With 22 wins and a stellar reputation as one of mixed martial arts’ top young lightweights, Poland’s Marcin Held has already cemented his place in the sport that he makes his living in.
But he’s not complacent with what he’s done already, and he’s so intent on making a winning impression in his UFC debut this Saturday that he’s been in the high altitude of Mexico City for nearly three weeks to prepare for Diego Sanchez.
“It was one of the factors that could make the difference in the bout,” he said. “I had to make sure my body would be in a proper shape. The beginning was difficult, but now I feel as if I were at home.”
That alone should show what being a UFC fighter means for the 24-year-old, a Tychy native who is the latest fighter representing the Polish invasion that has taken over the Octagon in the last couple years.
“I always wanted to fight the best fighters in the world, and the UFC has been my target from the beginning of my MMA career,” Held said. “I fell in love with MMA when I was 16, and it makes me happy and proud when I see Polish fighters getting better and better.”
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On November 12, two of Held’s compatriots, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, will represent their country in the UFC’s first All-Polish championship fight. If that isn’t enough to show how far the nation’s MMA has come, Held is expected to set the stage when he faces Sanchez this weekend. It’s a tough matchup for a debut, but Held isn’t expecting to feel those first-time UFC jitters.
“He (Sanchez) is a very tough fighter, and I have to be careful not to exchange punches with him where he is most dangerous,” Held said. “But I don’t feel nervous; I’m a professional fighter and it (fighting in the UFC) doesn’t make me more nervous than usual.
When you have the submission game Held has, one with which he has finished 12 of his 22 wins, half of those via leg locks, you can be confident. Plus, despite his relative youth, Held is no fighting neophyte, as he competed in 14 Bellator fights before making the move to Octagon. So he knows all about fighting tough competition, but he knows it’s going to get tougher now in one of the UFC’s most talent-rich divisions.
“The division is light enough for the fighters to be very fast and mobile in the cage, and simultaneously there is enough strength to make for some spectacular knockouts,” he said of 155 pounds. “And there are just so many people weighing enough to compete in this division. It is full of tough, great fighters, but it is also the best place where I want to show my skills.”
After Held’s recent run, which has seen him win seven of his last eight bouts, with the only loss coming to fellow 2016 UFC newcomer Will Brooks, it was expected that he would eventually make it to the Octagon to battle the best lightweights in the game. On Saturday, that new chapter of his career begins.
“I was happy because I was entering a new path to fulfill my dreams,” he said of getting the call to join the UFC roster. “Now, I hope I will surprise the fans, and the only expectations they should have is a lot of unexpected finishes and exciting moments.”