When you compare life in the NFL to playing high-level college football, everyone will tell you that the difference is speed. Everything moves that much faster, with success built upon the years of experience that develop the muscle memory you need to not just act, but react.
The same goes for those fighting in the UFC. Compared to local shows, everything in the Octagon moves at warp speed, with a split second loss of focus often being the difference between winning and losing. Lightweight contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone knows this; Dennis Siver, who was Cerrone’s Submission of the Night victim back at UFC 137 last October, knows it even more.
“The Cowboy really made great use of his reach advantage,” said Siver, who gave up five inches in height and three inches in reach to Cerrone on that night in Las Vegas. “I dropped my hands, he got me good and before I had regained my wits, he had already choked me out.”
It’s not the first time Siver, 19-8, had tasted defeat, but after putting together a four fight winning streak in 2010-11, one that included victories over Spencer Fisher, Andre Winner, George Sotiropoulos, and Matt Wiman, the loss to Cerrone may have hurt a bit more, as it dashed the Germany-based Russian’s immediate hopes for a title shot.
What surprised many fight followers though is that Siver, still a legit 155-pound contender despite the setback, decided that his future wasn’t going to be in the lightweight division, but as a 145-pound featherweight.
“I wanted to try something new and felt a real surge of motivation when I thought of dropping down in weight,” said Siver, who will make his featherweight debut this Saturday in Sweden against Diego Nunes. “Obviously, my reach is much better suited for the featherweight division than the lightweight division.”
Against the 5-foot-6 Brazilian, Siver will already gain an advantage in height that he has never had in his UFC career (the best he ever got was being the same size as Spencer Fisher in 2010), and he promises even more explosiveness in his new neighborhood.
“I was a real powerhouse at 155 and expect to be able to use my power to my advantage even more at 145,” said Siver through translator Oliver Copp. “Fighting at 145 should also make me more explosive.”
That’s not a pleasant thought for Nunes and the rest of the ‘45ers, but for the fans who have watched Siver nab four post-fight bonuses (two KO of the Night, one submission, one fight), he’s a welcome addition, even though the 33-year old humbly deflects any praise for his aggressive attack.
“It's not really something I think about,” he said. “My goal is to give my all. I never want to look in the mirror and realize that I lost because I phoned in my performance. Stylistically, my way of fighting tends to lead to good fights every now and then... but it's not something I try to make happen.”
It is better to be on the crowd’s good side though, right? Not necessarily, says Siver, as quick with an unexpected response as he is with his sneaky, yet devastating spinning back kick.
“To be perfectly honest, I thrive when I'm in a foreign country and am fighting a local hero,” he said. “The fans' boos motivate me. The reverse is also true, by the way. Who doesn't enjoy getting a crowd reaction? At the same time, I try to be "in the zone" and not be distracted by the crowd.”
With Stockholm just a couple hours away from his home in Mannheim, expect cheers and not boos for Siver this weekend, as he engages in his seventh UFC fight in Europe, where he is 5-1. Though again, he doesn’t let anything outside of what happens in the Octagon enter his mind, either positively or negatively.
“It doesn't really make any difference for me, aside from being able to fly in later and not having to deal with changing time zones,” said Siver of fighting on his home continent. “Aside from that, preparing for a fight is always hard work, irrespective of where it takes place.”
This one should be even harder, given the former welterweight’s debut at 145 pounds, but he’s taking it in stride and not anticipating any issues come weigh-in day.
“I haven't had any trouble making weight. While I did have to take a long hard look at my diet and change up some things, the changes weren't dramatic. Mostly, I increased the percentage of fruit and vegetables in my diet and significantly reduced the amount of candy I eat. (Laughs) I'll admit it - I do have a bit of a sweet tooth.”
Don’t we all? Yet if Siver can get that sweet tooth under control and come in and make a splash with a quality win over Nunes, whose only two pro losses have come to Kenny Florian and LC Davis, he may put himself in the thick of a wide-open contenders’ race immediately, something that can’t be said in the lightweight division, where the line for a crack at champion Benson Henderson is a mile long on a good day. After the loss to Cerrone, could this have played a role in Siver’s decision to change zip codes?
“Not really,” he said. “This fight against Diego is a test for me. I want to see how my body reacts in competition to the new weight class. Maybe I'll stay at featherweight, maybe I won't. But if I decide to stay, I'll be setting my sights on the gold. I've been around for a while and have worked hard to get better every time I fight. It's now or never, as I'm not getting any younger either.”
And featherweight boss Jose Aldo is apparently getting better with each fight, as he’s yet to taste a significant dose of danger in his Zuffa (UFC / WEC) career. Siver has a healthy dose of respect for Aldo and the rest of his peers at 145.
“Most of the fighters at featherweight are extremely quick and explosive,” he said. “They also have great conditioning. And Jose Aldo is without a doubt the champion for a reason. His technique is exceptional. I like watching him fight and hope that I'll be in a position to face him one day.”
First up is Aldo’s former Nova Uniao teammate Nunes, who Siver describes as “quick and flexible and a very good striker. His takedown defense is decent as well, and I think that's where he's strong.”
This weekend’s bout should give a good reading on where Siver stands, but you get the impression he already knows what he’s going to be bringing to the table.
“Expect hard-hitting fights with a lot of action,” he said. “How did they put it on UFC.com the other day? ‘Dennis Siver hates your liver.’”
Now or Never for Siver at 145 Pounds
"I've been around for a while and have worked hard to get better every time I fight. It's now or never.' - Dennis Siver