From prospect to contender, that is the jump that UFC welterweight Curtis Millender is trying to make this weekend at UFC Wichita.
Millender is undefeated in the UFC, winning his first three fights in the promotion. The lengthy, creative striker will get his first taste of a ranked opponent in the form of No. 14 Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos. It will also be Millender’s first time being featured in the co-main event slot on a UFC card.
The recognition is something that Millender is happy to be receiving and he’s excited for the bright lights on Saturday.
“It’s amazing, one of my boys had called me and was like “Yo, you know you got the co-main slot?” and I was like “Oh you probably like read the wrong paper or whatever,” Millender said. “Then I saw it, I was like that’s gonna be great. You know the more eyes on me, the louder it is the brighter I’m going to shine. I’m a showman. I love the people, I love the noise, I love the lights. This is what I do.”
We caught up with Millender ahead of fight night to discuss his fighting style, his match-up with Dos Santos, his goals and much more.
UFC: Whenever we see you during fight week there is always a huge smile on your face. What about fight week gets you so excited for Saturday?
CM: It’s almost here. We’ve been working hard for six weeks so it’s time to show off all the tricks and fun stuff I’ve been working on in camp.
UFC: You’ve had an impressive start to your UFC career. What has made you successful?
CM: The most devastating counter strikes ever. Counter with flying knees, counter with spinning hook kicks. Just pure evilness in there. It’s crazy.
UFC: What about your style is so entertaining to fans?
CM: You know because it makes for the best knockouts. Everybody wants to build that highlight, that highlight reel. And I want mine to be full of flashy stuff. My goal is just to be an aggressive counter striker and just create opportunities. Don’t wait for my opportunities, I want to create them. I want to be in complete control of my destiny in there.
UFC: What are some of the keys to victory in your match-up with your opponent?
CM: You know the kicks, it’s going to be a very kick heavy fight. I think whoever just goes out there and establishes their kicking range first is going to have control of the fight. So I definitely plan on doing that and taking it to him quick.
UFC: Where are your advantages in this fight?
CM: I believe everywhere and that’s just because my striking. I control it everywhere. He’s going to be so nervous once he sees the speed, the range and the creativeness in there that he’s gonna start shooting for his life. And once he starts shooting for his life then I can just do more evil stuff.
UFC: This could be your chance to get up into the rankings. Do you feel any pressure?
CM: I love pressure, pressure does nothing but make me greater. You know it doesn’t bother me at all and I’m going out there to put him down, kick that door down and get to the top 15. The bounties on the top of the hitlist are getting bigger and bigger. So you know I’m here to collect.
UFC: This is your first co-main event. Was that a goal of yours to make it to this point?
CM: Definitely. The goal is to go out there and make every fight look easier the higher I go up so they know that I’m a force to be reckoned with here.
UFC: How do you think you take care of business on Saturday?
CM: Everybody knows it’s either going to be a head kick or a knee. He’ll fall into one of them, he’ll fall for one of the tricks and he’ll go night night. In the second round he’ll go out.
UFC: Why are you a bad match-up for Elizeu?
CM: Me having a 78 inch reach, being 6’2” and being fast and very athletic and dynamic, I can change a strike mid-strike if I need to. It will definitely be the difference maker, he’s not gonna be able to deal with it. You know he’s fought a guy that had a long reach but not with the athleticism, the speed and the movement I have. So yeah, he’s in trouble.
Tune into ESPN+ on March 9th at 8pm/5pm ETPT to watch Millender and Dos Santos battle it out in the UFC’s first ever event in Kansas.
Start your free week trail with ESPN+ here: https://plus.espn.com/ufc
Gavin Porter is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com, follow him on Twitter at @PorterUFCNews.