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Evan Dunham - Restarting The Journey

"I still have a lot to prove and a lot more fights in me that I want in the UFC. If he wants to try and take away what I’ve worked hard for then he’s got something coming.” - Evan Dunham

The look on Bob Dunham’s face said a thousand words, maybe even more. As he waited for the van to transport him back to a hotel in Killeen, Texas after watching his son’s second professional loss as a mixed martial artist, you felt for a man who was going through a father’s nightmare – the aftermath of seeing his child knocked out.

“I don’t think it was the best day for him,” said Evan Dunham, lightweight star on the rise who was the recipient of that first round defeat to Melvin Guillard in January.

Duham stood close to his father, and his expression was more of disappointment than anything. He had soared into the ranks of lightweight contenders with an 11-0 record, and even his first defeat in September of 2010, via controversial decision to former champion Sean Sherk, was seen as a win in the eyes of most. There would be no debate about this one though, and it’s something his father had never witnessed when it came to his son.

“Unfortunately in this sport when you lose it can sometimes be kind of brutal, but it wasn’t as bad as a lot of people might have thought,” said Evan. “He (Guillard) definitely dropped me and rocked me, but I didn’t go out or anything like that and I didn’t break anything in my face, which is always nice. (Laughs) It was a rough one, but he’s supportive, and that’s the main thing.”

If it doesn’t sound like Dunham has any lingering scars from the Guillard fight, it’s because there aren’t any. The way he – and his peers – see it, this is just part of the game. Sometimes you’re the hammer, and sometimes you’re the nail. And the ones who take the hammer role more often are the ones who succeed in this game and become champions. If Dunham needed any encouragement, all he had to do was look around at his teammates and the man whose name adorns the Xtreme Couture facility in Las Vegas, Randy Couture. All of them have suffered setbacks in one way, shape, or form, but while the circumstances might be different, the end result was the same: they all returned to the gym and got back to work.

“A lot of them have been there, and I’m just trying deal with it and wait for the next one,” said Dunham, who has been sidelined since the bout, in part due to an injury which scrapped him from a UFC 132 return against George Sotiropoulos. “It’s part of our sport, and the tough part is, in most other sports, you take a loss and get back on the winning track real soon, whether it be the next week or the next month. But in our sport it takes a while for that opportunity to come by again, so it stings for a while. But they (his teammates) have given me good advice and I’ve listened to them and I’m confident that I’m gonna go out there and win this fight and get back in the win column.”

On Saturday, Dunham makes his first start since the beginning of the year against Ultimate Fighter 13 veteran Shamar Bailey. It’s been a long wait for the Oregon native, but he’s finally starting to see the finish line in New Orleans approaching.

“You count the days down until it’s that time, but I’ve been handling it pretty good though,” he said. “A little break was nice at first, but it’s definitely starting to mount up.”

Truth be told, Dunham was pushing it pretty hard in 2010. Fresh from two 2009 wins that kicked off his UFC career, he put in nearly nine complete rounds of work last year, submitting Efrain Escudero in the third round of a back and forth battle, and then decisioning teammate Tyson Griffin before the bloody and grueling Fight of the Night split decision loss to Sherk. Four months later came the loss to Guillard.

“I think my body needed a break,” he said. “I don’t know if my mind did. It’s one of those things where it happened and I can’t look back and you can’t change it. But it would have been nice to definitely have gotten that fight with Sotiropoulos.”

Instead, Dunham had to wait for the next opportunity, which was this upcoming bout with Bailey. That means a lot of time to think, a lot of time to hear and read other people’s opinions, and for some, a perfect opportunity to take things into the MMA version of a mad scientist’s lab in order to try to figure out how 11 straight wins turned into two consecutive losses. The level headed Dunham didn’t go down that road though.

“I don’t think it was a thing of having to reevaluate everything,” he said. “I definitely think I was overtraining myself a little bit for those last few fights, not just including those two, so I’ve actually changed my training just a bit to let my body heal. And I don’t think that was anything that showed in my last two fights. With Melvin, he’s a great fighter and he caught me slipping. There were a few things that I would like to have changed in that fight, but you can’t now, so I’ll just correct them in the future. With the Sherk fight, I honestly think it was one of the better performances of my career. It sucks that I lost, but I try to look at it as a win, even though it’s hard to do sometimes. Everybody I’ve ever talked to thinks I won that fight, and I think I won that fight, so recently I’ve tried to not look at it as a loss, even though it is.”

Again, it shows the maturity of a 29-year old fighter who knows that the sky isn’t falling. He’s just weathered a couple of thunderstorms and is ready to get back to work. In this sport, everyone loses, especially at this level of the game. It’s what you do with those losses that determine your future.

“It’s definitely frustrating, but there’s not much you can do about it,” he said. “I just keep training and keep my mind focused. It’s one of those things that’s tough to swallow, but it motivates you to get in the gym and keep working hard. I got there once before and I can get there again. I’m just trying to stay positive.”

The first step is Bailey.

“I haven’t really seen a whole lot of him,” said Dunham of the Indianapolis standout. “I’ve only seen maybe two or three of his fights. He looks like a strong, athletic guy who likes to close that distance and then get on top of you and do nothing with it. I’m prepared for him to try to take me down and hug me, and that’s exactly what I’m ready for. And if that changes, and if he wants to do something else, he’s more than welcome, but I don’t see him doing that to me. I fought guys a lot tougher than him, so I’m more than ready for this fight.”

You believe him too, and with Bailey making his lightweight debut and determined to make an immediate impression in his new weight class, something’s got to give when the bell rings in the Big Easy. Dunham is determined to make sure it’s not him.

“They will be coming at me harder and I usually thrive when people want to make it a fight,” he said. “It’s cool with me and just reinforces the idea that I belong in there as well. I still have a lot to prove and a lot more fights in me that I want in the UFC. If he wants to try and take away what I’ve worked hard for then he’s got something coming.”

A year ago, Dunham was one of the hottest lightweights in the game, with an unbeaten record and all the accolades that go with it. Now, he’s a veteran, hardened by the last two fights and ready to start taking names once again. In this 155-pound division, that’s a task and a half, but in his eyes, that’s the point.

“There are a lot of really tough guys that are hungry in the division, and it’s a pond full of sharks in my opinion,” he said. “No fight’s an easy fight, and you hear everybody say it, but I truly believe it’s the toughest division in the UFC. What really gets me up in the morning is that I’m living my dream and fighting in the organization that I love. There’s no other place in the world that I’d want to be. So knowing that every fight is going to be a war definitely makes you train hard, and you can’t slack if you want to make it, and I definitely don’t.”

Bob Dunham would be proud to hear that from his son, and you can expect him to be right back in his corner this weekend.

“He’s at all my fights,” said Evan of his father. “When I first got into the sport, he didn’t really approve of it that much, but now that he sees how hard I work and he sees that there’s a lot more going on than just a brawl in there, he’s really supportive and really enjoys going to the fights. He understands that it’s part of the sport – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”