I just have to be a little bit careful with my diary and make sure I don’t double-book things or that people call me when I’m resting. It’s no trouble to me picking up a phone or answering a few questions on the internet. It just takes a few minutes out of my time, and when people see you fight in a cage, they don’t really get to see your personality. They get to know you a lot more when you’re on a TUF show or something like that, but when you’re not in that show, it’s hard to get your personality across unless you do interviews and stuff like that.”
Pickett nails it in interviews, as he’s generous with his time and in telling his story, but if you’ve watched him fight, it’s clear that he would be a fan favorite even if he were mute. Again, he gets it, and he knows that in this business, whether you win or lose, just don’t be boring.
“You need to be exciting in fights because at the end of the day, it’s an entertainment business,” he said. “You cannot afford to keep winning and be really boring, because as soon as you get that loss, they’ll just cut you. So at the end of the day, you’re employed by the UFC as an entertainer, so you need to make sure you make your fights exciting. But then on the other hand, you can’t be just exciting and keep losing fights because you won’t be kept either. So you need to balance it out and be able to get the job done and be exciting at the same time and it’s not that easy all the time. Sometimes you have to grind things out and make them go your way, but you definitely have to balance it out. Sometimes the style matchups help, and the matchmakers of the UFC normally get the job done very well, so we can put on very good shows.”
A “good show” would be understating Pickett’s last bout, a one round Fight of the Night battle with Renan Barao that fit more action in four minutes and nine seconds than most fights get in 15 minutes. Pickett got tagged with a submission defeat, but most will remember the journey, not the destination. He’s not one of them, and though he figured he had an airtight gameplan, he got caught before he could adjust it on the fly.
“Me looking at footage of him (Barao), he didn’t look good when he got pressured,” said Pickett. “So my idea was to go out there and be really aggressive. He’s fighting in my hometown, in my eyes I was the biggest fight he’s had to that date, so if I went out there and put it on him, he may crumble. But hats off to him, he stayed very composed and fought really well. He didn’t take me by surprise because you never should be surprised too much in this sport, but then I thought okay, I need to take my foot off the gas a little bit, slow myself down, and start picking my shots because I can’t throw like that for 15 minutes. I needed to be more methodical with my punching, and as soon as I started thinking about that, I got cracked with this knee and the rest was history.”
The loss was Pickett’s second in his last three fights, and having it come in his UFC debut stung a little bit more, so this Saturday’s showdown with Damacio Page will be even more important to the future of “One Punch.” Luckily in Page, he will be taking on an opponent who shares a similar fighting philosophy – punch now, ask questions later.
“He’s a very dangerous opponent,” said Pickett of Page. “I think he’s very similar to me, but I honestly believe that technically, I’m better than him in every area, but not by a massive margin. It’s not like I’m phenomenally better in any area; I just believe I’m a little bit better than him in all areas, but that doesn’t take anything away from him. I think he’s still good in all those areas as well and he’s still a very dangerous opponent. He throws very hard, so I have to make sure my defense is there and I don’t get hit, and I have to pick my shots and try to test his chin.”
And though Page could try to throw a wrench in the works and come out with a completely different gameplan from what everyone expects, Pickett is confident that he will get into a war this weekend, regardless of what his opponent’s plans may be.
“My style will make you fight, like it or not,” he said. “I’m always coming forward, I’m always going to be in your face, I don’t fight at a slow pace and I always come at someone. So you either run away or you have to collide – it’s gonna be one of the two. And that’s why I tend to always get into fights because of my style coming forward. It’s hard to shy away from a fight with me because I kind of force you into having a fight. And most of my fights have been that way.”
He’s not exaggerating. In five Zuffa fights, he’s picked up one Submission of the Night and two Fight of the Night bonuses, and he jokes that regardless of the level of competition, he’ll find a way to make it a pitched battle from start to finish.
“It’s been my career basically,” said Pickett. “I can’t remember when I had a real quick first round finish. Maybe my last one was back in England against Dave Lee (in 2009). I just seem to always get myself in a war. I could fight pound-for-pound the best guy in the world in my weight class, like Dominick Cruz, and I’d make it a really entertaining fight. And then I could fight some guy who’s had one amateur fight and who’s not very good, and I’d make it a real entertaining fight. (Laughs) Is it me? I don’t know what happens, I just seem to get myself in exciting fights. But to be honest, I’d never shy away from a quick knockout or quick submission, because at the end of the day, the quicker you get the job done, the quicker you can get back in there and have another fight.”
And after injuries kept him to less than one round of work against Barao in 2011, he’s looking forward to a busy 2012, starting with the Page bout this Saturday.
“This year is to get back on the horse,” said Pickett. “It’s very important for me to win this fight. The buck stops with me and I don’t like to look too far beyond anything past this fight, but hopefully, if all goes to plan, I win this fight, stay healthy, and make it a very active year and get myself back in the mix. If I lose this one, I fall further away, so I need to make sure I win this one and keep myself more relevant, and keep myself in a job basically. I need to make sure I win. I don’t want to be one of those people who are just happy to be in the UFC. I want to be somebody within the UFC.”
Brad Pickett - Walking The Tightrope
"I’m always coming forward, I’m always going to be in your face, I don’t fight at a slow pace and I always come at someone. So you either run away or you have to collide." - Brad Pickett