Friday, December 26th, 2008
Celina's Wessel gets the 'Ultimate' opportunity
Pro MMA fighter to compete on UFC PPV undercard Saturday
By Gary R. Rasberry
Mike Wessel got the "Ultimate" Christmas present.
The Celina native, already a successful Mixed Martial Arts fighter in the south, will move up to the big leagues as he will compete on the undercard of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) "Ultimate 2008" pay-per-view on Saturday against Antoni Hardonk after signing a four-match contract recently.
"It's a pretty big deal," said Wessel in a telephone conversation from Las Vegas, site of the event. "(Comparing to football, which Wessel played at St. Francis in Fort Wayne and later in several professional arena football leagues), this is like the NFL. There is no league higher and nothing bigger (than UFC). Especially this fight card, one of the best fight cards ever."
The bout against Hardonk will be taped before the show goes live from the MGM Grand for the DVD, but could be aired on the PPV if time permits.
The chance to compete came as part of a perfect opportunity.
Wessel was in Las Vegas already, serving as a corner man for his trainer/co-manager Rolando (Roli) Delgado, who took part on "The Ultimate Fighter," a Spike TV show where MMA fighters compete for a UFC contract.
Wessel, who has held the Extreme Fighting League heavyweight title and has competed in the Art of War promotion, introduced himself to UFC officials, including UFC President Dana White. While in Vegas, Wessel, 8-1 as a professional and 16-1 overall, was asked to get his records in order in the event he was asked to compete in UFC.
"I went up to Dana and Joel Silva, the matchmaker, introduced myself," said Wessel, who is also co-managed by Matt Hamilton. "About 10 minutes later, Roli brought them back and talked some more. I kind of explained to them if they ever needed a fighter, give me a call. I'm always ready to go.
"Short story, it was just a good opportunity and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and they knew who I was."
The opportunity came when Mark Burch was forced to pull out of his heavyweight bout with Hardonk. Wessel was signed to a four-match deal with the first fight this Saturday.
"Dana White is my Santa this year," said Wessel. "I've only been doing this for two years starting as an amateur. Some people never get this shot. I'm blessed to be in this situation. I'm just glad I trained hard all this time. I just kept going and pushing myself. This is probably the best Christmas present I have ever had."
The 6-0, 260-pound Wessel, nicknamed "The Juggernaut," has been working out of Westside Kickboxing and Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu Gym in Little Rock, Arkansas for several years and had served as a strength and conditioning coach for the University of Arkansas. After going 8-0 in amateur bouts, Wessel moved up to the professionals, posting just one loss but dominating his wins, winning four by technical knockout (TKO) and another by submission.
While he took the fight on short notice, Wessel actually has been out of competition since August.
"Big names were offering me to fight, guys who were coming to UFC or StrikeForce (another MMA promotion), then back out," said Wessel. "Insidefighting.com did an article on me about how hard it was for me to get opponents. We were just waiting for a call for a fight. This is my only job. The only thing I do. I eat, sleep and train every day. That's all I do."
Landing in Las Vegas, Wessel got an immediate look into the life as UFC fighter, going into interviews and photo sessions for pre-match segments.
"(Since) we got off the plane earlier, it's been nothing but production, interviews, makeup and making sure your body looks right," said Wessel. "Seriously, I've been here for five hours and I haven't been in my room yet. I still haven't trained today and haven't eaten yet.
"It's a positive thing. If you want to do this and live in this type of world, you've got to be used to it."
When asked about any possible nerves going into the fight, Wessel said he isn't concerned.
"Everybody talks about that UFC first-match jitters," said Wessel. "When I was coaching for Arkansas, there was 85-90,000 people in the crowd on certain games. It's the same here: I don't get nervous. I played football my whole life, I've done interviews, I've done the crowd thing. Of course, it's the UFC, the biggest stage there is. It's a lot bigger deal than I am probably making it. I've got to keep focused and can't worry about what might happen. I want to make sure I put on a helluva show."
The pay-per-view is scheduled to begin broadcasting at 10 p.m. on Saturday.
For more information on Mike Wessel, go to his Web site at www.mikewessel.com. For info on UFC, go to www.ufc.com or the fight card site at 92.ufc.com.