“I enjoy testing myself in different areas within a fight. The way I look at it, I just put in my mouthpiece and go to work.” – Evan Dunham
When Evan Dunham steps into the Octagon against Rodrigo Damm this weekend at UFC 182: Jones vs Cormier at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the Las Vegas-based fighter will be looking to erase a bad memory he has of the resort casino he drives past nearly every day - and it has nothing to do with a bad beat at the poker tables.
“Every time I go past it I get pissed off,” Dunham, who last fought at the venue in November of 2013 and suffered a second-round submission loss against Donald Cerrone, said. The 33-year-old Dunham has lost four of his last five fights, with his lone win being a close split decision victory against Gleison Tibau nearly two years ago.
> Watch: Evan Dunham vs. Gleison Tibau on UFC FIGHT PASS
“I’m just happy this fight is at MGM so I can go in and smash this kid and stop cursing every time I drive by.”
Smashing Damm could prove harder than it sounds, since he too is looking to stop a losing streak. The 34-year-old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has lost two in a row, and is coming off a knockout loss at the hands of Al Iaquinta in September.
“Rodrigo’s been around for a while so he has a lot of experience, but he doesn’t have any more experience than I do,” Dunham said. “I have heard he has good jiu-jitsu – that he’s a black belt – but in the fights I’ve seen he hasn’t really used a whole lot of it. There’s not a lot that I’m worried about. I just have to go out there and compete like I know I can compete, and if I do, then I will beat him.”
Competing like he knows he can means lots of grinding. Dunham is known for his heart and his cardio, and feels that is still one of his greatest strengths.
“My game plan is to ride this kid into the dust,” he said. “I know that I can grind a lot harder than him. I’m just going to get after him and not get stuck in a one-dimensional fight, where I keep standing or try to get to the ground. I will let the fight flow and that’s the best way to get back to the win column.”
Dunham’s last fight didn’t end well, despite putting the pressure on. His opponent, Edson Barboza, was able to weather the storm and quickly land a beautiful body kick that put an end to the bout in the very first round. The two have trained together in the past, but when the UFC calls with a match, the opportunity is greater than any friendships that may have formed through training.
“I went out to Jersey and helped out for one of their camps and they’re all really good guys,” Dunham said of Ricardo Almeida’s fight team, which Barboza is a part of and is led by Frankie Edgar. “It was one of those things that had to be done. My hat is off to Edson, he caught me with a great body kick, but it’s just business. You learn more from a loss than a win, which sucks because I’ve learned a lot of lessons recently. I think as a mixed martial artist every single one of us has a bit of perfectionist in us, and whether it’s practice or in a fight, mistakes haunt us.”
Fixing those mistakes in the gym is a big part of being a professional mixed martial artist, and in the process, fighters evolve to become well-rounded enough to have confidence no matter where the fight goes on fight night.
For Dunham however, the evolution hasn’t been all that apparent.
“It’s hard to see from the inside out,” he says. “I have definitely become more comfortable with my hands than I was when I was younger. I can be drawn into a slugfest, whereas when I was younger I tried to avoid them. But as far as my own evolution, it’s a tough question to answer. At my age I still feel like I can hang with these young guys who are coming up. I see a lot of the younger guys in this sport who have awesome techniques and are super athletes, but when it comes to grinding I’m still better at it than these guys. That’s one of my traits that has gotten me this far.”
A win for Dunham this Saturday will ease a lot of pressure off the jiu-jitsu ace, who plans to open his own school in a Las Vegas suburb in February. A Performance or Submission of the Night bonus would help a lot too.
“It’s going to be a jiu-jitsu gym in my name,” he says. “It’s been a dream of mine since 2000 to open my own gym and I’m really excited about it. It’s going to be in an area where there aren’t any jiu-jitsu schools, but it won’t be an MMA gym. It will be strictly jiu-jitsu. I will have some guys to train with in the morning and then I’ll open up to the public in the evening to teach classes for kids and adults. It would be great to get a fight bonus in this fight but it’s hard to get those on the undercard. You know me though, I’ll do my damndest to get one (laughs).”
Bonuses or not, Dunham knows what he has to do against Damm to keep his dream alive.
“All I know is I’m going to get in there and smash this kid. That’s pretty much what I do for every fight. I’ve never been a game plan kind of guy; that’s not really me. I enjoy testing myself in different areas within a fight. The way I look at it, I just put in my mouthpiece and go to work.”
> Check out the full fight card for UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier