It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Nicolas Dalby. The UFC had announced that it was making its first trip to his home country of Denmark, and after posting a 3-1 record since his last Octagon appearance, Dalby believed that another win would earn him a spot on that card.
The opportunity for that win came in a Cage Warriors bout against Ross Houston in June, but early on, an elbow opened up a nasty cut on Dalby’s face. The blood flowed. And flowed. Then flowed some more when Houston suffered a broken nose.
By the third round, referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. The official verdict was a no contest, with the reason for the stoppage being that the cage surface was determined to be unsafe. Just when you thought you’d seen it all, this happened, but Dalby wasn’t bothered by the odd ending to the bout. As for the blood, his family and friends weren’t bothered, either.
“I guess at this time they’re quite used to it,” said Dalby. “It’s just blood. As one of my coaches says, ‘Blood is just honor that overflows.’”
Dalby chuckles, and he can do that now, because he ultimately got the call to return to the UFC, beginning with Saturday’s card in Copenhagen. But before getting asked back to face Alex Oliveira, he briefly had to worry whether the no contest or the cut – or both – was going to keep him from a Denmark homecoming.
“I guess I was (worried) in the moment,” he said. “Of course, now that I think of it, there was no reason for stress or worry because UFC Copenhagen was so far away. But yeah, in the moment, it was not a victorious ending on paper, so I was kind of scared that it wouldn’t happen. But when I had a couple days to think about it, I was like, ‘Okay, if I’m not getting picked, it’s not because of the fight or any medical stuff.’”
Those worries were unfounded, as it was a natural decision to bring the 34-year-old back, and given all the support “Lokomotivo” had from fight fans, there might have been a social media riot if he wasn’t. That kind of backing isn’t lost on the appreciative Dalby.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Dalby. “To me, in a way, this is a hobby to me. Of course it’s my work as well. But the way I think of it is, how crazy is it to have people cheering for you and wishing you the best for what feels like a hobby? Imagine if you had thousands of people saying, ‘Good job, you’re so cool,’ when you’re just getting up and getting to the office. That’s how I feel in a way. Not that I’m diminishing what I’m doing, but I feel like I’m just getting up and going to the office. I would do this no matter what. So having many fans, especially Danish ones, wanting the best for me and wanting to see me back, it’s a crazy, but very good, feeling.”
Dalby’s earned that support and a second stint in the UFC, and what his three wins and the no contest with Houston proved is that he’s a welterweight ready to tackle the best of the best in the Octagon once more. The first time around, he only managed a 1-3-1 record, but that slate included a win over Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos and a Fight of the Night draw with Darren Till. Not bad for someone who wasn’t close to a hundred percent mentally during that run. Today, he’s a different fighter.
“I feel like I changed a lot,” he said. “I’m, of course, the same person that I’ve always been, but I have a lot more self-confidence right now, a lot more belief in my abilities, and I know that’s what I was missing the last time around. Of course, it’s always a razor’s edge – self-confidence shouldn’t go to the point of arrogance - but the last time around I wasn’t confident in my own abilities at all, and that’s because at the time I was battling depression and slipping into that dark time of my life. It’s difficult to be super self-confident when you’re not feeling good about yourself. So especially mentally, I feel like I’m in an entirely different league, and that’s why I have no doubt in my mind that when I go out and say I’m gonna be getting into the top ten of UFC in a couple years, it’s gonna happen.”
A couple years? The way Dalby has been performing, it may not take that long. He agrees.
“If I can beat up Darren Till with half a head, spending the first two rounds not remotely believing in myself, yeah, sure,” chuckles Dalby, who will have all of Denmark in his corner this weekend. That’s a lot to take on, but maybe the old Nicolas Dalby might have cracked under such pressure. Today’s version of Lokomotivo? Not a chance.
“I just recently fought in Copenhagen for Cage Warriors,” he said of his March win over Alex Lohore. “This was five years after I did it the last time, and I won both times, spectacular knockout wins, so history shows that when I’m performing in the very city I live in and all my friends have come, there should be a lot of pressure on me. But, in a good way, it won’t affect me that I’m fighting in Copenhagen and fighting in the UFC because I’m so focused. The only thing that matters is my opponent. And until the fight is over, that’s the only thing I’m gonna be worried about.”