UFC flyweight contender Chris Cariaso may be hitting his physical prime at 32, but when he talks about fighting 22-year-old Louis Smolka this Saturday in Cincinnati, he’s in a position he’s not really accustomed to.
“I see a young kid without much experience,” he said of the Hawaiian. “I’ve been around and I think I’m going to be able to use my experience against him. I’m 10 years older than him, so I’ve been fighting that much longer than him as well, so I see a kid trying to come up and make his name, but he hasn’t paid his dues yet.”
So is he trying to say that he feels like the old man in this fight?
“Kind of,” he laughs. “Not the old man. I feel like an Uncle.”
Cariaso is clearly loose and confident heading into Saturday’s bout, his sixth fight as a 125-pounder after fighting the previous part of his career – including four UFC and two WEC fights – at bantamweight. And a big part of that demeanor is due to the fact that he finally feels acclimated to his new weight class.
“I feel like I’ve made that adjustment, found my comfort zone, and got it down,” he said. “I got what it feels like to be 125, and I hit that stride. I haven’t had long layoffs either and I’ve been training consistently, so it’s been easy just jumping back into fight camp.”
It took a while to get to that point, which is why after a win over Josh Ferguson in his divisional debut in July of 2012, he suffered back-to-back losses to John Moraga and Jussier Formiga.
“125’s not an easy cut, I don’t care what anybody says,” he said, but in his last two bouts – wins over Iliarde Santos and Danny Martinez – it looked like the old Chris Cariaso again.
“Working on my timing was definitely a big thing, and learning the weight too,” he said. “Figuring out the diet part of it played a big role in my success in the last couple fights as well.”
And just like that, he’s back on track and getting ready for his 12th fight under the Zuffa umbrella. Not a lot of fighters stay that long at the top, but Cariaso is willing to share his secret for remaining in the big show.
“It takes a lot of dedication to the craft and continually trying to get better,” said the San Jose native, who made his WEC debut in 2010 against Rafael Rebello. “A lot of guys get to this level and, in a sense, they’re satisfied. They’re not trying to get better and become a better martial artist. For me, I live that martial arts and samurai lifestyle where I have to get better. I’ve got this kid who’s 22 years old training for me and he’s coming for me and I have to better myself. A lot of guys lose sight of that once they make it to the UFC.
“I read a quote from (former UFC lightweight champion) Ben Henderson the other day that said ‘did you get one percent better today?’” Cariaso continues. “I’m a believer in that philosophy of one percent every day, constantly trying to get better.”
It’s a good philosophy for Cariaso to have, especially as he keeps improving during a great time to be a flyweight. In this division, one where champion Demetrious Johnson has been rapidly taking out all the top contenders, a three-fight winning streak here might be worth a six-fight streak in another weight class. If he beats Smolka this weekend, that’s three straight.
Does he see a title shot in his near future?
“That’s my goal right now,” he said. “I want to be the UFC flyweight champ and whatever steps it takes to get to that, that’s what I want.”
Cariaso is Comfortable in the Uncle Role
"I feel like I’ve made that adjustment, found my comfort zone, and got it down. I got what it feels like to be 125, and I hit that stride." - Chris Cariaso