“A bunch of people were saying that our lightweights wouldn’t be able to
hack it, that WEC guys are just going to get ran through. But we’re
doing a good job proving all those people wrong.” - Danny Castillo
Make liars of your detractors. Turn public perception on its head. Few feats are more gratifying to an athlete, with Danny Castillo being the latest example.
The Sacramento fighter won’t try to hide the humongous chip on his shoulder, the one that has firmly resided there since last December, when World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) merged with the UFC. Castillo and company suddenly felt like second-class citizens among the UFC’s much more heralded lightweight division, like chum being served up to sharks.
“I’ll never forget all the naysayers who said we would just get rolled on,” the 32-year-old recently shared. “A bunch of people were saying that our lightweights wouldn’t be able to hack it, that WEC guys are just going to get ran through. But we’re doing a good job proving all those people wrong.”
“Good job” is right. The WEC’s big six of lightweights are comprised of Castillo, Benson Henderson, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, Anthony Njokuani and Shane Roller. They have combined for a stellar 12-5 record in the UFC over the past year, with a list of conquered foes that includes “name” fighters such as Clay Guida, Jim Miller, Charles Oliveira, Joe “Daddy” Stevenson and Dennis Siver. Henderson, 3-0 in the UFC, will fight Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 for the 155-pound world title. Cerrone, 4-0 under the UFC banner, goes for his fifth straight on Friday against Nate Diaz at UFC 141. Castillo (12-4 overall, 2-1 UFC) also competes on the New Year’s Eve ‘Eve’ card, against the aforementioned Njokuani (15-5, 1-1).
There is a certain ‘cannibal’ quality to the matchup and it is not lost on Castillo.
“Anthony Njokuani is a good guy. He and I started at the same time in the WEC,” Castillo said. “I want all of the guys that come over from the WEC to do well because that’s where I started my career. I have a WEC sweatshirt on right now as we speak! It says, “WEC Never Forget.” Unfortunately my next fight is against another WEC guy. It will be the first time two WEC (lightweights) are meeting in the UFC, but we’re professionals and one of us has to lose, and I don’t plan on that being me. Stylistically I like the fight.”
While Njokuani is coming off a win over Andre Winner, Castillo has won four of his past five. The win over Joe “Daddy” raised eyebrows, and his recent first round destruction of Shamar Bailey was perhaps Castillo’s finest hour as a pro.
“I felt fresh. I didn’t overtrain for that fight,” Castillo said. “I felt fresh, I listened to my body. It’s taken me four years as a pro to understand how to run a fight camp. There are no blueprints to teach you how to run a fight camp for your body. This time I did it correctly and it showed up in the fight.”
Castillo muscled Bailey with takedowns and pounded away on top with punches. He says there was a moment in the fight when he felt some of Bailey’s will vanish.
“There was a hammerfist that landed from half-guard,” Castillo said, “and right then and there I saw him look up and I knew right then that he didn’t really want to fight. That’s when you see me just letting go and throwing punches with abandon.”
In addition to his own purse, Castillo also walked away with 10 percent of his opponent’s fight purse because Bailey failed to make weight. Rather than pocket the funds, Castillo donated them to a Sacramento-based charity for homeless youth.
“I think it’s important for me to give back because wrestling kind of saved my life,” he said. “My last fight was on TV and I want to use that exposure that I’ve created for myself to do something good, to give back to some kids that are just like I was. When I was younger I was kind of a knucklehead who came to a fork in the road and could have gone either way. Fortunately I found wrestling and I was able to go to college. So if I could help some other kids then I’ll feel a little bit better about myself.”