Jamie Pickett enters his rescheduled clash with Laureano Staropoli this weekend in Las Vegas in frustratingly familiar territory.
Two fights into his UFC career, the 33-year-old middleweight is still looking for his first victory, having dropped a unanimous decision to Tafon Nchukwi in their joint debuts last December before getting finished in 64 seconds by Jordan Wright earlier this year at UFC 262 in Houston.
Saturday night’s bout with Staropoli is “do or die” for the North Carolina-based fighter, which is the same position he found himself in when he made his third appearance on Dana White’s Contender Series.
“I don’t know why I do this to myself,” Pickett said with a booming laugh. “I don’t know why, but I’ve done it, and it’s time for me to perform.”
Pickett rolled into his appearance on Season 1 of the annual talent-search series on a six-fight winning streak and loaded with confidence, only to suffer a first-round submission loss to Fortis MMA representative Charles Byrd. Two years later, he turned up on the opening night of the third season having earned a pair of first-round finishes since facing Byrd but dropped a unanimous decision to Xtreme Couture prospect Punahele Soriano.
He hustled up another win on the regional circuit soon after, and when he returned for his third appearance, Pickett made the most of it, finally punching his ticket to the UFC with a second-round finish of Jhonoven Pati.
The third time was the charm on the Contender Series, and Pickett knows he needs to draw on that experience and deliver a comparable result when he steps in with Staropoli on Saturday night.
“I’m just happy that I’ve got another chance to prove my worth, and I’m going to show them why I should be here,” he said, touching on both the opportunity to make the walk for the third time, and his bout with the Argentina native being kept on the books after it was postponed earlier this month when one of Pickett’s coaches tested positive for COVID-19 during fight week.
“I know what I needed to change,” he added. “I think both fights were learning opportunities. I lost, but I won in terms of gaining knowledge.”
Pickett has no hesitation admitting that he suffered from a serious case of “Octagon Jitters” when he faced off with Nchukwi last December.
Though the term gets bandied about, it’s one of those ethereal things that anyone that has never experienced even a modicum of the energy, pressure, nerves that come with being on the cusp of fulfilling a goal you’ve been chasing for years, maybe decades, can truly comprehend.
The whole way along, you think you’re ready — you know you’re ready — because you’ve done all of this before — the weigh-ins, warming up in the back, getting ready for a fight.
But then it’s time to walk out, and your music hits, and there are cameras everywhere, and referees and officials you’ve seen on television, and it’s the UFC, and Bruce Buffer or Joe Martinez is reading out your information and there is a mountain of a man pacing back and forth less than 30 feet away from you, waiting for the opportunity to take your head off and put you on his highlight reel, and it all hits you at once.
“All of a sudden you see the cameras in there, everyone is watching you, and you’re thinking, ‘I’m on national television. Oh my God,’” the honest and forthright middleweight said with a laugh. “It’s a lot.”
Against Wright, he made mistakes, and the talented finisher made him pay.
Twice in the first 15 seconds of the fight, Pickett pulled out of strike attempts late, showing signs of hesitation and doubt; two things that have no place in the Octagon when the action is live. When he worked his way inside in search of a takedown, he got a little high and left his head on the outside, prompting Wright to unleash a torrent of short, sharp elbows to the side of his head.
Pickett was hurt, and instead of disengaging once he got to his feet and clear of Wright, he tried to plant his feet and fire back, catching his hard-charging opponent with a good left hand that didn’t have enough on it to slow Wright’s attack. A couple good knees from the Thai clinch dropped him to the canvas and the follow-up blows were academic.
A couple little mistakes and 64 seconds later, Pickett is stuck on a two-fight skid.
After falling prey to nerves the first time around, he said he was “too confident” stepping in there with Wright, who was coming off a second-round stoppage loss to Joaquin Buckley at the time.
Now, with his back against the wall, Pickett is ready to deliver the kind of effort he knows he’s capable of, and knows he needs on Saturday night.
“Being disciplined; that’s all it is,” he said when asked about the corrections and adjustments required coming off the loss to Wright in Houston. “Without discipline, we’re nothing.
“You have to be disciplined; stick to your guns, and don’t sway from your plan and mindset of what you’re going to do. You’ve got to make adjustments on the fly, but you’ve got to stick to your guns and be disciplined. That’s where I’m at right now.