In the multifaceted world of mixed martial arts, there are plenty of areas to shine. Elite-level strikers make fans excited to see them work magic on their feet, where top notch wrestlers mow down the opposition with power doubles. When talking about action that plays out on the canvas, the focus falls largely on those who once dominated the grappling world, but have made a successful transition to competing inside the Octagon.
While fighters like Demian Maia and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza get the lion’s share of the praise - and rightfully so - there is another category of jiu-jitsu practitioners who are operating under the UFC banner. These fighters use a traditional base when it comes to BJJ, but have made adjustments and adapted the discipline to mesh with the variety of MMA.
Of this subset of fighters, TJ Waldburger is certainly a card carrying member. The 25-year-old Texan has gotten off to a solid start under the UFC banner, as he’s collected wins in four of his seven showings inside the Octagon, three of which have come by way of submission finish. Two of those subs were savvy enough to earn fight night bonuses, and helped Waldburger establish himself as a fighter to keep an eye on in the welterweight fold.
That said, Waldburger’s journey through the 170-pound ranks hasn’t been all Texas sunshine, as the Grapplers Lair fighter has been turned back on three occasions on the sport’s biggest stage. The most recent of which came in his last outing as he suffered a first round knockout at the hands of Russian powerhouse Adlan Amagov at UFC 166 last October.
Where every loss at the highest level of competition has an impact, the outcome Waldburger had to face in Houston was one he refused to let settle. Rather than simmer and stew about the defeat, Waldburger hit the gym with newfound motivation, and set his sights on getting back into the win column in his next outing.
“My last fight created the perfect scenario,” Waldburger said. “Coming off a loss, there is much more to prove, and fighting a top level guy is what I need to prove that I belong in the top 20. It will be a great opportunity and I’m very motivated to prove that.”
That opportunity will come this Saturday night when he locks up with wily veteran Mike Pyle at UFC 170. Where Waldburger is a member of the “slick jitz club,” the Tennessee native is a founder of the chapter. “Quicksand” earned his nickname for his ability to drag his opposition into his submission game using crafty transitions and setups, and he has been highly regarded as one of the best ground fighters in the game for the better part of a decade.
In addition to his seasoned talents on the canvas, the Las Vegas transplant has also shown solid improvements in his striking game over recent years. Waldburger has admired Pyle’s talents for quite some time, but he couldn’t be more excited to step into the Octagon with him this weekend in Las Vegas.
“I think he’s dangerous everywhere,” Waldburger described. “He’s seasoned on the ground and has a lot of submission victories. I also have a good amount of victories from submissions and I think we are very similar in that regard. We are both good at MMA jiu-jitsu and not just traditional jiu-jitsu. We both have worked our techniques in with our strikes and takedowns. I think this fight is going to be a battle everywhere it goes. Whether it’s standing or on the ground; we are going to be getting after it.
“My skills develop every fight. I’m getting better with every fight win or lose. People can expect to see a new and improved T.J. for this fight. I’m excited to put my new improvements to the test against Mike Pyle and I couldn’t ask for a better matchup for me.”
While Pyle’s skill set has some unique aspects that are undoubtedly difficult to prepare for, a rigorous training camp has Waldburger feeling ready for everything. Yet, one element of Pyle’s presentation the young upstart could not duplicate was the power mullet the 37-year-old has turned into his signature style.
The mullet has been known to possess mystical powers, and Waldburger certainly understands he’ll be dealing with a different animal in Las Vegas.
“I definitely have to be aware of it,” Waldburger laughed. “He definitely rocks it and has something nobody else has. He makes it look good and I definitely couldn’t do that.”
While the two men show a mutual respect for one another’s fighting skills and share a common bond that comes from being south of the Mason/Dixon line, Waldburger is 100% focused on what the doors this opportunity could open. Although he’s coming off a loss in his last fight, victories in three of his last five outings have served to push him closer to a top 20 ranking.
On Saturday night, the man he will be facing inside the cage meets that particular criteria, and Waldburger is eager to prove he also belongs in that fold. To fully prepare he had to zap himself out of the comforts he had settled into inside the Octagon, and turn things up a notch in the intensity department.
Waldburger believes that adjustment should make for the most dangerous version of himself yet, and he’s fired up to show his gains at UFC 170.
“I almost became too comfortable in there,” Waldburger explained. “In the beginning, it’s all new and it’s a rush. But it becomes so normal it’s like a training session. You have to remind yourself that inside the Octagon, it’s not training anymore and it’s a real fight. You have to bring up the intensity and go in there with viciousness. That’s what I plan on doing in this fight and that is what I have to do to win. Even though I feel comfortable, as I should by now, he’s going to try to knock my block off. I’m going to be trying to do the same thing to him.
“I come out in every fight looking to finish,” he added in conclusion. “People are going to see an exciting fight. Whether it’s standing or on the ground, I’m coming out with viciousness. I’m going to finish this fight and it’s going to be exciting.”
Waldburger Chasing a Top 20 Spot
"You have to remind yourself that inside the Octagon, it’s not training anymore and it’s a real fight." - TJ Waldburger